Dear Soul Sista, Why Can’t a Girl in India Wear What She Wants?

Smriti Sawhney Joshi is one of the first certified telemental health providers in India. She’s a clinical psychologist with 15+ years of experience in the field of mental health in diverse settings ranging from NGOs to schools to hospitals and attending to corporate clients. She answers a reader’s question here.

I am a 25-year-old girl from Indore. I lived for three years in Mumbai, and got into the habit of wearing Western clothes there. Now that I am back home, it is difficult to do so. Men stare a lot if I step out in sleeveless tops and jeans, or in dresses. My family tells me not to get into trouble and to keep myself covered. But I feel that more girls should wear such clothes, that too with confidence, so that the men around us get used to it. There are huge scenes at home every day when I go out. Am I right or wrong?

girl-410802_1920Dear reader,

Thanks for reaching out to us. Being a woman and a mother of two young girls, I can relate to the kind of “suffocated feeling” you are going through as well as the “protective instincts” of your family for you.

I feel sorry that a young independent woman in our country is questioned on her choice of clothes because of the danger that lurks outside the boundaries of her home. It’s indeed a sad state of affairs with regards to safety of women and children in our country.

In most probability, the intentions of your family are not to hurt you but to be protective towards you. Dressing should be for comfort and to give you a sense of confidence about yourself.  You do mention you get stared at a lot; does that make you feel uncomfortable about your dressing style?

If you feel confident and comfortable in your choice of clothes and can assure your family that you would be alert and stay in touch with them while you are out as a safety measure, it would work well for you and your family.

There’s an old saying, ‘Do in Rome as Romans do’. It doesn’t mean you don’t wear your choice of clothes but just be more aware of the places where you may attract undue attention, say while travelling alone, and dress wisely.

Also, I always recommend women get trained for self-defence. Whether they wear Western clothes or a hijab, the problem is not with what you wear; it’s the mindset of those around us.

Representative image credit: Sayan Nath / Unsplash. First published in the August 2017 issue of eShe magazine