"Scanty" Dresses vs. Our Cultural Perception

Amit Pyakurel

Alongside the flamboyant political discourses, what has been oft-repeated in our national dailies currently are the arguments over women's revealing attires.  Dissenters often argue that this has put our national culture at stake and the practice is unethical and unacceptable to "our" society. Others argue that it's the individual choice for what to wear or not and merely resemble the issue as our changing cultural perception and way of living.

So what's the criteria to determine our cultural values as per the lengthiness or shortness of clothes we wear today?  What clothes be regarded as 'Nepali' in a true sense?  If the Daura-Suruwal for men and Gunyu-Choli for women was considered only the Nepali attire, then almost all of us may share a blame for not abiding by "our culture" in today's context.  The concept of the clothes we wear today like pants, shirts, or saris, which even the dissenters of "alien cultures" happen to accept easily, had also been adopted from other societies.

So the saying that the clothes we wear today are putting our cultural values at stake doesn't hold ground.  Any attitude, perception, or lifestyle are prone to change in today's context of globalization and no one could claim that one particular culture (without any definite criterion though) or way of life is one's inherited and unchangeable identification.  Change is unavoidable and we acquire many things in life from others, be it habits, ideology, or culture itself. 

Sure, we do need to preserve and maintain our traditional and cultural aspects those are unique, exciting, and that give us an invaluable identity in the world.   But does this mean we must only stick to our traditional values and never be open to accept, recognize, or even adopt others' interesting customs or lifestyles, which are different from ours? As human desires are unlimited and we are prone to expect more and better naturally, should we be made confined just within the boundaries of what we've discovered, understood, or followed till date?  Doesn't also our sense on our clothing fit in to this human nature?

The criticisms also indicate that "scanty" clothes worn by our urban women portray "vulgarity" or "indecency."  What would determine the indecency in a real sense, is a tough question indeed.   Is there any universal taking that affirm a certain type or measurement of clothes to be decent or indecent? Some Muslim nations wouldn't even allow women to show their face as per the cultural pretexts.  But European and Western nations amiably accept women in revealing attires, without the sense of indecency.  This sense of openness seems to have comparatively lessened the sexual crimes than in the restrictive societies where the aspects like sex and nudity has inherently remained a taboo subject.
Over-restricted sexual desires may invite more indecent and ugly behaviors clandestinely, which would otherwise be lessened if certain amount of openness and freedom could be maintained on this regard.   A vibrant example is the recent study that showed Pakistan, comparatively more restrictive when it comes to women's (revealing) clothing, having larger number of porn surfers on the internet than in other freer western nations.

Love for one's culture, tradition, and national values deserve appreciation, and we're not the only nationality in the world to abide by this logic.   But it doesn't make much sense when we are overwhelmingly cautious towards our culture, for instance by too much focusing on how we dress, instead of giving attention to other intricacies like poverty, political instability, discrimination, and injustices tormenting our nation as a whole in present context.   Instead of criticizing who's wearing what, why don't we pull up our sleeves to do something really genuine to do away the real problems our country is facing?

Truly, we equally or more significantly need to acquire other progressive good examples from others, besides way of dressing or other habits that sounds interesting.  Also, instead of giving more importance to trivial things like what others wear, we could more be aware on how we all be moving forward in the ever sophisticating and advancing world.

Also the adage that revealing clothes make women more prone to sexual harassments or rapes by provoking the sexual desire of the perpetrators also merely seems to unreasonably stress the vulnerability of "inferior" sex in our society.  Is revealing dress solely liable for all the ill-intention of the perpetrators, as though there is less significance regarding personal morality or social ethics? Does a woman's revealing clothe give leeway to those miscreants to do whatever they like, simply if they are "provoked"?  Can't we make severely strict laws against eve-teasing, sexual harassment, or rapes, which would quiver the guts of the perpetrators before they commit such crimes?

Surely, there are other more important aspects that needs to be revered in a woman (or a man), as revealing clothes just convey superficial attraction.  So as the dress is not so imperative in overall judgment of a woman's stand, it's also unessential to extremely ponder into this issue.  It's in the eye of a beholder to term exposure through attire as beauty or indecency?   In natural sense, sexual attraction may bear a resemblance to physical desires like hunger and thirst.   But does our human ethics allow us to aggressively or forcefully seize an attractive food item with a decorative wrap in a shop, simply if it further provoked our hunger?  We will be called a criminal if we do so and our natural instinct over hunger isn't the excuse here?

Yes, we could draw a line against the unsolicited freedom in clothing, as freedom to wear anything you like doesn't mean you bare yourself on streets that could account to public indecency or offense.  But such a limitation could be determined through a self-insight itself, as anyone could one way or the other perceive how much of skin-show is acceptable to their society and among their associates.    The overt exposure of skin that is aberrant to the surrounding would in a due course automatically be discouraged, as it would expose indecency or stupidity rather than beauty.   But the issue need not be inflated in public discourses or overtly debated in media, as it is to be psychologically tackled through our common perception, which would eventually set a line amid what is decent or indecent.
The author can be reached at amit.pyakurel@gmail.com

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