Around 3 pm on a perfect happy Sunday, I received a call from my somewhat disgruntled senior. With sympathy and despair laced in his voice, he informed, "I am sorry, but we are going to have to take down your introductory Instagram post from our MUN (Model United Nations) page for two days.". The school management or the teacher in charge had decided that my attire in the said post looked, you guessed it, "inappropriate". Classic. Naturally, I was immediately infuriated. But, I maintained my composed demeanor and told him that it was alright since he had already done his best to convince them and was not at fault.
Later on, I reassured myself that this was a justified action as MUNs are a formal event, and my attire did not meet that image. Perhaps, I was just upset that this happened specifically to me. Perhaps, I should have been more careful. I moved on with my day as usual and waited for my post to be re-instantiated.
The next day, I was required to send a picture for another event's introductory post. Mindful of last time's incident, I meticulously selected one that did not look vulgar from any aspect. It was a picture where I wore a pink camisole with a blue cardigan that covered my arms and shoulders. Along with that, my long hair covered up a lot of my already covered upper body.
An introductory post was prepared with this picture by my seniors and posted on the Instagram page soon after. Within 15 minutes, they took it down. Again. I received a text from my senior asking for another picture. This time I sent a picture of me in a blue T-shirt. It had no bare shoulders or bare chests or anything that would be considered "lewd" by the orthodox executives. It was just an ordinary blue T-shirt. Which too faced rejection on the basis: Formal wear only, T-shirts are prohibited; seems like a fair reason for them to disapprove of it. Right? I thought so too. Until I went back to the Instagram page and discovered this: the introductory post right before mine was of a man-- a man in a blue T-shirt.
Would I get dress-coded these many times if I were a man?
From an early age, women are trained to be modest and kind and to take responsibility for their actions. "You are a girl Ananya! And girls don't do bad things" dictated my kindergarten teacher when she found me along with my male classmates, playing a game that involved us pulling up our shirts. We were at the innocent age of four at the time. I wonder what made it perfectly acceptable for the boys to flaunt their bare stomachs as part of a kindergartener's game but made it so wrong for me to join in.
Dress codes are used as a weapon to demonize women for feeling comfortable in their skin and provide inequitable justification for men's actions. A common phrase that schoolgoers encounter is: "A girl's bare shoulders distract boys in her class.". Such sayings instill the idea that if a boy is more focused on staring at a girl's shoulders than his education, then the GIRL is at fault and needs to act in a manner that aids HIS education, even if it is at the cost of her own-- leading to girls being sent back home to go change, while boys continue attending classes as usual.
What if we started holding men accountable for their actions?
Instead of asking women to cover up at schools or workplaces, start holding men accountable for what they do or don't do. Being distracted by someone's body is not a viable excuse for unproductivity. The aforementioned is especially concerning because a woman's shoulders or breasts are not even sexual body parts. According to basic biology, they are not a part of the reproductive organs. Breasts are merely a sex characteristic akin to a man's beard or their relatively broad shoulders. The double standard is crystal clear. Therefore, if you are sexualizing me, you are the problem.