Reflections triggered by an outrageous outburst over dress

Sometime back, a video of a middle-aged woman shaming and rebuking young girls for wearing short dresses in a restaurant went viral on social media. As I watched the video, memory of an old incident, almost forgotten, that took place more than two decades ago flashed across my mind.

Though the setting and time was different, there was an uncanny similarity between the two incidents. The place was the staff- toilet of a girls’ college where I was teaching. As I entered the restroom, I got a shock to find our no non-sense, dynamic, energetic Principal scolding a girl. Standing in front of the full-size mirror, she was reprimanding the girl for wearing shorts, “Look in the mirror. You should be ashamed of what you are wearing….exposing your thighs.” The Principal was admonishing the girl in her no-holds-barred style for dressing up inappropriately. However, the similarity ends here. It was not a random ‘aunty’ ‘moral policing’ the young girls at a public place, but the principal of a college rightfully cautioning the girl for her inappropriate attire on campus.

That was in the late ‘90s when most girls used to dress up modestly. The times have changed. Girls today are bolder, westernized and audacious in their attire. However, I wonder if the choice of outfit can be disassociated from the socio-cultural environment. In the liberal west it is quite normal for women to wear short revealing dresses, but while visiting conservative Arab countries they are issued advisory to dress up modestly to avoid unnecessary gaze. The message: Better to be dressed appropriately than to get unwarranted attention.

Coming back to the incident of the outrageous outburst of a middle- aged woman against the girls, the behavior and conduct of the woman in rebuking the girls was highly objectionable. To link sexual assault on women with the length of her dress is indeed a reflection of a sad, regressive mindset. Time and again, it has come to light that rape has nothing to do with the dress of a woman. If that were the case, women in burqas, fully covered from the top to toe should be absolutely safe, but that is not true. In fact, it is the sick mentality of men which is responsible for the heinous crime against women.

The incident led to outpour of disgust and anger in the social media against the ‘aunty’ (as the woman was addressed on social media). She was ridiculed for her totally unwarranted outburst against the girls and was made to apologize.

Progressive young women came out in large numbers on social media platforms to question the primitive attitude and regressive outlook, not just of the woman in particular but also the society at large. However, expressing wrath in the virtual world and winning the battle on social media is quite different from questioning the patriarchal mind-set in the actual world. The real challenge lies in changing the mindset of the society and correcting the bias. It is important to educate men to treat women with respect, and for that values must be inculcated in childhood itself. An upbringing based on gender equality is of utmost importance as gender discrimination is the reason boys are emboldened and girls feel unsafe.

Coming back to dress, the provocation behind the comment, I believe that a  woman should have the freedom to decide her attire but, at the same time, I am of the opinion that the choice of outfit is to be appropriate, one that does not compromise her dignity.

( Published in Woman ‘era May 2024 issue )


36 Replies to “Reflections triggered by an outrageous outburst over dress”

  1. This is one subject on which I find myself quite conflicted. On one side I agree fully that length of a dress doesn’t invite sexual assault. Things happen to fully clad women as well kids. The very mention of this fact is painful to my heart and mind. I always give one anology if a woman wears expensive jewellery and walks out in unsafe environment she has more chances of being robbed. A woman in skimpy outfit may invite lascivious glances in an unsafe enviroment . She should be ab le to look after herself. As for maintaining dignity well the very definition of the word has changed. I only wish and pray that our girls should remain safe.

    1. As always you have put the things in right perspective.Rape may not have anything to do with the dress but why invite unwanted attention and stares by wearing revealing dresses.

  2. I agree with you Rama and appreciate your comments on that woman’s outburst. Unfortunately our generation is caught between clash of two contrasting cultures. Our younger generation does not want to be called backward. For a rapist dress does not make any difference. How to change their mindset is a million dollar question. Modern mothers have to thi nk about this before it is too late. In the race of so called modernism we are losing our cultural values. Our Project was started keeping all this in our mind.

  3. This reminds me of an incident which happened in another college .A new teacher who came from Bombay and joined the English department was wearing trousers and a jacket which is considered a formal dress in the West, the principal saw her in the corridor and told her that she should wear a Sari in the college .Needless to say that the teacher resigned and left.

    1. Interesting ! Perhaps those were the days when saree was compulsory for the teachers in city colleges. We, too, in MCM adhered to the saree as saress code for decades together.

  4. Very well written. Though there is acceptance that clothes don’t lead to rape, still I feel everyone is not able to accept and acknowledge this thought whole heartedly. Reason is clear. We still lack clarity in our own mind regarding right and wrong on this issue. If we look closely at research, women have been raped by people known to them. So equipping one self with skills of judgement of people and their intentions , is what is required and not clothes. Equipping oneself with self defence techniques, pepper spray, Safety apps is important. If we use fire, we do make arrangements of fire extinguisher. If we go in swimming pool, we do keep life saver tubes near by. India is a land of mixed cultures and hence mixed opinions. So this confusion is inevitable.

    1. What an apt analysis on the subject, Navjot! The heinous crime against women is to do with the sick minds rather than the dress of women. But, I feel, why get unwanted attention by dressing up outrageously.

  5. One more excellent article written by u Rama….👌👌👏👏👏👏👏keep writing such a NYC and gud massage giving articles….

  6. Actually boys at the very young age should be taught to respect girls even outside the home. Boys should not be given VVIP treatment at home at the cost of girls. This will help to remove the problem from the root level. Girls are to be treated at par with boys not in the constitution only but also we should start from our homes itself

    1. Very true Mrs Chopra.
      I am sure you know that the Principal reprimanding the girls in the staff toilet was Mrs Mahajan . She never minced words and I was witness to the scene .

  7. Costume has nothing to do with dirt prevailing in society .Madam,I also want my daughters to wear colourful chudidar suit dupatta but they prefer western attire.Parents,teachers and elders loves their girls a lot.So,they are very protective and possessive.Their way of blast could be wrong but theirs affection is great.

    1. Yes, of course ,it is to do with sick minds not with the dress of woman.There is nothing wrong with western dresses but the dress should not be such to get unwarranted attention.If you are travelling by a public bus and wearing a miniskirt that will be inappropriate.

  8. Ma’am,I didn’t know it earlier that the principal ma’am referred in the blog is actually Sneh ma’m.It’s wonderful! Ma’am taught philosophy to my friends,was very affectionate, discipline and always ready to help students.

    1. Yes Garima, Mrs Mahajan became the Principal of the college after Mrs Roy. She was a strict disciplinarian with the heart of gold.

  9. A very thought provoking article dear Rama….l am at a loss to decide whether I stand to support orthodox way of looking at the issue or be liberal and modern in making comments….we can definitely try changing the mindset of men around us but how do we reach out the masses… I strongly feel in the adage ‘ while in Rome do as the Romans do’ A very well written article 👏

    1. Thanks dear Mrs Dhawan for sharing your honest views on the subject. Precisely, this was my predicament when I wrote this article.
      I totally agree ‘ While in Rome , do as Romans do.’
      Always grateful to you for your encouragement . 🙏

  10. Very thought provoking article Rama dear
    You are very right , no connection of dress for rape . It is the ill mindset of the rapist. But code of conduct has to be maintained in the institution I believe .
    I attended the course of Brahm Kumari . And learnt that same message can be given in a positive way

  11. Good write up as always dear Rama . Dressing up decently gives good vibes to the onlookers too ! In western culture students are taught to have choices at very young age but told that the consequences of whatever they choose to do in life is their responsibility!! At young age as four years old they start saying it is my body , i will do whatever i want with it !! As every third girl is dressed the same way people get so much accustomed to seeing the same that they don’t attract any attention !! I think kids just want to revolt about power in any form they can. A song – Let it go in movie called Frozen has caught frenzy of kids aged 2-6 Years old here . The reason asked my 3 year old is – she can shut the door to everyone – kind of revolting !!
    Thanks for invoking so much thought process !!
    well done !

    1. Kudos to you dear Vini for adding yet another perspective. There is always so much to learn from you . You are in a better position to comment with your wide exposure to the Western culture. When most girls there dress up almost the same way , it becomes a norm , doesn’t attract unwarranted attention. However, it is different here in India . In Mumbai , even Chandigarh also it may be Okay to wear bold dresses but in smaller towns and villages, you are inviting trouble .

  12. I have seen the dress generally worn in USA, Latin America, Schenegan countries , Middle East and of late in Rome. India is our base. Dresses worn are synonym to the society typical of that place area or region. Many a times the dresses worn are driven by the climatic conditions and occasion too. I experienced my first setback in the beaches of Florida. It’s Natural for a girl in Chandigarh to wear a western outfit while happily going for a party with friends. Conclusion dress short/ long/ loose /light/simple/heavy are occasion/ oriented and if the mentally sick eye is looking through it with an skewed view then let it be.

    1. Narinder, you are a globe trotter with a world view . And your last line tells it all .
      Thank you so much .

  13. As always a very well crafted n thought provoking article. Very honest and sincere views on the subject. एक कहावत है खाइए मन भांदा ते पाइए जग भांदा which hardly relevant these days. Dressing up in a dignified way gives good vibes to the onlooker n talks very highly about your decent taste. Moreover where is the harm in following n maintaing a code of conduct.

    1. Uma , I am so delighted to hear from you . Hats off to you for very well articulated comment. I agree with you dress ought to be dignified and appropriate as per the time and place .
      Thanks Uma dear

  14. Women’s Attire… An inclusive coverage where you did not leave anything new to say.. 😇
    It’s like washing a thread leaving d whole linen dirty for lack of will power.. 😈
    Do you remember all staff members n students wore white dress on certain days n of course it was morally enriching along with discpline n hard work in HMV. Jalandhar… 🙏
    Overdress is no protection.. Mind set has to be taken care of by teaching students history of brave Marathas… Rajputs.. Sikhs.. 🌷
    A conscious mind knows how to present oneself… Scolding while hurting d self respect is no solution. Congrats for expressing real situations.. Be blessed.. 🌺🌺

    1. Thanks di for your detailed insight into the subject. I really like the way you go down memory lane to quote from your own life experiences .. Thanks for reminding me of Monday whites in HMV . .. that is more than four decades ago . Now it’s a different time altogether.

  15. Mam I witnessed that incident that was 1989-90 session.Two of our seniors very smart,beautiful and modern girls were applying makeup in washroom.I still remember the harsh words of our respected principal. Truly speaking I was just 18 at that point of time and conditioned in the manner that I found mam principal as if she is taking care of girls 👧 now it looks like that stereotype behavior always ban women its better to educate men to behave well .

    1. Thanks dear for sharing your vivid memories of the incident. I must say you expressed beautifully.
      Yes , Mrs Mahajan was harsh with her words but she meant good . I believe decorum in educational institutions and work place ought to be maintained.
      Gursharan, you are right that with education and age perspective changes .
      We fully understand that molestation and rape are to do with the sick mind of men rather than the size and type of dress . However, I still feel dress is a reflection one’s personality.. should be decent and not provocative. Why invite unwarranted attention?
      Thanks Gursharan once again for your thoughtful engagement on the subject.

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