Ever since the Vogue Empower ‘My choice’ video went viral, a lot of women have been asking – Is it really our choice? “My body, my mind, my choice – To wear the clothes I like,” Deepika Padukone enunciates in the video. So does choice simply mean picking what you want to wear? Hardly. Personally, ‘my choice’ is a lot more than that. I believe it is our innate ability to value ourselves and feel happy about who we are – as women. But, such things in a country like ours, where we live in an eternal dichotomy, seem far-fetched.
Let me narrate a real-life incident to prove this to you. On a recent trip to South India, I was confounded by a rather strange situation. I stood at the Ernakulam Railway Station, waiting to take a train to Nagercoil. A young couple stood a few feet away from me. They were foreign tourists.
They looked like backpackers and I was trying to imagine them intrigued by the contrasting enigmas that our country had to offer. I watched them from a distance. It seemed like they were oblivious to the stares they were inviting. Firstly, they were ‘white people’ who stood on a train station. Secondly, the lady was dressed a bit differently. A loose yellow T-shirt, hung on her shoulders that opened up all the way down in the back. All that the T-shirt did was hang in there, by a puny string.
For a long time, the many demons in my head were involved in a decision-making battle. I was not sure if she was dressed inappropriately. Till date, we have no dress code that defines what is appropriate and what is not. Trousers, jeans, T-shirts, can all be categorised as vulgar or decent based on how we perceive it. So, I knew in my head, it was perfectly fine for her to sport a T-shirt, that let in ample air in this summer heat. Besides, the weather was so unpleasant that I would have worn something like that myself – just to feel comfortable. But many years of conditioned thinking had me struggling with a long kurti.
As I continued to watch her, my worries for her quadrupled. It may seem commonsensical that people who dress a little differently always seem to invite trouble in our country. But then again, dressing is a personal choice. It is a person’s right. Unfortunately, many in our country would not agree with me. India has seen too many atrocities perpetrated on women – nothing ever seems fair.
Should women dress modestly? From time immemorial, women have been advised to dress ‘properly’. Revealing clothes have often been associated with ‘inviting trouble’. At the same time, I wish, many mothers had taken the trouble to tell their boys – ‘that women are human, too and not objects of desire’. Too many generations have gone by and women no longer know what it is like to dress for comfort. The idea for girls to value themselves for who they are and not how they look seems too far-fetched. In that light, if a woman wears a T-shirt that reveals her back, nobody bats an eyelid before deciding it is outrageous.
Somewhere, we have got all confused about vulgarity, comfort and personal rights. Women should have the right to dress the way they want. But, to instill the thought that women should dress to look attractive is wrong. Unfortunately, it is a battle that women have lost even before it is fought. The media has been extremely generous to educate generations of girls, that they are meant to look good and be attractive.
It also has been successful in teaching girls that one of the ways they can be attractive is to wear revealing clothes. Since we all carry this thought in our head, anybody who wears a T-shirt that shows more than what we are used to is labelled vulgar. Hence, clothing for women is not about personal choice or personal right. It has become about what the society thinks is appropriate.
But then, standing in the train station, as I watched this young lady, my worries persisted, because she was now inviting many glares and men ogled at her bare back. The only other thought that crossed my ‘moral’ brain was – would she get into trouble? News items about atrocities against foreign nationals is commonplace. I was glad to find tourists, despite stories in the foreign media about swine flu and women’s security.
I knew she had a right to wear what she wanted, but I wanted her to carry back a good image of our country as a souvenir. I wanted her to be safe. Sadly, I cannot educate all the men in our country. So, I did what I could do.
I went ahead and had a chat with her. I asked her to cover up. I am still deciding whether I did the right thing, because, at the end of the day, is it not her choice? And as for us, is there really something like a choice for women in our country?