Change the mindset not the dress

hemlines-sleeveA 12-year-old recently withdrew halfway through a chess competition after supposedly being told that she was dressed inappropriately.

The Kuala Lumpur district chess champion made the decision to leave the tournament she was participating in after she was interrupted mid-game by the chief arbiter who allegedly told her that the short-sleeved knee-length dress she was wearing was improper, “seductive” and went against tournament rules.

She was also told that she would need to change her outfit if she intended to continue participating in the competition.

A number of different versions to the story have since emerged and though it still remains unclear as to who will actually be held accountable for what transpired, what remains consistent and undisputed is that the dress in question was deemed to be inappropriate and suggestive in nature.

I have seen the dress for myself as images of it have been circulated widely but cannot in any way fathom how it could have been possibly deemed to be improper or risqué especially considering that it was worn by a 12-year-old girl no less, still very much a child at best.

Unfortunately, this incident is not an isolated case of moral fashion policing and is merely the latest instance of overzealous self-appointed guardians of virtue trying to regulate how women and girls throughout the nation should be dressed.

Exactly what values are we upholding when a bright young girl makes headlines not because of the aptitude and ability which she demonstrated during a chess tournament, but rather due to how she was dressed during the competition?

When incidents such as these occur, they send out a number of detrimental messages and further perpetuate some already flawed and damaging notions that only serve to further victimise girls and women in addition to emboldening men and boys to continue viewing the opposite sex through a very narrow, sexualised perspective.

Not only does such baseless displays of moral policing reduce and limit the worth of a female to her mere appearance, worse still, they unfairly place the burden of how others can and should behave and act around her, solely on her shoulders.

Girls and women in this country already have a lot to contend with. It’s virtually impossible to walk down the road without being leered at or catcalled, irrespective of how one is dressed.

I have seen girls in hijabs and flowing garments being harassed in much the same way as those baring their arms or their legs. We are constantly inundated with horror stories of sexual assault, molestation, sexual abuse, rape and a litany of other horrific sexual offences with victims ranging from female infants to pre-pubescent girls to elderly women.

Based on recent reports, Malaysia recorded approximately 28,741 rape cases between 2005 and 2014, with data collected by women’s groups indicating that on average, 10 women in the country are raped each day with more than half of them under the age of 16.

All of this, to me at least, strongly indicate a serious problem with how women and girls are being viewed and treated, not how they are dressed.

Persistent attempts to regulate female dressing under the guise of propriety and morality only serve to further exacerbate the existing issues at hand.

The spotlight has for far too long now been on hemlines and sleeves, when it really should have been on education and mindset right from the start.

Continued efforts to restrict and control girls and women using their outward appearance as justification for doing so, only serve to further perpetuate the dangerous and false notion that the female sex is to be blamed when they find themselves on the receiving end of unwanted advances and undesired attention.

Female temptation, enticement and allure superficially form the focal point of this discourse, when the focus should instead be on men and boys and how they choose to view and treat the opposite sex.

If we are truly concerned about being morally upright as a nation and care about being seen to have the right values, then perhaps it is about time the focus and attention was shifted from the exposed kneecap of a 12-year-old chess champion to trying to answer the difficult question of why she was viewed within a sexualised framework in the first place.

Gayatri Unsworth is an FMT columnist.

With a firm belief in freedom of expression and without prejudice, FMT tries its best to share reliable content from third parties. Such articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. FMT does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by any third party content provider.