“Hey, you know we aren’t allowed to wear sleeveless clothes anymore?” This was how my roommate greeted me when I returned to college after the winter vacations. She looked at me with anticipation, counting on me to launch into an outraged rant about unfair and sexist rules. But honestly, I just felt tired, and wondered: How is it possible that VIT University, a reputable and internationally accepted university, even attempts to enforce such an archaic rule only on women students?
Over the next few weeks, I heard of incidents where friends got turned away at the hostel gate if they wore sleeveless clothing. They were sent to the Chief Warden of the hostel, where she would tell them to wear a shrug, or to go back and change. Arguments were met with a blanket statement: “This is for your safety.”
A week ago, a group of girls attending a conference were told to change out of their formal “Western clothing” (shirt and skirt) to something “more appropriate” (like full pants or Indian clothing). Obviously, the wardens have their mindsets and misguided fears in place, and are not looking to have them changed by a bunch of “liberal, Western-clothes-wearing” girls!
Although every one of these incidents angered me, I was also confused.
You see, the university has not actually made this an official rule. There is no email or circular enforcing any sort of dress code. The only ones concerned about what we wear are our own hostel wardens – women themselves. If you manage to make it out of the hostel gate without being caught, you are in the clear. No one else protests any kind of clothing, in the classroom, or in the administration buildings.
This speaks to the university’s fear of being perceived as regressive, while simultaneously catering to clearly regressive beliefs of what an Indian woman should wear. What frustrates me even more, is that the emphasis is specifically on Indian women; international students are given a much freer reign by the same management. For instance, they are not stopped if they wear short skirts or sleeveless tops, while an Indian girl student most certainly will be.
The issue that arises here is hardly new – “protecting” women, instead of educating men. As I see all this happening around me, my sense of outrage and injustice heightens, but so does my feeling of helplessness. These are the people who are in charge, these are the people who dictate what we wear and how we show ourselves to the world.
Why do they still think we are in danger because of our clothing?
Do their saris protect them any more than our skirts?
How can we look to change the behaviour of men if we ourselves do not stand with our women?
To my mind, the struggle to change the mindset of these women is more difficult than that of men, because here, there is a keener sense of frustration. You are one of us. So, why do you not support us?