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Anjuly Mathai
Anjuly Mathai


Wear what, when


Should a woman factor in the male mind while choosing her wardrobe?

Recently, I had this conversation with a man when he told me that he didn’t have a problem with women wearing exposing clothes. But they should take their surroundings into consideration before they do so.

“Like that time you were wearing shorts at the beach,”he said. “It was okay for you to wear it because it was a beach but not, say, if you were going to work.”

His implication was that everyone wears shorts at a beach so it was okay for me to wear it. But then, aren’t men the same everywhere? Or do men who come to beaches turn off their sexual appetites when they come there?

I had a couple of problems with what he said. First of all, the fact that it came from a man bothered me, although there was nothing he could do about that. When you don’t know the intimate experience of a woman, you have no right to comment on it. Also, I am not a fan of men using the word ‘should’when it comes to what a woman can or can’t do. This has nothing to do with my feminism. I would be equally uncomfortable with a woman dictating what a man should or shouldn’t do.

Second, there is a big difference between dressing appropriately and dressing provocatively and, unfortunately, the lines are getting blurred. No, I wouldn’t wear shorts to work but, if I did, I would feel embarrassed at having committed a social blunder and not like a piece of vermin for having ‘invited’predatory glances from men.

What I find most ridiculous is the word ‘invitation’and how inappropriately it is used in these scenarios. Women are blamed for ‘inviting’rape. As though it was something we desired. When you lose control and ram your car against a dog that had got out of its cage, you don’t really blame the dog for getting out of its cage, do you? The dog didn’t really ‘invite’death, did it? The poor thing was probably searching for freedom from the cage.

Just like we women are desperately searching for freedom of a different kind. The freedom of self-expression. What you wear is often something you do for yourself (although there are exceptions). That’s why women in the Middle East wear Dolce and Gabbana underneath their burqa. Personally, what has affected me the most about having to watch what I wear is that somehow, it has changed me as a person. The change came so gradually that I almost didn’t recognise it. I have become more docile, more accepting of social norms and, I hate the word, more cowardly. In college, when I was more daring with my wardrobe choices, I felt more free, more gregarious. Today, I have exchanged a sort of levity of temperament (something internal) for the safety of my body (something external). Yes, I feel more safe in my jeans and T-shirts. But I also feel bored out of my wits.

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