The newly-appointed Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat’s derogatory comment on how women wearing ripped jeans cannot provide the right environment for children at home, yet again highlights the chauvinistic attitude of our politicians towards women. Narrating an incident during a workshop on substance abuse organised by the Uttarakhand State Commission in Dehradun, Rawat said he was shocked to see a woman running an NGO in ripped jeans and was concerned about the example she was setting for society.
"If this kind of woman goes out in the society to meet people and solve their problems, what kind of message are we giving out to society, to our kids? It all starts at home. What we do, our kids follow. A child who is taught the right culture at home, no matter how modern he becomes, will never fail in life," said Rawat.
Further, he went ahead and made a disastrous analogy that wearing ripped jeans leads to substance abuse.
While politicians' moral policing of women in India is not even remotely surprising, what’s shocking is that it continues even today when several ministers have had to bear the brunt of making public statements on women’s clothing by releasing justifications and apologies. Case in point is when Bengaluru Congress leader Kavitha Reddy publicly apologised to actress Samyukta Hegde for making sexist comments against her in a park for wearing a bralette while exercising.
The pervasive male gaze
When a politician makes remarks like ‘what message are women giving out by wearing ripped jeans,?’ one is forced to wonder, ‘what message has the politician derived from it?’ Does he mean that women who wear ripped jeans are not mentally stable to raise children? Does he mean that women wearing ripped jeans attract the male gaze? Well, he has already claimed that wearing ripped jeans leads to substance abuse. How difficult is it to question the society that gives so much importance to a woman’s garments that it judges a woman’s character by it?
Let me explain what women’s clothing signifies once and for all. A woman’s clothing is her choice and none of society’s business. A woman wearing ripped jeans or clothes baring her knees, midriff, etc. will raise a child progressive enough to not condescend other women or men based on their clothing. Substance abuse is a choice many people make out of their own will and has got nothing to do with people’s choice in clothing.
An NGO founder is free to wear any kind of clothes – a salwar suit or a pair of ripped jeans – because solving people’s issues comes out of compassion and not from her choice of clothing. A woman’s clothing signifies nothing more than her mere choice of wearing it on a particular day to feel better and confident.
Politicians who judge people through their short-sighted and misogynistic lens fail to make the people they govern feel safe in their jurisdiction. Such politicians have closed their eyes on the current reality of life and choose to enforce their regressive mindset on people. A discussion on politicians’ inexplicable obsession with what women wear even on this day and age signifies how important it is to have gender sensitisation workshops for them for better governance. Sadly, Rawat is not the first – and he certainly won’t be the last – to deliver advice on women’s clothing. As long as we continue to take comments made in the public domain lightly, we’re calling for our own doom, ladies.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)