In India you see a lot of people wearing so-called traditional clothes. Colorful saris, salwar kameez, dhoti, lungi and kurta. Especially in the villages, there you see very few women wearing western style clothes. Men yes, but women no. Women wearing jeans is one of the best tell-tale signs that you are in a city. I made a casual observation about this:
“I suppose now we are in a city. You see a lot more women in western clothing here.”
“Yes, but I think it’s a shame when they give up the traditional style. The saris are so much more beautiful.”
I didn’t say anything because I’m not sure I agree. Of course the saris are beautiful, but what do they really represent? Is it really a free choice? And if so, how come you see more women making the choice to stick to the traditional clothes? Not just in India, but all over the world. How come women always seem to be the ones that have to carry the traditions? I also think the traditional women’s clothes in India are beautiful but it’s not really a relevant argument or point in this context. Especially not if you follow the observation through on a more global level. A burqa isn’t beautiful. A burqa is a prison that hinders your movements and deprives you of sensory input. The sensory deprivation isn’t applicable for a sari, but it does hinder your movements. Then again, so does high heels.
Strange isn’t it, how in all cultures there seems to be an element of captivity in women’s clothes? Why is that? Why are we constrained by our clothes to a much greater extent than men? A business suit may not be the most comfortable item of clothing, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to move around in that a mini skirt. Same with a lungi or a dhoti. It’s not even close to a sari. Not to mention the burqa or chador. How come men’s fashion is always more easy to move it? A frequently used argument is that men need more freedom of movement due to their activities in various types of labour, but one only needs to actually initiate brain activity to realize that’s utter bullshit. As if women didn’t work! I would rather go grocery shopping in a thwab than in a chador that’s for sure, and I would rather do laundry in a dhoti than in a sari just the same way as I would rather attend a meeting in a suit rather than a mini skirt and high heels. So, no, it’s not because women don’t work that women’s clothes prevent freedom of movement. So why then? Why hasn’t women’s fashion been adapted to the actual activities women perform in the clothes to the same extent that men’s fashion has?
The conspiracy theorist in me wants to scream “it’s all a plan to keep us where we are, to keep us down!”, and the scary thing is that I do think there’s a little bit of truth to that emotional outburst. There is a real element of captivity to women’s fashion and not only that, the same is true for the beauty statement. It’s not mainly functionality but beauty or appearance that rule what women wear. And that is a very much a global truth. As much as we like to think of our western culture as free, women here are just as enslaved by their garments as women in the muslim world. For western women it’s not necessarily about showing modesty with our clothes, but we still have a norm to conform to. Our norm is beauty, we should all aim for being as beautiful as possible. And that is really the only plausible explanation for high heel shoes and mini skirts. So in a way my inner conspiracy theorist is actually right ,because we are indeed being kept down by this. We are being held prisoners by our clothes. And we are also appointed bearers of culture and forced, explicitly or implicitly, to carry this burden whether we like it or not.
In India there’s a growing movement of hindu fundamentalists that are attacking women in western style clothes. They will hunt and batter them in public places simply for their choice of clothes. Yes, saris are beautiful, but unlike in our western culture it’s not only about beauty. And that’s why I’m not so sure I agree it’s a shame when indian women chose to wear jeans. Especially since beauty is just another aspect of the same prison.