It's hot outside! Let her wear those shorts...

dress code

It's hot outside! Let her wear those shorts...

My daughter was excitedly preparing for a class trip to Kabini, when she returned from school one day with specific instructions that girls were to wear only ‘long shorts’. “What are long shorts?” I asked, puzzled by the oxymoron.

“Shorts that are knee-length or longer. Mom, why was this told to the girls and not to the boys?”

It didn’t take long before a mother pondered this very question on our class mothers whatsapp group, and was joined by a bunch of other indignant moms. Notably, mothers of boys were absent from this discussion, and when we met for lunch the following week, they voiced their amusement at our indignation.

“Anyhow, we have sons so we’re out of this debate.”

“But you’re women!” I said, frustrated. This was not as much about our daughters, who could survive without shorts for a few days, as it was about the age-old issue: telling females to cover up.

The notion that a woman has to dress modestly in order to be respected stems from childhood and is passed on from generation to generation. Boys see mothers telling their sisters to cover up, and when they see these sisters modestly dressed, they automatically presume those who are not as covered are of questionable character. This is a dangerous falsehood to perpetuate, because every mother may have different ideas as to what qualifies as decent dressing.

Decency is subjective

There is no rulebook that says a girl’s skirt must be up to the knees, her sleeves must be up to the elbows and her neckline must fall no lower than an inch from her collarbone. So while one parent may allow her daughter to wear a skirt no shorter than her knees, there may be another parent at frowns upon any exposure of a girl’s legs. Similarly, another mother may feel that jeans’ are too racy and encourage her daughter to only wear salwar kameezes. It is clear where this leads. Children grow up consciously or sub-consciously judging those who don’t follow their own family’s code of behaviour.

Stop labelling other girls

Follow your own dress code without putting down girls who dress differently. For every mother who tells her daughter to wear skirts no shorter than her knees because ‘girls in miniskirts look like sluts’, there will be another mother who believes girls should be covered head to toe. Her children will not hesitate to think of your daughter as being ‘fast’ or ’available’ or whatever label their mother gave to girls like your daughter, who show some leg.

Let her set her own limits

Encourage your children to dress according to the weather. If it is hot outside, there is nothing more comfortable than a pair of shorts. Of course loose pyjamas are equally comfortable but if your daughter likes variety in her dress, cut her some slack.

As long as the essentials are covered, leave your girls alone. If you keep drawing the line for them, they will never learn how to draw it for themselves. Credit them with some intelligence and let them find their own limits, or before you know it they will be leaving their homes covered from head to toe, only to shed an outer layer of clothing when they are with their friends. Teach your boys that a girl’s clothes do not translate into consent.

If you catch yourself commenting on someone’s short skirt or shorts, swallow your words before spitting them out, or you are contributing to the rape culture that believes if a woman is dressed in a certain way, she is ‘asking’ for it. And as we have seen time and again, nothing could be further from the truth.

Women wearing saris and salwar kameez are raped. Women in burqas are raped. Little girls, babies, are raped. When you question what she was wearing when she was attacked, you are shifting the blame onto the victim. You are making excuses for the perpetrator, and there’s no excuse for that.

Challenge patriarchal norms

If we want the next generation to grow up with a stronger sense of values than the flimsy ones we consider the cornerstone of Indian culture, we must teach our children not to form judgements based on how much skin a female shows. The same girl or woman who wears a long dress one day may wear a mini skirt the next. Her character is based on her intelligence, her passions, her ambitions, her compassion, her willingness to stand up for what is right and fight against what is wrong. Her character doesn’t depend on what she wears. Her sense of fashion does.

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