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Dress-shaming a product ofdeep-rooted biases in society

Shocked and outraged, the young girls followed her and confronted her for an apology that turned into a rather ugly shouting match. The confrontation was captured on a video and in no time became a social media spectacle.

gurgaon Updated: May 14, 2019 08:47 IST
Shubhra Puri
Shubhra Puri
gurugram,dress shaming,India
Among my morning walk friends, several felt that some girls and women do dress to attract unnecessary attention. So whether we accept it or not, this perception runs through and through.(HT Photo)

A recent incident in Gurugram that went viral on social media has once again highlighted the sexual harassment dilemmas that our society face. For those who are not tuned in, this is briefly what happened. A middle-aged woman entered a restaurant in Gurugram, and seeing young girl(s) in short dress(es), she implored a group of men sitting beside them to feel free to rape such girls who had what she thought was ‘immoral’ dress sense!

Shocked and outraged, the young girls followed her and confronted her for an apology that turned into a rather ugly shouting match. The confrontation was captured on a video and in no time became a social media spectacle. The apology eventually came, but by that time, the women on both sides had faced severe bullying in cyber space.

There is no denying the fact that our woman in question had no business whatsoever to comment on the girls dressing and heinously insult them in public. The girls did the right thing by asking her to apologise. But in reality, while most women may not have such an outrageous and extreme outburst as our woman in question, there are many in society who mirror her sentiments.

Among my morning walk friends, several felt that some girls and women do dress to attract unnecessary attention. So whether we accept it or not, this perception runs through and through. Another notion that emerged from the group was that your figure decides what could be the appropriate dressing for you. A friend in particular who had two grown-up daughters sounded helpless when she said that she had stopped commenting on her daughters’ choice of dresses long ago and that she does find some of the dresses inappropriate.

This incident brings out many deep-rooted biases in our society. It highlights the twisted perceptions and biases we have about our own gender, in the backdrop of rather stereotypical cultural values. It also brings out how we are becoming a “trigger happy” society quick to drop our “civil conduct” at the slightest provocation.

Why just this incident? On the roads, it is appalling to see when people instantly start calling names when another car even has a slight brush with their car.

A healthy outcome of the incident would have been to build public opinion on certain acceptable norms and code of conduct to minimise the cultural and civil divide that exist in the society today. One might argue that India is a land of many cultures and ideologies. It is indeed impossible to bring all on a common ground, especially for a topic as sensitive as this. But with more and more discussion at homes, formal and informal communities, forums, workshops, at least some prejudices and biases can be identified and resolved.

A common myth surrounding sexual harassment is that women provoke sexual harassment by the way they look, dress and behave, and that there is no smoke without fire. However, studies on sexual harassment have found that victims of sexual harassment vary in physical appearance, dress-type, age and behaviour. How else do you explain girl children getting molested or raped?

Another myth is that those women who face such harassment lack self-confidence and therefore self-defence training is important. The reality is that even so-called confident women can be taken for a ride and self-defence trainings are not the “be-all, end-all” for preventing such crimes.

We need to go beyond these myths and biases to do a deeper root-cause analysis of the problem that plagues our society. Many real answers will emerge and, surprisingly, a lot will be to do with women themselves. One key point will be what mothers tell their boys about the rights of women and what it means to respect them. What women think of other women especially from different age groups and economic status will also throw up many surprises.

As a civil nation that is progressing and evolving, we will have to draw the lines, somewhat, on what is appropriate and inappropriate. Otherwise, ugly events such as these will continue to expose the underbelly of our divergent society.

(Shubhra Puri is the founder of Gurgaon First, a citizen initiative to promote sustainability in Gurugram through workshops and research books.)

First Published: May 14, 2019 02:24 IST