[This forum article was first published in The Straits Times http://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/better-to-exercise-good-judgment-in-dressing/ ]
I took the liberty of rewriting this letter. Hopefully, this is more reflective of what the original writer meant to convey.
*I have no intention at all to make fun of this writer, and I chose to base my edits on her letter because I think her heart is in the right place and that it is perhaps due to her own experiences and conditioning as a woman, that her views may come out as such.
I am tired of living in a culture and society that victim-blames, slut-shames, that does not hold men to the same standards. It is perhaps time to hold society accountable, rather than accept that it is ‘imperfect’. Also, she was brave enough to send this into Forum, so I’m hoping that means she’s open to having her views rebutted.
“Mr Benjamin Sim Buke Huang’s letter (“Mind how we dress in public“; last Saturday) has generated much debate due to how much it perpetuates rape culture and victim-blaming. Both of which we do not want to encourage in today’s place and time.
However, his point that “women wear shorts to many places, even to places of worship” and that this shows “a lack of respect for others as well as for the religion” seems to have been overlooked by many of his detractors. This oversight may be due to the common belief that true religion accepts believers regardless of how they dress. Or perhaps, because it was more prudent to spend the word space on pointing out the glaring points in his work. Anyhow, I think most of us would agree that it is important to respect the customs and practices of others and all of us should be held to such dress codes if and when it is explicitly stated. However, Mr Sim could have perhaps been more inclusive in his observation and edited his point to “many people, both men and women, wear shorts to many places, even to places of worship”. I believe this may have gained his views more traction.
I don’t wish to sound prudish, but I must say I was also very concerned when I saw my adolescent son’s undergraduate tutor turning up in hot pants for one-to-one home tuition sessions with him, and they had lessons for up to two hours in his room. I had already turned up the air-conditioning and I worry that she might be too cold. Also, I often serve hot Dilmah tea for refreshments – it would be a disaster if she spills it over her lovely legs. As a concerned parent, I worry that I do not impress on my son enough, that he should always be focused on the task at hand – in this case, studying. Through no fault of his tutor, his lack of focus may serve to be a hindrance to the clear work-plan she has devised for each lesson.
The wearing of shorts and hot pants seems to be a trend among many university undergraduates nowadays. This is understandable given that it is extremely warm and also because Singapore enjoys year-round summer. Also, it may be because university undergraduates have perfected the art of paying attention, staying focused on the task at hand, regardless of how others around them behave. Of course, I am sure others are capable of this as well. This is a value and level of discipline I hope my son will learn.
Perhaps universities should consider holding talks on the importance of appropriate attire and the subtle messages that could be sent when one is wearing certain types of clothing. This may be useful when we have to decide what to wear when we have a job interview or when we have a day trip to the beach. Clothing affects one’s attitude towards the task at hand, which is probably why some jobs require uniforms, or maybe it is a branding choice. This is unclear and probably not as relevant a point anymore, especially in today’s start-up culture, where the only dress code is comfortable and casual. Perhaps it is borne of convenience. Actually, please ignore this point because if it really matters that greatly, places usually explicitly state their dress code. I have no idea what point I was trying to make anymore…
Would students be more serious in the presence of a lecturer dressed in proper work attire, or one dressed in T-shirt and bermudas? A quick, albeit unreliable, observation of the lecture halls prove that students do not actually care. If they are there to learn, nothing can stop them. If they are there for an afternoon nap, they will still nap even if said lecturer is dressed in proper work attire, complete with polished shoes.
Many of today’s youngsters embrace the latest fashion without much thought about the implications of their outfits. It is not uncommon to see them sporting tight-fitting shorts and scanty tops. I may be overstretching the truth, but this is a society we should perhaps aspire to – where people are able to dress however they want to and where everybody has the self-control to not violate them.
It may be a person’s right to dress as he or she wishes, but certain forms of dressing may invite the wrong type of attention. For example, it is still highly insensitive to wear a t-shirt with the words “Congratulations” to a somber funeral.
I have a right to carry a large amount of cash and wear excessive jewellery, but if I flaunt these possessions in public and get robbed, people will surely think I had it coming by flaunting my wealth. The same argument applies to sex crimes. Even though sex crimes may still occur regardless of how a woman dresses, posters with messages reminding women to exercise good judgment in their dressing before going out may be in order.
We live in an imperfect world, and
one has to be careful. we should start holding these people accountable for their transgressions, rather than blame their victims.
It is better to exercise good judgement before victim-blaming.
Thanks for making it through til the end. Let’s not be a participant or a spectator to rape culture anymore.