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Don’t Wear That Dress: The Misplaced Concern of Parents

Misplaced Concern: Ever wonder why our parents are always worried about our clothes when step out of the house. You know that they do not wish to curtail your freedom or movement, yet they can't stop!

Ever wonder why our parents are always worried about our clothes when step out of the house. You know that they do not wish to curtail your freedom or movement, yet they can’t stop trying to make you wear something different? This behaviour is often born out of misplaced concern, that believes the safety of women is in their own hands, as the world out there is untrustworthy.

“The girl was wearing a dress. What do you expect would happen?” 

You get it, right?

“Don’t wear that dress outside. The times are bad!” 

This thought was outrageous for us women, but that is a story of once upon a time. It stopped being news when statements like such started making the news headlines.

But after all, what do you expect from the elected representatives who belong to generations from yesteryear? Centuries of patriarchal norms have shaped society in a manner that makes lives difficult for any individual without a penis, difficult.

It took the feminist movement three waves to bring to have their basic living rights, voting included. And it’s still a war. But even if laws assure you of your rights, does it ensure its execution?

Prejudice infiltrates misplaced concern and poisons it

It is amusing to witness how prejudice grows multifold when two biases come together. Individuals would much rather indulge in demeaning others instead of building a co-existence together.

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This is what happens when patriarchy dictates what should be the way of the world.

And it is still happening.

So if you, a woman, go out there, you’ll find individuals issuing these scandalizing thoughts make it to the forefront because they are leaders (please note the irony dripping from the word). They occupy positions of importance and power, unfortunately. But this placing of the onus of the tragedy on feminine dressing is not new. Is it?

It is a denial of a basic right. But Thomas Jefferson did not think of the women when he placed “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness,” together. That was ages ago.

In the present era, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the Right to Protection of Life and Personal Liberty. Liberty includes the right to dress as we choose to, which however remains as a distant dream.

I am extremely fortunate, and grateful, for having extremely supportive parents. In a generation where half of my friends are running away from their “brown households” to live in a cold, distant PG room to live their life, I feel blessed to share such a healthy and affectionate bond with my parents. My happiness is theirs.

This is why when I see them worrying about my safety owing to the dress I wear, it enrages me. No, I am not angry at them, but at the unkind sexist system that compels parents like mine to think twice before appreciating the way their daughter would like to dress.

Now you may come and argue that even they could be products of patriarchy. Could be— but in that case they are pretty flawed products. My parents believe in communication, and their concern comes across in their conversations. Their eagerness is always their second thought. The first— my safety.

Liberal parents trust their daughters enough to let them be on their own, do as they will. They are aware that their girls know that it is inappropriate behaviour to violate someone else’s liberty while having fun.

However, what they do not trust, and very rightfully so, is how half the population of our nation do not grasp the concept of basic decency and public conduct. So engulfed are they in following their own privileged-driven fun that they forget that women are not commodities.

The onus of safety always falls on the women.

Parents categorize it to be “precautions” that one must take in order to be safe. They keep reassuring us of our faultlessness, while reiterating their sheer disgust at the men who do not know how to behave like humans. But in a nation where even animals are not spared from human brutality, what are women to disrespectful men, other than objects?

I have always stood up for what I believe in, including my personal liberty to dress.

Hence, even though there have been quarrels, arguments, and conversations surrounding the topic in my household, I have been lucky enough to get my way, sometimes.

This misplaced concern invades our every day life choices too, even in our moment of privacy

But, I am aware that most of my friends with liberal parents do not get through. “Abba nahi manenge” is a consistent joke when you go out shopping with your friends. My friends and I crack this joke when we love a dress on display that might be, um, titillating, to some random human who stares at us in the dress?

I do not see my male friends being advised on the way they dress, or being reminded of the repercussions they might have if they decide to dress in a certain manner. I have not witnessed even one parent of my male friends fret about their sons’ safety owing to their wardrobe.

It brings us back to the primary problem of daughters having to look out for themselves while sons get the free pass. It again comes back to the regulation of a woman’s choice, while the perpetrators are left on the loose.

Patriarchy.

It is a loop.

But the recent reports of rape incidents across the nation have had victims wearing salwar-kameez with dupatta, or in a burqa, the most covered up that you can be. We all know what happened next!

On a larger front, the reality lies in the idea of victim-blaming. Fault does not lie in the way we decide to dress. It lies in the way the beholder decides to perceive us. It lies in the way how centuries of patriarchal prejudices still get the better of individuals and criticize the wrong individual.

And our parents have learnt these from their parents, and these prejudices take the form of overbearing misplaced concern! And in some cases this overbearing concern turns into restrictive traditions.

Society expects parents to teach their daughters the ways of life, but why can’t they also teach their sons that the right to dress is a personal liberty that everyone is entitled to?

Raise better sons

Why can the sons not be taught that a woman’s way of dressing is not an invitation to release their pent-up hormones, or display power, and whatever is the driving that inflated sense of power?

The problem is not how the women dress; it is the lack of control on behalf of the abuser. Yet we must bear the consequences of the misplaced concern born because of their lack of/behaviour.

Instead of raising fingers and pointing at our choice of dress, let us instead redirect this attribution to the broken governing system that fails to protect the choices of their citizens. Point your fingers to the broken mentality of the society that still at large believes that men can do no wrong.

Call out the flawed upbringing of them who are convinced that if women dress a certain type of way, they are “asking for it”.

In the words of Vir Das, “The infinite beauty and fun of being a woman is if she’s asking for it, she can just ask for it.”

Image Source: Still from FilterCopy|Fashion Conversations With Mom | Ft. Aisha Ahmed, Sheeba Chaddha, edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Akankha Basu Roy

The author is a Gen-Z kid who resorts to writing to vent out about the problematic ways of the world. Having majored in Theatre, English, and Psychology, I take a guilty pleasure in complex read more...

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