It was a hot and humid summer day. “Don’t wear those shorts today!” my mum told me as I put on a pair of my favorite denim shorts. I removed the shorts angrily, threw them to the floor, and put on a pair of ugly, shapeless black sweatpants.
As a first generation Indian American girl partly growing up in India, I’m supposed to conform to certain practices and live within certain constraints. A lot of the time, the constraints and practices limit the clothes you can wear, the independence you hope to have, and the wishes for your life. I couldn’t wear shorts that day because my uncles, aunts and male cousins were coming over for a couple of days.
As an opinionated young girl growing up in India, I have asked my mum why I can’t wear shorts in the presence of male relatives. If my male cousin can walk around in a pair of shorts, why can’t I? She always told me that I had to be wary of inviting unwanted stares from men around me. Well, if they look at me weirdly, shouldn’t that malign their character and not mine? I’m doing no wrong by wearing a certain amount of clothing. If they look at the wrong places that’s their fault and reflective of their awful character. Not mine. My culture treats women as hypersexual beings. That’s why we are always told to not wear revealing tops, shorts or even form fitting clothes. If I go out on the streets with shorts, I would probably be heckled at, or even raped.
The few instances that I do wear shorts, I feel so uncomfortable. I remember wearing shorts to a local mall. It felt like I was in the spotlight. Wherever I walked, people would stare. That day I told myself that I would stop being so “bold” with my clothing choices. As academics and scholars always preach, learning a theory and putting the theory to practice are wholly different. So was the case here. I believe, theoretically, if men can wear shorts, then women can do the same. But, in practice, actually wearing shorts, even in the name of gender inequality, is quite distressing.
What I’m trying to tell you is this: In my eyes, gender inequality still exists in India, whether you’re rich, poor or in the middle. The gender inequality I’m exposed is subtle and insidious. Women, as history has shown us, have borne the brunt of this type of inequality. Sometimes, unfortunately, the women around me perpetuate practices that relegate women to the sidelines and allow them to be discriminated against and limited. Perhaps, that’s the saddest thing: women working against women. Not for women.
Written by Shruthi Kamisetty