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A dress code sends many messages to children. This insightful post asks an important question – Are dress codes breeding a sexually volatile society?
On a recent visit to India, I watched my niece in the eighth grade set off to school wearing a long and weird pinafore that went way beyond her knees. When asked if she had lost all her dressing sense, she replied, “It’s not me, its the school management who have lost it…!” I laughed at how funnily she waded her legs through the uncomfortable attire to show her discontent.
Yet another time, I found her ransacking her closet for an appropriate dress that would fit her school’s rules and regulations, to be worn at her annual school party. My attempts to help her choose one went in vain. Every time I handed her one, she would come up with a volley of do’s and do not’s. Accordingly, jeans, leggings, short skirts, sleeveless tops, dresses or any tight fitting attires were not allowed.
In awe, I asked – was there anything at all that could to be worn? To my disappointment, she answered – “Only formal trousers, shirts and churidar suits(!)”
“Why don’t you just wear a curtain? that would serve the purpose, as well as put a point across to the management!” I chuckled. Although pretty much upset myself, I played it down, so as to not annoy my niece any more.
However, it helped me put myself into a introspective process. How can a well reputed school boasting of ultra modern educational facilities, highly educated staff and personnel, perpetrate such false notions about way of dressing? Prescribing a dress code for uniformity among students is understandable, but when it goes beyond that purpose, especially in the garb of raising a culturally conscious future, how far is it acceptable?
We need to start from the basics: what is culture? Can it be unanimous for all? Can it be narrowed down to mean ‘way of dressing’ only, or the way we present ourselves before a group?
” Culture” is all that and more! Most importantly, culture is ‘communication’ as well. It certainly impacts how we send, accept, and interpret messages. It shapes the human mind and conduct, and it is all that we see, perceive and learn too. In this perspective, the message an educational institution gives out is of prima-facie importance in instilling the right culture in a child.
By virtue of such rules and regulations, indirectly, the girls are made to feel guilty of wearing their own choice of dress (or even their parents’ choice!), or showing a part of their leg or uncovered hands. They grow up to believe, that exposure s enough to send unwanted signals to the boys.
Their primary concern would be to bring their conflicting mind to terms with unnecessary taboos and restrictions, constantly being conscious of their mode of dressing and its impact upon fellow male students, with education itself taking a back seat!
And what about the boys? They grow up to believe that girls are all about flesh and fetish.
And what about the boys? They grow up to believe that girls are all about flesh and fetish.
And what about the boys? They grow up to believe that girls are all about flesh and fetish. The slightest glimpse of their body is enough to unleash their sexual instincts. They grow up to be intolerant and prejudiced about womens’ bodies, and cultivate the belief that righteous women are always associated with a particular mode of dressing!
By giving out such inherently wrong messages, the school authorities curtail the confidence of girl students as well as facilitate the raising of a bunch of male students who believe women are to be looked down upon for their bodies.
I strongly believe these misconceptions are one of the reasons why our male population still considers women as mere sex objects. In a bid to raise a culturally ‘conditioned’ society, our educational institutions are indirectly raising a sexually volatile culture in men.
Second to family, a school is where a boy should learn to respect girls, irrespective of what she wears or how she looks. School is where a girl should primarily feel confident, self reliant, and no less than any of her counterparts.
We cannot only go about loathing rape culture and the cheap mentality of men who outrage the modesty of women, while remaining passive to the sight of such institutions breeding a sexually vulnerable generation – academically educated, but blinded and beguiled by cultural fallacies!
Pic credit: pahudson (Used under a CC license)
A legal consultant, settled in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; my first love is and has
I agree and disagree; the role of a “dress code” is not to bring down the confidence of students/girls/women etc. The “dress code” is in line with “precaution is better than cure”. Men will be men (not generalising); atleast the perpetrator will rape/molest/violate/murder irrespective of small or big or long or short dress. For an institution it is about managing a “strength” of a school – as in population – the numbers are so huge and “law & order” people so less. The judicial process so long and so difficult. Given all these, it is important for an institution i.e.the “ward/student” is safe as much as possible. So if it means a dress code, so be it.
In bangalore, I have seen school students with their prescribed uniform of short skirts getting unwanted attention, loafers frequenting around the school when the students enter/leave the school just to stare and the students becoming uncomfortable. Sometimes, the innocent students are not even aware of such lecherous stares. With all the recent spate of cases where even the youngest females not being spared from the molestation/rape, as a parent my inherent feeling is to keep my daughter safe. While the argument that we are propagating the belief that “exposed” girls and not the stinking mentality of the men, as being the cause of the crime, can hold good, while i accept that we should not submit ourselves to such mentality, I feel the need for my daughter to grow up, to become strong, be able to defend herself and then choose for herself. Until then, my priority is to keep her safe, to keep unwanted attention away esp when am not going to be with her. If long dresses can help, so be it.
Thank you both of you for reading through this article and for giving your candid opinion…
I am not against dress codes, but my take is , uniformity is strictly needed in educational institutions but that should be for social and economical equality.. but when the rules go beyond that perspective, to the extent of breeding certain unwanted orthodoxies….where it serves to further streamline girls and boys in a certain order, it can bring about a negative impact on the mindset of the budding youth! If it is for securing safety from perverted men, there are remedies galore for beefing up the security inside and outside the school !!! But instead, taking the easiest route of making the girls cover up like mummies…unacceptable…!
If that is the only remedy an educational institution can come up with, then at what cost is the question…! Obviously at the cost of developing a new generation that too grows up to be a stereotype of the older ones with an even narrower perspective on women and her body and consequently throwing our own daughters again at the face of the same prototypes when they are grown up too.. ! Men will be men, this causal approach itself is the most encouraging justification given to all those men to stay as such always whichever generation to come……. And I find the most silliest excuse and encouragement given to the rapists/molesters as the mentality of society pointing fingers at the length of the victim’s dress… If we women don’t bring a stop to such vile comments and attitudes, by changing our mentality…who are going to be?
Is it not the decaying mindset of men, that needs to be reformed ? And is it not the educational institutions which should be in the forefront to teach them the right way. When boys are in their budding stages in their schools , it is the right frame of time to mold them the way we want, to grow up to have the sense to understand that girls are not just skin or flesh…!!
And in the meanwhile we hope for men’s attitude to evolve, being a mom of a boy and a girl I too understand the value of safety . But then again at what cost??? at the cost of making girls take on a defensive mode rather than letting them learn to be on their guard and having the courage to face the world for what she is, so that she knows how to deal with such loafers or perverts rather than looking for her parents aid at lone hours to help her out or being guilty for what she wore??
If somebody puts a hand on her, let her be confident enough to shove it off rather than silently endure it and reel upon the feeling that she was guilty of provocation or let herself be engulfed in shame and guilt for no reason of hers.
It is very difficult to reply to such articles which will come with lots of counter questions. I don’t know whether to agree or disagree with the above mentioned facts. All I can say is that we are moving along with the waves of the society. What is the difference between the culture we are brought up and the other one? To me both have advantages and disadvantages. Like you said Men have been seeing only fully covered up girls since their birth, this may be the reason they get attracted to even to the glimpse of the skin of a woman. Supporting this point, I don’t think men will stare at a woman at the beach wearing just a bikini in other countries, but, the men in India will surely do it. So I think what you said is absolutely correct. It is the way we learn which the problem creates.
Now, the point to think about- The uniform you are mentioning is surely from Kerala, no doubt about it. Like the other person who replied to the post, the uniform of schools in Kerala is not as equal to cities like Bangalore or Mumbai or even in Delhi and still you can see boys staring at these girls.. !!! Why so? That’s why I don’t think what you said is completely correct.
There are two different things that need to be changed:
1) Men should be taught about the feelings of other human beings especially girls. They should be taught about how to treat women and help others.
2) Women should not be taught to act as a victim of the crime. The feeling that men have control over women and women should be subjugated to men is archaic. Like you said, they should be taught to defend themselves.
Thank You Vishnu Visakh for reading this. Glad to receive a man’s opinion on the subject.. ! And proud to know my friend appreciates the ideologies of gender equality as well.
You are right.. it is a school from Kerala ,, almost all the schools there seem to have these regulations nowadays as part of protecting girls from perverted men. Instead of bombarding girls with dos and do nots to evade being victims, is it not only fair to impart reformative and progressive education to boys right from school days when there amenable to be molded into whatever we want them to be.!
If you feel despite being ‘fully covered’ girls are still being targeted , then I wonder what is the utility of all such regulations…Then why not leave these children to grow up as normal as a boy … ..esp those in the upper primary atleast , who haven’t even reached the realms of teenage…; an age when children are supposed to be as free as a bird wearing whatever that should give them the right edge to be involved in any activities of boys of their age….
I agree with your point of view. It is high time we corrected the wrongdoers rather than imposing rules on innocent girls. Girls grow up thinking it’s “wrong” to wear clothes that show the shape and structure of their bodies. It was pretty bad at my own school, though a notch better than the situation you’ve described.
It is a fallacy to think girls can be “protected” by dressing in a certain way. Lechers will lech and criminals will attack even toddlers and women in burkas.
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