Sunday, 1 April 2012

Societally imposed self constraint; appraising my wardrobe

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time now.

The furore in Malawi that came about as a result of women being stripped for wearing trousers presented the perfect opportunity, but I did not take it. I told a friend about it and she urged me to write the post because she could not get her head around the idea that the clothes I wore might be unacceptable in what purports to be a liberal society, but I did not. I read Caitlin Moran's thoughts on the way women regard clothes as an expression of who we are, but still I couldn't get over this writers block. 

And then one of my 'Tweeps' said this and I had to respond!

 That I do not agree totally,when you meet someone who has dressed to attract client you will know ASAP! So let them be.

Its summer! Well, for now; the predictably volatile English weather is set to shock us back into our winter coats and scarves this week.

In my excitement, I've had a total revamp of my wardrobe. pushed my coats to the back and wrestled sandals,dresses,skirts and shorts from the bottom of my suitcases.

I'm not the only one.

Every where I look I see shorts and cropped tops. It seems that the look du jour is shorts that barely cover the derriere . I walked behind a woman clad in such attire in my local shopping centre and I was quite shocked. Perhaps I'm showing my age! Despite my shock I didn't immediately jump to the conclusion that said woman was evil, corrupting all our morals and an indictment on a society that has lost its way. I didn't think to myself, 'she deserves to be stripped for wearing such clothing'.

Stripping is, of course, an extreme reaction. The more subtle way to show displeasure with a woman's clothing would be to be judgemental and simply dismiss her as indecent. This kind of disapproval may not at first seem harmful but here's why it might be.

I know from personal experience the amount of time and effort it takes to carefully select the 'right' outfit taking care to ensure it's not too 'offensive'. You look at yourself in the mirror and decide after some deliberation that you love the outfit and the way you look even with that little bit of extra flesh on show.

Then you walk out of the house and are suddenly conscious of seemingly judging eyes.

A group of men stand on the corner and you brace yourself for what they might say to you. In fact, they need not say anything, their stares say it all. You are like a piece of meat on display at the butchers. You no longer walk with your head held high. You feel as though you want the ground to swallow you up.

The women whisper about how 'loose' you must be. They are threatened. Surely a woman dressed the way you are must be after their husbands. The bible says you must be modest, you are obviously not Christian enough.

You think to yourself, 'next time I wont wear this, next time I'll decide to blend in'.

Society has won, but are you the same person? If clothes are an important form of expression, what does it mean to have that taken away from you?

I look at my wardrobe and I know that a lot of it would be frowned upon in my home country. Do I cull it in readiness for my return or do I decide that it is more important to express myself the way I see fit?

Of course it could be that I'm completely paranoid. Is it only me that feels this way? And why am I shocked about the woman in the really short, shorts?

Oh, and y'all know I'm not a proponent of the over sexualisation of women so please don't use that argument against me.


  1. This reminds me of the story last year of the women in the Copperbelt who were harassed for wearing leggings :(. While I agree there are some women who shock me with what they wear in the street, the vast majority are not dressing in an overly sexual way, rather men are allowed to act however they like and blame it on the woman and this is socially normal versus respecting that what a woman wears is her prerogative and has got nothing to do with them or anything sexual for that matter...

  2. Someone, I can't remember who, from NGOCC was condemning the stripping on the Copperbelt which I thought was a good thing. She then went on to say, 'the women should also make sure they dress decently', and I was dismayed. Its not just men who allow this to happen it's other women who cannot grasp the concept that men are responsible for their own behaviour and should be chastised for it without any qualifications!

  3. This puts to mind the Ashley Judd article that I just blogged about...It also puts to mind Geraldo saying that Trayvon Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie because of what people think when they see a black boy wearing his hood up...