I recently read a piece on Buzzfeed about items of clothing women have been barred from wearing in 2014, and I was livid.

Some of them include:

* Women in Uganda being banned from wearing mini-skirts. Some were even publicly undressed for wearing them;
* More than 250 girls being removed from a school in the UK because their skirts were too short;
* A 13-year-old American girl and her classmates being told that leggings are “too distracting to boys” in an educational environment;
* Female children’s TV show presenters in the UK being barred from wearing red lipstick or looking “too sexy” on air;
* A senior student in North Carolina being asked to leave her prom because she wore trousers;
* Muslim women wearing a niqab in Australia being forced to sit in glass enclosures instead of regular public galleries in the federal parliament; and
* The Qatar women’s basketball team being forced to forfeit a match because wearing a hijab isn’t allowed.

These are just a handful of the many clothing restrictions being imposed on women this year. And that’s not including the unwritten “rules”.

Some South African women are stripped and forced to parade around taxi ranks because they wear mini-skirts.

This is a real thing. In 2014.

People, this is not the Dark Ages. We’ve gone through the age of Enlightenment. We have access to information and knowledge. We have hard-fought liberation from oppression from many blights on human history. Why on God’s green earth would we be restricting women in this day and age?

Many of these rules have been put in place because all of this is “distracting to men”.

One of the commenters on the Buzzfeed article said that the “no shorts” rule in her school was so that the boys and male teachers would not be distracted or tempted. Male teachers? How is it that a teenage girl can tempt a male teacher and it be the student’s fault?

Are men so weak that they have to control women’s bodies in order to suppress their urges? Were these “rules” not in place, would all men go on raping rampages?

Instead of shaming women, how’s about we teach our men that women aren’t mere sexual objects?

Even with all these “rules” in place all over the world, rape, abuse, sexual violence and femicide is at an all-time high. It’s not my short skirt that’s the problem. It’s the perpetrators who think that my short skirt means that I am “asking for it” that are the problem.

Take away and burn all the revealing clothing you want; sexual assault will still be a problem.

A friend of mine once wore a dress to school on civvies day. A dress as long as our school uniform, except it was blue instead of white. A male teacher saw fit to feel her up. In primary school.

Women in the Middle East, under Taliban rule or not, wear a niqab every day. Yet the area has a high rate of violence against women.

There is still sexual assault at workplaces with strict dress codes for men and women.

What clothing restrictions like this tell women is that their bodies (and ideologies) are others’ to control. (And that includes banning women from wearing a headscarf, which should be a choice.)

Throughout history, human beings have always felt the need to control other people. Whether by political or military rule or ideological indoctrination, people have and still do believe that everybody else’s ideas, identities and bodies are there for everyone else to criticise, mock or own.

We jokingly judge people at every turn. “Oh God, she’s hideous without makeup.” “What was she thinking putting on that dress?”

But it’s not a joking matter. Who are we to decide what’s physically, morally and publicly acceptable?

What women wear is their business, and their business alone. By all means, tell your friend that the dress she’s wearing does nothing for her figure or that lipstick colour doesn’t suit her skin — but never, ever take away her choice to not wear it.

It’s a man who chooses to rape a woman, regardless of the law. Why in the world would a dress code stop him? How’s about we curb that sort of behaviour from men, instead of telling women that it’s them that is the problem?

No? Well then, we have a problem. And banning items of clothing ain’t gonna fix it.


  • Nikita Ramkissoon is site editor for Mail & Guardian Online, is a lover of all things music and loves her cat more than she likes most people. She can usually be found hiding behind her camera at concerts.


Nikita Ramkissoon

Nikita Ramkissoon is site editor for Mail & Guardian Online, is a lover of all things music and loves her cat more than she likes most people. She can usually be found hiding behind her camera at concerts.

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