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Feminspire | April 19, 2014

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“NO SHORTS ALLOWED”: Living With Gender Inequality in India

“NO SHORTS ALLOWED”: Living With Gender Inequality in India

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

  • Karmel

    I know how you feel. I’ve only ever been to India a few times when I was younger, but with everything’s that’s been happening there recently, I’ve become more and more aware of the circumstances regarding women. I read this to my 80 year old grandmother and she completely agrees with you. It isn’t fair, and it does say something about those people’s characters and not yours, but the unfortunate truth is that India is one of the most dangerous countries for women. It’s sad and horrible, but true that men of all ages will look at you if you wear shorts or other clothing that reveals, you know, skin, but I suppose it really is for your own protection. I really hope one day we can finally bring about change.

  • paul

    This is pretty much a universal problem, with different manifestations. Imagine, for example, the case of a skinny, androgynous young man shaving his legs, putting on make up, wearing a pair of hotpants and a form-fitting top, and walking up the street. In many western societies, so called liberal democracies, such a person is very likely to be on the spotlight, attract a lot of flack, and even face violence. Look also, for example, the case of extreme violence against transgendered females (especially those of coloured skin) in the United States (Islan Nettles is the most recent example). I fully agree with the concerns you are raising, and just wanted to add that they exist everywhere at different levels, and makes different groups of people suffer.

  • Lauren

    The only way is to educate men, and create gentlemen instead of creeps. It happens in all societies and there will always be men that think they deserve to not only look (which is fine in my opinion) but to make loud sexual comments or whistle. At the end of the day these men will look and make comments no matter if the women is covered from head to toe or in a bikini.

  • astrellas

    When I was a tourist in India, I thought that the dupatta was a scarf that people wore for style. When I moved to India, I was informed that no, it’s not for fashion, it’s actually meant to cover the breasts (the kurta doesn’t cover them enough already??) I guess the fact that breasts are there is too much, and it’s ideal if they’re covered so you can’t even see the shape.

    However, my dupatta still slips out of place sometimes, back up like the scarf I used to think it was (it’s not always easy keeping something so long in place). But it’s really no big deal. Or at least, I don’t think it should be. But sometimes I’m still told to put it back properly. Especially when there are men around (one time men came over while I was wearing my husband’s t-shirt and I had to wear a dupatta over the t-shirt :-/ )

    Being a foreigner who has come to live in another (very different) culture, I sometimes find it difficult trying to find balance between respecting the local values (conforming to social norms to blend in and not offend anyone) and respecting (what should be) *my* rights- rights that every woman/human being should have. I certainly don’t conform to values I don’t believe in when I’m in the US, but here, because I’m not Indian and have only been here for a relatively short time, I feel the need to be more careful about not stepping too far outside of what’s considered socially acceptable, because my being here in and of itself is already stepping outside the norm.