I remember the day a man stepped in front of me, grabbed my upper arm with enough force to leave a bruise, and poured the dreadful words over my head,
“If we weren’t in these streets, I would give you what you are asking for.”
He ruined a perfect day. We both looked down at my favourite, mini skirt and drew two different conclusions from it. For me, it was a fashionable item of clothing for a bright summer day and most teenagers like myself, adored it. For him, it was an open invitation to express the perverted fantasies he could not act out publically (upon a minor). I immediately forgot where I was headed. I snatched my arm away and turned back. He tried to follow me, throwing narrow-minded remarks about the fact that I shouldn’t “take myself so seriously” and question what he was supposed to say to me “dressed like that”. I ran home. I pulled off my skirt, crumpled and tossed it into the darkest corner of my wardrobe. Then, I resented the idea of getting dressed every morning for years to come.
Clothes are a popular way for people to express themselves. First impressions are often based on them and to some extent, there may be some truth to the old saying “the clothes make the man.” However, most people overlook the fact that it is hard for girls, even women, to get dressed. People are often judgmental, categorising females according to what they wear. They calculate their worth, value or level of intelligence based on their clothes. The scariest thing is when they justify what happens to them according to what they wore. As though females bring about their own misfortune through revealing their bodies.
Clothes quickly turned from fabric into words and statements in my wardrobe. I was too scared to mix or match items together out of fear of what message it would send to different people. That was fuelled by instances where victims of rape or violence were considered to be “asking for it” when they were dressed in a certain way. My incident happened at the start of my teenage years. I thought nothing of it until my journey of self and style discovery was quickly overshadowed by anxiety. I was always worried about what people would say about me, or my worth. What the missing three inches of material from my skirt would invite and whether I had enough material covering me to ensure justice (should anything ever happen to me).
That was a terrible mentality for a girl to have. When I spoke of the incident to my mother and aunts, who had noticed my sudden anxiety about getting dressed, they shared their own insecurities with clothes. Then they taught me about self-liberation and acceptance. Emphasising the fact that it was not my responsibility to carry the evil mind-sets of people. They discussed in detail how easy it was for women to shoulder the blame of a cruel society in something as innocent as clothes. They told of how the violation against the bodies of women is a struggle as old as time and that covering those bodies has brought no end to it. Hence, I should dress in a way that makes me comfortable and happy. Most importantly, if I am ever to encounter a man as vile as the one who ruined my good day, I should tell him to learn better.
These days, I have been able to wear what I wish without having to worry. I have met my fair share of people who think a person shouldn’t wear certain clothes and those who feel they hold power over the female body. The irony is that some continue to belittle women despite them being fully dressed. They criticise tight, loose, colourful and even flattering clothes. In other words, they see what they want to see, no matter what is worn. It is hard to avoid such people and although I have tried, it is often harder to teach them differently. Not to overlook the beautiful individuals who know how to protect females without judgement or abuse. Also, I do applaud the girls who are brave enough to express themselves and their sense of style without hesitation.
The mentality of society in general needs to change. In no way is the length of a girl’s skirt an invitation or consent for violation.
Read about one writer’s journey to loving her body here.
Tell us: How has society’s expectations of what women should wear affected you?