He said, “You’re a very beautiful girl, but don’t wear such clothes…”

Everybody in India believes they know exactly how an Indian woman should dress (and eat, walk, drink, talk, laugh, work etc). Even random strangers. Some sing songs, some throw acid, some defend criminals, some impose dress codes… 

Controlling a woman’s choices is, in fact, romanticised in Indian movies. 

What do you think made this guy think he could walk up to a stranger and tell her how she should dress?

How would you have reacted, if you were in her place?  

Hi IHM.

Just wanted to share something an experience with you, since this one experience is part of a greater cause which both of you and I believe in, and its deeply troubled me.
This morning, I got into the metro to go to college. this train was just about to leave as I entered the station, so I ran and quickly got into the general compartment. It was really crowded, so I figured walking till ladies’ didn’t make sense. I stood there, read a book, listened to music on my phone, sorted out my hair. The usual.
As I left the train, this man came upto me. he seemed to be in his mid twenties, educated, English speaking, wearing a shirt, trousers, belt and tie. He said, if you don’t mind, can I tell you something? I said, sure. He said, “You’re a very beautiful girl, but don’t wear such clothes, everyone in the train was staring at you.”
For one, I was shocked out of my wits. I looked down to see what I was wearing, which was tights, chappals, and a SLIGHTLY low necked tee shirt. I said, who are you to tell me that? And he walked off.
Walking to college, i realized that I get stared at no matter what I’m wearing. but today, because some random men could see beyond my collar bone, one of them thought its his moral right to control my thoughts, and instruct me about decent clothing.
I’m still in shock. for one, I never thought an educated man would do this. also, I can’t believe how he or anyone else on the street can have the guts to tell me what I should do with MY body. Just because he’s a man, he knows better? Just because he’s a man, he has a right over every woman’s body, regardless of whether or not he knows her?
Also, I wish I could have told him, that my clothes aren’t the real problem. Mindsets of men like him are. while a man can dress exactly how he likes, I have to worry over what is accepted as decent, or non-rapable, as one of my friends jokingly call it..
I’m hoping you can put my experience on your blog (its also okay if you can’t, I just had to share it with you anyway!) I want to know if more people have had experiences like this. I also want to know how to handle such a situation, when you want to punch someone in face.
Hope all is well at your end.
Love,
Bani Bains

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81 thoughts on “He said, “You’re a very beautiful girl, but don’t wear such clothes…”

  1. Arggh! It is really so difficult to keep calm in such situations. But good you retorted back. I have not experienced anything like this, but if some random stranger (or not-so-stranger) gives me unwanted advice like this I would say: You yourself look quite decent, but I dont think you should keep your face uncovered. The ladies around you are staring at you.
    I would love to hear other responses. It always helps to have some standard replies ready, so that such people get a piece of our mind.

    Like

  2. This is nothing more than policing of women’s bodies. I’m very sorry this young woman had to experience this. I get the feeling this young man probably felt he was trying to protect her but that’s the issue with “protection.” It really just seeks to control women’s behavior.

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  3. maybe.. just maybe.. you reminded him of his sis and he was pissed at the way the other dudes were staring at you; and he thought of ‘warning you’ .. u know in a protective way ;-)

    .. and i cant believe i really wrote that ;P

    I rem travelling in the general compartment in a bombay local a looong time ago on a college trip. The guys with me saw some weirdos staring at me, saw that I was uncomfortable, and they silently just came and stood around me, shielding me. I didnt really know those guys then. They later became good friends. But they didnt preach to me. They just stood up for me.

    Had a similar thing happen in my office. A colleague finally built up the courage to talk to me .. after about 10 yrs. He was also a senior in my collage, though we’d never interacted. His first 2 sentences were – you look very nice in indian traditional. dont ever become westernised.
    Needless to say, I’ve avoided him since.

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  4. Oh we got it all the time back in the hallowed portals of the Indian Institute of Technology. Random guys will come and instruct you to wear a bindi all the time too.

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  5. I bet he was staring a too and thought that he was doing you a favor by offering you those precious pearls of wisdom. You should have asked him if it was okay to dress the way you were dressed if you’d been “ugly”.

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  6. It’s also possible that he was hitting on her and used a one-liner borrowed from a cheesy Bollywood movie. Of course the difference here was that 10 minutes later they were certainly not dancing in a fancy European setting :-)

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    • Maybe he was trying to impress her with his Indian values. Bollywood movies show the good guy harass, instruct or assault a woman, instead of asking her out and respecting her decision. And many Indian criminals think that’s the way to treat women.

      Like

    • Raja Hindustani comes to mind- Watched the movie again recently and was left aghast at the sheer amount of a**hole-ness the Raja character is allowed toward his lady love, all in the name of love.

      I once had a boyfriend who was mad at me for wearing clothes that attracted “too much attention” in the college library- the irony was that the attention was because of the fact that I was sitting with him- I was expected to know better than to go out with him, and I eventually did.

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  7. Just goes to show that education has nothing to do with knowing English or dressing well – I would not necessarily call that man “educated”.
    Incidentally, policing of a woman’d body is now a global phenomena. The niece of Toronto’s mayor recently caused a minor havoc when she advised women to “not dress as a whore” to avoid being sexually assaulted.

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    • I don’t thinks education matters in sure cases. It is your mind set & culture, n I am talking of the type of culture where people kill girls to uphold the honor,dignity & culture of there community.

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  8. I recently visited a Gurudwara. I saw many men in shorts but no women in anything above the ankles. Then, there was this girl, wearing a capri. One old gentlemen there, came up to this girl and asked who she had come with. To which she replied, she was here with her mother, and pointed towards her. The old man then said ” See, your mother (who was wearing a salwar-kameez) is in perfectly decent attire, and she looks beautiful. We are Indians, and we have the right to look beautiful, like everyone. But, “Sringaar karo, fashion mat karo”

    I know I am talking of a religious set-up. But I don’t understand why men in shorts are not objected, and a woman in capri( below knees, and perfectly ‘decent’) was.

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    • Happened to me in my husband’s home, Akanksha.

      It was torridly humid and hot, July in the North and I distinctively remember I was wearing an opaque black, cotton, knee-length skirt at home because I don’t for the life of me have a good tolerance for humidity. My MIL kept trying to convince me to wear one of those ankle-length ghagra style skirts which was synthetic just so I could cover-up.

      That night, I was waiting for hubby to come to bed and it seemed to be taking him ages so I went looking for him and what do I find? The 27 year-old man I call my husband is sitting with his mom and 30+ sister dressed in nothing more than the smallest of briefs and an undershirt. There was apparently no issue with that, not to mention I thought that was far more vulgar than a decent skirt!

      He was/is above the decent dressing rules of the house apparently.

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      • I have to say, I had the opposite experience. We went to the gurudwara here in Dubai, and I saw women and girls dresses in shorts and t shirts and no one said anything to them. I was quite impressed with the religion in itself for not taking heed of such things.

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    • :-|
      i went wearin’ a capri in a place of worship (i go to all religious places, and am a hindu) and was objected to… there

      i seem have the most different story to illustrate here

      (if not evident from my pic/name, i am a male )

      /////////

      though i am not counter -commenting on your post but yes sometimes ….. well leave it !!

      and as per your question , how’d i’ve reacted in her situation

      maybe just ignored it

      // can’t say !!

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  9. What was that? Gentle moral policing?
    Maybe you should have said – And you were not staring? And why didn’t you stop all those men who were staring? Do you think they were right to stare?
    OR – But I am a girl! I am used to staring! This country is like the bloody house of Big BOSS! Thanks for your concern. Now buzz of before I thwack you with my umbrella.

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  10. Lame and a piss off. I agree with Nish. Maybe he was trying to hit on her and project himself as a decent guy. Then the girl falls for him – oh such a decent guy who looks beyond my body and wants to cover me up. protective and traditional guy who does not fall for indecent girls.

    Well, I can think of people off my head who would not find this offensive – I mean females.

    This reminds me of an incident narrated by someone i knew to me. She was commenting on how a girl wore shorts though she tamilian and used to go to the guy’s flat in shorts to talk to a guy. This itself was disgraceful . Then that guy’s housemate told her to wear more clothes.
    “There is nothing more insulting to a female than to be told by a guy to wear more clothes”.

    See, the conditioning is too strong to break. We are decent people. Our men do not look at women (well seems like they are gay then)!, our women do not drink smoke go to pubs or wear bad bad western clothes meh…

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  11. you should have looked at him and then said “you are so right,i wanted to wear that skirt today.but,it just was not going well this this tee” :D

    on a serious note,this moral “i need to preach” will never go out of style.grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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  12. What I feel is that all of us should stop giving any details about what we were wearing when such incidents took place. I know the idea is to establish that you were wearing something that is usually considered ‘decent’, but the whole point is that decency is entirely subjective. How does it matter if your blouse was slightly low-cut or overtly so? It is none of his business. Period.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yes, you’re right. even if i was wearing shorts or a salver kameez, it wasn’t his business. but when i was in that situation, my first reaction was to assess my clothes, assess myself. your comment made me realize how much we internalize these values. without realizing i was subconsciously trying to see if i were at fault. it was only after a second thought that i realized that men whose basic mental state is rapist and chauvinistic, trying to assert power and authority over every woman’s body, will scrutinize me no matter how i dress. thank you for the realization :) ! bani

      Like

  13. you could’ve fallen in love with him(like right there!) for teaching you a valuable lesson and should’ve sworn to wear only saris from then on :)
    Later on, you both would eventually get married, have cute children, and one day you could tell them how the “great Indian values” brought you two together

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  14. This has never happened to me, luckily, but it has happened to my friends. When they went back to Kerala, once, they were waiting at a train station when a random woman came up to them, handed them a comb, and told them to comb their hair and tie it back. She also proceeded to tell them not to wear “such clothes”. My friend told her off very loudly right in the middle of the train station and when they walked back they got approving looks from a lot of young people. One of them even told her “don’t listen to those aunties, your hair looks nice”.

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  15. My husband and sister in law picked me from office and we all went for a movie. i was in kurta and jeans and my sis-in-law was in her shorts. We met husband’s friend in theater. H e advised my husband to keep my sis-in-law within limits. According to him my hubby has kept me in limit as i was wearing a kurti but my sis-in-law has crossed the limit. My sis-in-law is pursuing her MBBS and she was with us during her holidays. My hubby gave a nice reply to his friend. He told don’t worry today is a working day and my wife is in her work clothes. you should check her on weekend she also wears shorts . My sister knows what to wear and what not to. You don’t worry .
    Then my sis-in-law was like bhiaya let go and buy some of these out of limit dresses. We all had a big laugh that day.

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    • All the objection here is only about ‘setting limits’ and ‘keeping in control’ – that is why sari is seen as more decent than a salwar kameez, and some women are ‘allowed’ a nighties/maxi/gown but not jeans, salwar etc.

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      • As doctor prescribes medicine. There are dresses prescribed by our elders(male) . And if you are not following the prescription then you are doomed. Then you get comments like this..
        Ye ladki to hath se nikal gayi hai..

        Dekho kya kapda pehna hai ishne..iske maa pitaji ne kuch sikhaya nahin he ..

        aise kapde pahnke ye lok khud hi bolte hai ki aao humein rape karo..

        galti iski nahin hai galti to iski sanskaron mein hai..

        Like

  16. Had something similar happen to me in college. This guy was a senior and I could tell he had something of a crush on me (the most irritating chap you’d ever know) and one fine day, unfortunately, on our way back from college, we ended up in the same bus and Mr. Creep decided to sit next to me.

    I used to wear my hair really short – bob short at that time and I loved it. I remember distinctively, him telling me, “Why don’t you grow your hair?” and telling him that’s how I liked it and then being asked if I thought the women who had longer hair were all fools and if I wouldn’t do something that someone who “liked” me asked me to do???!!!!

    I repeated to him that it was my hair and I’d keep it as I liked it, as did other women with long hair, nothing more.

    Avoided him like the plague after that.

    Sorry, she experienced this, though. It is never pleasant when some man tries to put you into their little box of expectations just because….

    UGH!

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  17. Man I love that guy’s pickup line. A typical conservative girl in a salwar kameez with a little low neck would have fallen for him :)
    Now always this kind of posts make me think on what we can do from our side other than sympathizing with the victim. Anywhere in the world, things which look out of place would be stared at. The kind of costumes I see ladies wear in Bangalore which dont attract much attention here would easily be stared upon in a smaller town. That means men in bangalore did progress a bit right. Even in US if a girl sits topless in a train will be stared and can expect to get some piece of advises like this.
    So the only way out of this is to get our men exposed to more such non-conventional costumes more often. After initial days of heavy staring, people will slowly get used to it and accept it.

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  18. so i have this habit of using fake female profile to chat with men, one day as it happens a 10th standard kid tells me that the dressing is not proper and you should not wear short clothes.. u see thats conditioning.

    i think its a general middleclass behaviour, even women would have problem with other girls wearing shorter clothes, its certainly not a men vs women thing

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    • It’s not a men vs. women thing, it is a patriarchy vs. equality thing. Just like this is not a blog focussing on men vs. women issues. Patriarchy affects both men and women, and women are not called the foot soldiers of patriarchy without reason. Women have problems with other women dressing in a certain way because it violates the social norms they have been raised on. Lastly, this “habit” of creating fake female profiles to chat with men – I find it disturbing.

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  19. WTF? Good that you were able to respond!

    I used to dress very conservatively and wear dupatta when ever I went out. Then I moved out of India and started wearing skirts, shorts, sleeve less etc and realized how comfortable they are! I returned to India and even though I have tried I can not go back to my old conservative style! Dupatta makes me feel suffocated.

    Finally it dawned on me that men will stare at you no matter what you wear! When the do, I stare back and I win the competition. For the more aggressive ones, I either use ‘the finger’ or the ‘word’, and the language depends on my assessment of that person’s educational level. Thank god for that universal word! I know it is sexist but I dont know any other effective word not involving mother or sister!

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  20. My sympathies.
    The guy had no business commenting on her clothes or advising her.
    The only time I have accosted and alerted girls or women about their dresses was when I noticed that their salwaars or sarees were fluttering dangerously close to the wheel spokes of the motor cycles or mopeds they were riding or pillion riding.

    But…
    IF the email writer had known this boy well and was friendly with him and had asked him,
    “How do you like my dress?”
    What answer should this boy give?
    Be frank? Truthful? or Diplomatic?
    It is easy to guess what a frank or truthful answer would be.
    But just what would a diplomatic or tactful answer be?
    Just wondering
    Regards
    GV

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  21. People always had issues with my clothes …from family to relatives ..I never cared about anyone …and I wear everything from bikini to saree , according to what i like to wear and deem fit for occasion .

    I always had issues with Bfs/ ex hubby trying to tell me about what to wear and what not to. Obviously i never listened , then I was telling a close friend that how comfortable i am with my current Bf because he doesnt care about my clothes , freinds , habbits etc. .My friend said ” he doesn’t love you then” No man who loves a women can see her in such short dresses.
    This is the general perception , if your partner doesn’t disapprove of your lifestyle , he doesn’t love you :) I was just too amused .I knew what we share and did not need approvals .

    Like

    • This is how women too play a role in propagating nonsense against women. It’s in the hands of our current generation to change this, by bringing up our kids in a non-sexist and fair environment.
      Sati was not abolished in a few days … misogyny is the sati of the modern day world.

      Like

      • That’s an interesting comparison.

        I can’t help thinking that it would be far harder to stamp out misogyny that it was to stamp out sati.

        After all, sati was never a very common, everyday phenomenon even it at its height, and is positively rare today, whereas misogyny is something that you can see pretty much every minute of every day in modern society. Sati is a tangible act that can be detected and thus outlawed and stopped, whereas misogyny is an attitude, a value system, a set of beliefs. It’s impossible to stop people from holding misogynistic views, because the definitions are fuzzy; the most that can be done is stopping some of the outward manifestations of that misogyny.

        Misogyny is more similar to racism, IMO, and the strategies for eliminating them need to be somewhat similar.

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      • “…misogyny is something that you can see pretty much every minute of every day in modern society.”
        The same could be said of misandry, another attitude that is very common among Indian women (although much less evident, because of its greater social acceptability). I think it is a symptom of the gender segregation that is practiced in Indian societies and institutions, men and women never learn to get along, without being antagonised by the other. The platitude of gender equalists that ‘men and women are alike’ actually excarbates the problem, by not admitting the differences of biological and emotional wiring between different genders (and sexual orientations).
         
        I think misogyny and misandry are worse and far more difficult to get rid of than racism.

        Like

    • “I always had issues with Bfs/ ex hubby trying to tell me about what to wear and what not to. Obviously i never listened…”

      I hope you never tried to tell your Bfs/ex hubby about what to wear and what not to…too many women I see around me actually do that…this isn’t specific to males…both genders practice it…

      “…I was telling a close friend that how comfortable i am with my current Bf because he doesnt care about my clothes , freinds , habbits etc. .My friend said ” he doesn’t love you then””…

      In hindsight, there might be an element of truth here. No human relationship, including love, is without expectations, and expectations give rise to controlling tendencies. And yes, whether they admit it or not, women attempt to control men at least as much as men them, if not more. Whether and to what extent they succeed is another topic of debate. I hope you don’t care about his clothes, friends, habits either. And if that’s so, both of you seem to lack interest in a big part of each other’s life. Either you’re not planning this relationship long-term (it’s just “time-pass”), or one of you is rich and the other a gold-digger, or he has interests on the side….go check.

      Like

  22. I had a crazy lady in Chennai coming up to me and commenting on my clothes (fully covered in jeans and a full sleeves polo neck Tshirt). I told her to F*** off. I remember I got quite rude. A lot of strangers in Chennai really seem to think they can tell girls what to wear (or not).

    Like

  23. @ Akanksha Dureja
    “Exactly! :( Whatever a man wears can’t be indecent, as per Indian societies.”
    Not exactly. While there is a lot of leeway on how the poor in India dress, middle class Indians with ‘sanskaar’ have strictures about how men and women should dress. Even though dress codes on women are enforced with much more rigidity, I don’t think it is realistic to think a construction worker wearing a lungi as an example of how Indian men can wear anything they want.
     
    Even though I am heavily into metal, I can’t sport tattoos or long hair because it is deemed unprofessional. In summers, I can’t report to work wearing shorts, even though women can wear skirts. My hammer-and-sickle tattoo is considered offensive to the work culture of capitalistic, Hindu/Muslim Indians. In general society in mainland India, I can’t go around wearing shorts without disapproving uncles and aunties talking down their noses on how shameless and unclassy the ‘young generation’ has become. In fact, you would have an easier time gaining entry to an upscale nightclub wearing skirts, tops and sandals than I would if I wear a pair of boxers, a muscle tee and a pair of flip flops.
     
    I am totally against oppressive social customs and dress code strictures, but lets not break it down to a ‘my gender has it worse than yours’ platitude.

    Like

  24. In india everyone has the right to comment on your clothes. that’s a given especially if you are female.
    In my long ago dating days, my husband and his buddies ( both male and female) were lounging in the then b’lore club after tennis or some such , i walked by and he( my then unknown future spouse) stopped me pointed to my t-shirt and said — hi you might want to change your T’ oh boy . I thought he meant it was not decent and i took off on him and how he should mind his business and if it offended him and his friends to keep his eyes shut !!!! and i had no need for a protector.

    Later went to my room and realized i had leaned against some cow dung and it had rubbed off on my black T — yucky!!!!!!! uggghh

    the next time i saw him ironically i had done rangoli and my pale salwar was multi colored and dirty especially inthe back where i sat on red and blue powders , he smiled and covered his eyes :-) i so wanted to smack that smirk off his face, but walked slowly with my head held high – colors and all.

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  25. Interesting discussion.

    First off, I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion, including the poor guy. I am not sure what his intentions were… may be they were honoroble, may be they were not… but then again, who are we to judge him? :).. and more importantly, define “honorable” :)

    Secondly, I think that by expressing his unsolicited opinion, he was essentially trying to “control”. Basic human nature – happens whenever someone perceives himself to be “superior”

    Finally, if I were in the place of the girl, I would thank him for his unsolicited advice, but politely but firmly tell him that I am capable of handling myself – and can do it without his help. If he persists, depending on the situation, I would
    (1) use loud language and try to involve other people
    (2) Walk away (some of these jer**s could be lunies)

    This is what I tell my 10 year old daughter on how to react to bullying:

    1) Be aware of the surroundings.(If you are ever in a physical danger, walk away)
    2) If not, confront the bully directly. (pick up the leader among bullies and deal with him)
    3) If the bully does not back down, go to the nearest adult and explain. Bullies are typically cowards @ heart.

    I am so glad that recently she used this technique in beating back unfair practice by senior grade kids in the school bus.. They were bullying other kids (including my daughter) into sitting 4 per seat – while they were sitting all by themselves. My daughter confronted them by talking to who she perceived was the “leader” of the bullies. That girl did not back down. Next, my daughter walked up to the driver and told her what was happening. Problem was resolved and my daughter was never bothered by the bully again.

    Anyways, I am sharing on this blog in the hope that this may help someone out there…

    Cheers,

    Reg

    Like

  26. The response I would have give is that dialogue from Jab We Met:
    ”Yeh advice free hain ya kuch paisa chahiye ?”
    The guy will obviously say it’s free then I would have said ”Good, kyunki meri paas chillar nahin hain ” :D
    Excuse any grammatical errors in Hindi, I do not know it very well.

    Like

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