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The Blatant Sexism Hidden Behind College Dress Codes

Women in Pakistan’s universities bear the brunt of management's patriarchal restrictions.

09/10/2017 9:53 AM IST | Updated 09/10/2017 9:53 AM IST
Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

Pakistan is at quite a bizarre juncture. Seventy years on, the country is still clinging on to its colonial roots that find leadership in neckties, beauty in light skin, and brains in the English language. And yet at the same time, it continues to set strange, rather farcical standards for its inhabitants that are conveniently labelled as either cultural or religious obligation, but are more a consequence of the country's underlying patriarchal order. Because bearing the brunt of these are mostly and only women.

In a recent turn of events, the admin at FAST-NU has reportedly issued a stringent dress code for its female students, restricting them from wearing tights, sleeveless tops, shorter length shirts, and even make-up. FAST, however, isn't the first institute to impose such polarising regulations. The country's other leading universities also have similar dress codes in place. But while most of these universities justify them as a way of encouraging a formal educational environment, by subtly limiting male students as well from channelling their laidback fashion sensibilities in a pair of jeans or a graphic tee, FAST-NU has at least been honest about its intentions.

It is all about controlling women

The university it appears isn't interested in rationalising this as a 'grooming exercise' but is instead focused on curbing any display of 'immodesty or indecency' by its female students that may emotionally, or better yet sexually, 'provoke' male population on campus. This, in fact, is the real basis of all such dress codes. On many occasions, while men have managed to get away with breaking these rules, women have reported having been penalised or returned from the main entrance for not following them religiously. A student even shared how she was threatened with a disciplinary committee action by a group of four teachers trolling her for wearing a pair of tights under her long, flowing kameez.

How many times has research proven that there is barely any correlation between clothing and sexual harassment and assault? Several.

Interestingly enough, Pakistani women are not the sole victims of sartorial sexism. Earlier this year, a young student was also forced out of a chess tournament for wearing a 'seductive' dress – in this case, a high-neck top paired with a knee-length skirt. Pakistani women also have to worry about fittings and looking pretty, because any enhancement of their feminine features unnecessarily distracting men is a bigger priority than educating these young women. It's a woman's job to ensure that her body doesn't encourage the opposite sex in any way, for her own safety, because rape culture and harassment is a woman's fault.

How many times has research proven that there is barely any correlation between clothing and sexual harassment and assault? Several. Yet, administrations and authorities incessantly single out women, labelling them the flag bearers of temptation. Every time there is an incident at a school or the workplace, young women are immediately advised to dress more conservatively because their bare arms and ankles are likely to destabilise the male learning environment. Men are equally susceptible to sexual assault so where is the ban on bare biceps and unbuttoned collars that may evoke a woman's sexual desires?

It's a dangerous idea to instil; to not let young men be accountable for their lack of self-control and imply that a woman is responsible for the way she is treated or looked upon. It is a sort of blanketed leeway being offered to men for escaping liability for their actions and an unjustified right; an opportunity to exercise force and use violence for whatever they may interpret as women breaking the cultural code.

The onus is not, and should not be, on women to 'avoid being a temptation', for men will be men, their sinister, predatory selves, but on men to not conveniently assume vulnerable young women as sexually available and asking for it. This idea that any sort of sexual advances are unavoidable so long as you exist in a public space is the real problem. Imposing dress codes on women will not help maintain a stable learning environment, teaching men not to get distracted and not be rapists will.

The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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