This Indian Paper's Fashion Advice Reveals Everything Wrong with Treatment of Indian Women
On Saturday, one of India's popular newspapers, the Hindustan Times, published a column of sartorial advice in the "Lifestyle" section that suggested women take a different approach to dressing themselves.
The newspaper suggested women stop wearing pants and start wearing miniskirts (especially in the snow).
The slideshow includes various women, none of whom appear to be Indian, wearing skirts under a headline reading, "Seriously ladies, it's time to ditch those slacks for short skirts."
Though the column may seem to be an innocuous list of style suggestions, it points to the much larger problem of mainstream media's pressure on Indian women to dress more suggestively.
Along with the obvious problem of cajoling women into revealing clothing, there's the issue that wearing these kind of outfits literally puts Indian women in danger. The country's women have repeatedly been targeted and punished for dressing "immodestly" with everything from assault to rape.
A larger trend: The pressure to participate in exactly the kind of behavior that's used to excuse attacks on women is part of a disturbing dichotomy in Indian society. While it's extremely important to remember what a woman is wearing is never an excuse for any kind of unwanted advances or assault, the fact remains Indian women are being targeted in what's becoming a increasingly disturbing and systemic problem.
In December 2012, a 23-year-old student in Delhi was gang raped so violently on a bus, she died two weeks later. In May 2014, two girls were raped by four men, two of whom were police officers, when they went to urinate outside in the absence of having a real bathroom.
The problem has also made its way into the media's spotlight. Gauhar Khan, a presenter on Raw Star, the Indian equivalent of American Idol, was slapped and assaulted by a male audience member in December 2014 for wearing clothes that he said were too revealing.
Tip of the iceberg. While some might argue these examples, though heinous, are anecdotal, the relevant statistics reveal just how pervasive this issue is. A woman or girl is raped roughly every 22 minutes in India, according to national statistics reported by the Associated Press — and that's only counting the reported cases.
"India is a horribly patriarchal society," Jayati Ghosh, an economics professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Mic. However, Ghosh says, the problem of gender-based violence is far more complicated than entrenched patriarchy.
"It is exacerbated by material fragility with young people, whose opportunities are so out of sync with their expectations. They can't access the world of films, TV and ads being dangled in front of them and they're mad as hell about it. And when you're mad, you often turn to those you can get away with abusing."
This, combined with an increasing number of young women getting educated and appearing in public spaces, Ghosh said, creates a perfect storm. Once you factor in the subordination of the lower social castes, the problem gets even worse.
And despite the outrage some of these high-profile cases have garnered, the numbers aren't getting better. Posts like the one by the Hindustan Times only compound the country's confused identity.
Lighten up? While the issue of gender-based violence should unequivocally be a top priority, there are other dark undercurrents revealed in the way mainstream media presents women in India.
The models in the Hindustan Times are all noticeably lighter than what one might expect for the average Indian. Unsurprisingly, the nation has some seriously unrealistic beauty standards. Bleach cream, used to lighten the skin, is one of the most popular beauty products among Indian women, composing a $500 million dollar industry.
Troubling ads like the one below are also commonplace in India. You don't need to understand Hindi to get the Pretty Woman "big mistake" parallel as the once-dark-and-dismissed lady is greeted with respect after she lightens up with Fair & Lovely cream.
India has a number of demons to face when it comes to the treatment of women. Admonishing the denigration of dark-skinned women and punishing rapists for their crimes are steps in the right direction. Accountability is one of the only ways things will change.
Ghosh also argues that gender-sensitization is a cruciality. While having an equal number of men and women in the police force is important, people of all genders need to learn more about those who are not like themselves.
"And the much more significant thing to do would be making this sensitization start in school, in public schools," Ghosh added. "Because if we don't teach our children the tenets of humanity, no one else will."
In the meantime, even if the Hindustan Times column was just a innocuous mistake, like fashion magazines tend to make, it reveals a much larger problem overtaking a country with an increasingly poor record on humans rights. So, "seriously ladies," dress however you want.