Ever wondered what goes through the head of Ashok Srivastava each time a young woman in jeans walks past him? It’s demanding enough for the Convenor of the Uttar Pradesh Principals’ Association to stay composed when any jeans-wearing young woman walks by. But imagine the serious conflict raging inside Srivastava, a good man of the kind we don’t meet often enough these days, if a jeans-clad college girl with a dexterous figure — with the wind blowing through her hair — and humming ‘Jaadu hai nasha hai’ walks by in slo-mo.
Did I catch you sniggering at Mr Srivastava, one of the men who drafted the proposal — now chucked in the dustbin by the Mayawati government — that would have prohibited women from wearing jeans to any of the 400-odd postgraduate colleges in UP? Well, I can’t see his perfectly normal heterosexual reaction to a young, attractive lady wearing figure-hugging trousers being any different from yours (if you’re a man, that is) or mine — except, perhaps, in intensity, which in turn depends on the frequency of spotting women in jeans on a regular basis (not that much for Srivastava, I would presume) and one’s own hormonal balance.
What is different, though, is how Srivastava wants to deal with his biologically-driven affection for women in denim: by not having them anywhere near him. (In some societies, of course, a more effective method would be to punish women in jeans so as to make them stop existing altogether.) As far as I’m concerned, you don’t have to be a hick or a pervert or even the head priest of the Guruvayur Temple to be distracted by the ergonomic quality of jeans when fitted on to a charmingly-shaped lady. The nature of the limbs-hugging jeans, after all, is to highlight the physical attractiveness of the wearer. (Thus, the total pointlessness or more of, say, President Pratibha Patil wearing a pair of Levis 901s.)
No woman — or man, for that matter — wears clothes to look unattractive, not according to their own set of aesthetics, that is. Their objective may be to look ‘smart’, ‘traditional’, ‘radical’ or a permutation-combination of all three. But the basic premise, even of someone like Sushma Swaraj, is to present oneself as ‘attractive’, a diluted-by-evolution-and-social mores version of the original biological purpose of looking attractive: advertising one’s sexuality.
The woman-in-jeans, of course, elicits different reactions in different settings. A jeans-wearing girl walking along Flora Fountain in Bombay will be seen as a different entity from the same girl in jeans cycling along a Gorakhpur alley. It’s as different as an attractive lady in a sari in Delhi is from an attractive lady in a sari on the streets of, say, Melbourne.
So, much of everything that surrounds the business of women in jeans boils down to what men make of it — and what women make of what the men make of it. The pitch against women in jeans, of course, will never be in the following form: “I am reacting hormonally to those girls in jeans under that tree. Please ensure that they don’t wear such tight clothes and force me to think of things other than the price of plums!” Instead, the rationale is always on this line: “Other men — lascivious ones — are reacting hormonally to those girls in jeans under the tree. Please ensure that they don’t wear such tight clothes!” Here’s Ashok Srivastava’s version: “It has been seen that eve-teasers generally target girls wearing jeans or modern clothes.” The truth is that I don’t think he’s wrong. One man’s women in hip-hugging jeans can be another man’s women in bodice-hugging salwar-kameezes. Although I suspect that in 2007, when eight school teachers were heckled and humiliated for flouting an unwritten ban on wearing the salwar-kameez (instead of wearing saris) in Bakhrahat Girls High School in West Bengal, the reason was less to do with hormonal-politics and more to do with the running cultural battle between perceived Bengaliness and non-Bengaliness.
The latest jeans imbroglio won’t be the last jeans imbroglio. Men will — comfortably or uncomfortably — get turned on by this iconic, all-pervasive apparel that accentuates the wearer’s hips and buttocks. In the 1979 horror blockbuster, Jaani Dushman, a monster is on a killing spree, murdering brides in traditional red wedding dresses. You don’t have to be Sigmund ‘Penis’ Freud to realise that the hairy monster lunging at women is a man who turns into a beast every time he sees a belle in a bridal costume. The town reeling under the horrible attacks tries to figure out who this monster is, never once thinking that the matter could be resolved if all the brides simply start wearing something less revealing and ‘red’. Like a burqa or something.