Woe Is Me! “Is My College Dress Code Sexist?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“My college propagates misogyny in the name of a ‘formal dress code.’ We aren’t allowed to speak up against it without facing any repercussions either. How do I claim autonomy over my own body in an educational institution that claims to be a safe, inclusive space?”
— Whose body is it anyway?
DR: What you’re facing is extremely unfair; it’s also a reality millions of college students across India are forced to live with. That doesn’t make it alright in any manner, of course, but it does speak to how difficult bringing change is going to be.
Since you mentioned your college claims to be “a safe, inclusive space,” perhaps, exposing that lie through social media is an option you can explore; the imminent threat to their reputation might push them to rethink their dress code. Simultaneously, if you’re able to appeal to like-minded students from college to organize civil, in-person protests, that could lead to media coverage, thereby compelling the authorities to be less sexist — outwardly, at the very least.
However, before you decide to undertake any of this, do spend some time weighing your options — are you sure your pursuance of bodily autonomy won’t come at the cost of jeopardizing your mental health? Basically, considering its impact on your life and wellbeing, make an informed choice about how you’d like to proceed. If needed, do involve a confidante or two in the process — after all, dissent often needs company anyway.
RN: Organize and strike! They can harm one dissenter but they’ll have a much harder time silencing a whole collective. You’re probably not alone in feeling the way you to — and you certainly aren’t the first to want autonomy over your own body either. There’s a powerful common cause here already.
On the other hand, small acts of resistance are another route for times when you might simply feel exhausted. You could start with wearing a colour you aren’t supposed to, applying nude lipstick if it’s banned, and generally wearing clothes a tad shorter than the rules dictate. Before you know it, you might inspire others to do the same.
AS: This is indeed a very reprehensible measure taken by your college. While it might not be easy to outright protest against it — I am guessing your college must also be regressive and controlling, in other ways — you can maybe start by talking to your classmates to make them realize how the college is trying to police your bodies in the name of a dress code. If there are teachers you trust, you can also consider raising this issue with them — that could open up avenues of meaningful conversation on the issue. But if nothing works, maybe leak the story to the media.
AS: Speaking up together is probably the best way to tackle this. Bringing about a change in any large institution is extremely difficult, but not impossible. If many of you feel the same way about the dress code, you could come together and try to speak to your college administration about this, as a group — explaining to them exactly where the problem lies. If they insist on having a dress code, you could come up with a crowd-sourced proposal of what a non-discriminatory dress code might look like from the students’ perspective. That might help to get the point across. Whatever you do, don’t stop raising your voice about this.