There was an unsaid rule in our college hostel, “Wear proper clothes when you enter the mess hall“. This rule was instilled in us by the matrons. Being a junior student, I didn’t bat an eye to this at that time because I was not aware of the discrimination.
Things took a turn when a faculty started staying in our hostel. She started to micro-control what we wore inside the hostel. Often students were sent back to rooms to change dress. One day, I went to have food in the mess hall with my friend. Before we left the room, she asked me pointing to her shorts, “Hey, Am I dressed alright?“. I said it’s okay. While we were about to enter the mess, we were caught by the faculty and she started body shaming my friend. “You are so fat and have thick legs. Aren’t you ashamed of wearing these shorts? Is this the practice at home?”
My friend was forced to go back into the room. I was angry and upset. She harassed my friend brutally in front of me and I was helpless. We had a discussion with the girls and decided to complain to the hostel authorities. After complaining, we got assurance that this won’t happen again but the faculty didn’t stop. She kept on body shaming the students. She said that many male faculties have complained that they are not able to teach because of what the girls wear to college.
Enough was enough. We couldn’t ignore her demeaning comments and ill treatment anymore. We collectively decided to wear shorts and enter the mess hall to make our point. We called this, “Mission Trousers”. Some of us who didn’t have didn’t shorts, borrowed them from our friends and made sure that whoever wanted to participate in this protest had shorts to wear. We entered the mess hall and sat across the table from the faculty. Soon she understood something was up because until then the students rarely wore shorts to mess. Now she was staring at a room full of girls wearing shorts. She was outnumbered. She stared at us and mumbled words to the matron. She pointed fingers and said, “Aren’t they ashamed? What do they think they are doing?“.
The next day a sign was put up in our hostel by the matron, “Shorts ഇട്ട ോണ്ട് ആരും ഈ door-ഇന്റെ+ പുറത്തു ഇറങ്ങരുത് “, translates to “No one is allowed to go out of the building wearing shorts“. We tore it down and started protesting.
We were not gonna tolerate this abuse anymore. The girls gathered in the college far past our curfew and demanded that strict action be taken against them. This is about degrading and controlling women. They wanted to skew women dress codes in efforts to reduce distractions from their male peers and teachers. Women and girls don’t need to hide their bodies from anyone. Inmates of the hostel shouted in one voice for the freedom and choice no one can deny them through their bold action. A student who participated in the movement recalls, “More than a question of what to wear, we felt it was a question of dignity and self esteem. To continue letting them control our clothes was to continue submitting our dignity in the hands of those people(hostel staff)“.
After the college was convinced the protest wouldn’t stop until proper action was taken, they suspended the matron and warned the faculty. We were finally heard, received and treated with respect to our choices. After all, it’s a personal decision about what a person must wear. We are most proud to have changed this long followed tradition of our hostel with one collective and simple decision.
Also read: A Pro’s Guide On How To Fight Body Shaming
No more body-shaming. No more controlling what we wear. Women in TKM once again stood up for what was right.
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Featured Image Source: Angry Malay Woman