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Even As A Married Indian Woman & Mom I Have A Right To Wear Shorts!

So years later, I started to wear shorts again, only this time, I didn't ask anyone, didn’t seek anyone’s permission, and to my parents' (also in-laws') utter shock, I went ahead.

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So years later, I started to wear shorts again, only this time, I didn’t ask anyone, didn’t seek anyone’s permission, and to my parents’ (also in-laws’) utter shock, I went ahead.

I grew up in a fairly ‘modern’ household! Educated parents with modest means, who ‘allowed me’ to pursue an education aka a backup plan.

Yes, that’s what a degree, (or a short work experience) career means in the family. A girl must be smart, study, even earn a little, but still not aim for anything higher meaning “be ambitious.”

(Forgive my excessive use of aka’s to explain subtext. Like it or not, it is an important part of growing up as a girl.)

Early on, this sort of perception helped me realize  that ‘freedom’ is a thing which is ‘allowed’, and not a ‘guarantee’. Yes, ‘girls are allowed’ to do certain things or choose from the given options, with invisible borders (physical and psychological) that limit the spaces one can venture or aspire. This life full of cloistered choices is suffocating, especially if you don’t rebel.

Another explainer: if a girl rebels she is “arrogant, disrespectful”, and anything under the sun but normal! But if a girl does not rebel, life is a claustrophobic hell.

So I did exactly that, I stood my ground for wearing shorts. I can understand if this doesn’t seem like a big enough deal for everyone, but this rebellion was important to me.

Moving from a big city to a small town, I was left with very few ‘choices’

In a small town, docility is expected from teenage girls. They are to be studious, and not divert their attention towards any pursuit of individual wants, desires or self-expression, or worse still attract attention. Ironic how ‘teenage’ is perceived there, so very different from how the stereotypical teenager is!

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When I moved to a small town from a city, this was a shock to me, but the bigger shock was my parents agreeing to these unspoken rules. As a teenager, change in location was already a stressful event, but when I realised that I was an ‘outsider’ in a conservative crowd, I felt the walls start to close in.

One of things that I missed was wearing shorts. I noticed that my parents dissuaded me from wearing them since I turned 11, and though I persisted, by 13, with the shift to a small town, they felt that victory at hand.

In the initial months I succumbed to societal pressure, wanting to fit-in, and went along with wearing the homely salwar, but the phase lasted a month. That’s all it took me to realise, that no matter what I do I’ll always be an outsider here.

‘Allowed’ to wear shorts with conditions applied

When I finally put on my shorts in my house, my grandmother started with a look of disgust followed by a tirade, which got the silent support of my father. My mother on the other hand started to explain that as a ‘grown woman’ (subtext- menstruating girl), I had to “behave more appropriately.” Believe me I still do not get how this correlates, but I do thank my raging hormones as I fought hard.

Finally, my victory was “You are allowed to wear shorts only within the house, not beyond the gate.” I accepted my limits, and funnily my friends and relatives convinced me that I indeed was part of a ‘modern family’ who “allowed me so much freedom.”

Double standards that I realised only later

It would take me some more years of life-experience, reading to realise this ‘bubble of modern life’ in a small town. But I did eventually realise the double standards of my so called ‘modern thinking’ parents, and started to reflect on how my ‘freedom’ was limited or needed ‘permission’.

By the time of higher studies, I had learnt to manipulate this hypocrisy to my advantage when possible, but the shorts which slowly faded from my life remained a sore thumb. I mean I rebelled by wearing short skirts and capris, but never shorts in public as my life went on.

This faded relic got into the limelight again when I went shopping for my kids who demanded this comfy wear. I bought what they wanted but then I wondered, “why am I not wearing something I like?”

‘Taking’ my right to wear what I liked

So years later, I started to wear shorts again, only this time, I didn’t ask anyone, didn’t seek anyone’s permission, and to my parents’ (also in-laws’) utter shock, I went ahead.

I have not asked what anyone felt about me wearing an attire I like and feel comfortable in, since then. I do get silent glances, as if I am breaking a rule, especially when guests or strangers turn up, but I have ceased to care!

Nobody explicitly told me not to do it, but I had still given up something I liked (and what I believe is a personal choice, and no one’s concern) with this patriarchal conditioning. I, who have been so assertive about so many of my life choices, did not acknowledge what I wanted, as I deemed it ‘trivial’. I had accepted this for years as, “this was OK” or “not that important,” until it dawned on me that I didn’t want the hollow sense of ‘false modernity’ that my parents followed.

By inhibiting my wants, I sought societal approval, and this only gave me  false security within society. I mean I also bought and normalized this narrative – I can assert myself but I also need to protect myself (for so many years).

But to truly realise freedom, women must seek to break false pretences in the name of ‘safety, tradition, culture’ (the patriarchal armour). I did it and it was self-affirming. I experienced a self-acceptance that was liberating. This transition to assert my wants/ needs was not a trivial pursuit, and it’s my life anyway!

Women, girls are often advised to give up personal wants, desires, or ‘adjust’ their choices, by labeling them as ‘trivial’. But nothing is trivial as – “the personal is also political.”

In traditional Indian society, women are often only “allowed” to study or work outside of home. Their freedom is “given” to them by someone else – a parent, a husband, a brother, a son – usually the men of the home. Even outside the domestic arena, women are “given” freedom to do certain things in society, they are “permitted” to be out in public only under certain conditions. At the workplace, women are expected to “behave”, “look”, and conduct themselves in ways that are not demanded of their male counterparts.

For Independence Day 2021, we’re publishing your personal stories in which you have “taken” your freedom from under such restrictions, without waiting for anyone to “allow” them. Stories of standing up to oppression, whether in the home, or outside it. #MyFreedomMyWay

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About the Author

Ambica

A homemaker following "the ten year-Bucket List." read more...

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