I spent this past week keenly monitoring social media and everyday I became increasingly worried at the rhetoric being spewed under the #mydressmychoice hashtag. I’m surprised that in 2014 in a country, albeit conservative, that has made tremendous strides in the equity of genders can still be fighting archaic, primitive thinkers. As shocking as the public disrobing of those young women were, even more disturbing were the proponents who sat behind their social media devices and came to the conclusion that the solution to public indecency should be to completely expose the victims intimate parts and shame her to not only never wear those clothes that they felt were indecent but to perhaps never leave the house again without a pistol or a bodyguard lest she be accosted. Where is the logic in curing public indecency by publicly shaming the victim? I condemn to the highest degree what happened to those women. It was not only wrong but outright violence against women and every day that goes by that the perpetrators are not brought to book is a slap in the face of gender equity that we fought so hard to attain. Where were the security apparatus? I would expect a more fitting reaction to someone scantily dressed would be, “sister, it is not safe for you to be dressed like that, there are animals that can hurt you, here’s my jacket, cover up”
To paraphrase Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie, young girls are taught to be ashamed of their bodies, they are taught to cover up and stifle their individuality. They are taught that their appearance is not theirs to be in control of or even be proud of but much rather they must conform to societies predestined ideals of what a young woman must look like. Never have I heard of a young man being publicly undressed because his tight, sagging trousers, his Mohawk or his tattoos offended another man or woman.
With that being said, I come from the school of thought that as a woman, particularly a young woman, your appearance will always be the first thing you are judged by and that may be to your advantage or not.
I talk to my daughters and many women around this world and I know young women are under an enormous amount of pressure to look “beautiful” as society determines it and sometimes try too hard to fit in but we also must not forget our cultural values. We must not try too hard to emulate western cultural standards and abandon our own. We must teach our young girls that they should want to be judged by what’s in-between their ears and not which famous designer they are wearing. Young women wear low cut tops and short skirts thinking this will earn them admiration and although it may, it is the wrong type of admiration. It is sexual admiration, which my dear daughters, will go as fast as it comes. Soon you will learn that there will always be someone younger, fitter, prettier and that’s the tragedy of beauty, it depreciates. Invest in education, because even if there is someone smarter than you, a simple book can tip the scale in your favour.
It has always been my sentiment that a woman’s dress is as much her choice as what she eats for breakfast. Some women prefer long skirts, tight tops, high heels and enjoy a cup of uji (porridge) in the morning, while others, like myself, enjoy our eggs sunny side up. If you don’t like it, remember, we don’t have to dine together.
By Ida Betty Odinga