Two recent incidents related to clothing have had women around the world fuming. The garments in question have been part of the international discourse before – headscarves and skirts.
ANC Youth League member Sizophila Mkhize became the headline of the party’s national executive committee lekgotla last week when she was prevented from entering the venue because her dress was “too short”.
To their credit, ANC leaders rallied around, taking photographs with Mkhize, who was then wearing knee-length shorts, or, as a certain leader called them, a “bum short”.
The ANC said it addressed the issue, but didn’t offer any details about what action was taken.
It is disappointing that a lekgotla that was supposed to focus on real issues facing the country was overshadowed by an argument about fashion.
But was it really? Or was the real issue the fact that certain men still believe they have the right to dictate to women what they should or shouldn’t wear?
Last week, the SA National Defence Force withdrew charges against Major Fatima Isaacs, who is Muslim and refused to remove her headscarf at work.
But Shohreh Bayat, a referee at the Women’s World Chess Championship, is scared to return home to Iran due to the backlash she received when a photograph, taken while she was overseeing a match in China, appeared to show her without a headscarf.
Bayat says she was covering her head as she always has, despite disagreeing with the rule.
But that’s not the point. The point, as she said, is: “People should have the right to choose the way they want to dress.”
Across the world, the rules women must adhere to when it comes to clothing are different.
In Iran, women can be arrested for violating the strict Islamic dress code.
In other countries, particularly in Europe, women can be fined for adhering to it.
Closer to home, taxi drivers harass women who wear skirts that men believe are “too short”. And schools try to ban headscarves or natural hair.
These incidents are not confined to one country, culture or religion.
But they do have one thing in common – the targets are women who are forced to adhere to rules set down by men and are threatened, even assaulted, if they don’t.
As for men? They can wear what they want, when they want to wear it.
Think it’s a great idea to wear a mini Speedo to the beach? No worries, mate. You’re the man.
How about a run in your ’hood with your shirt off to maximise your tan? You have pecs, just do it.
And of course you rock those supersleek cycling pants that leave little to the imagination. No woman will tell you that you’re not allowed to look your best.
We may be slowly weeding out racism and discrimination, but an insidious system that we have yet to tackle is patriarchy.
You know … the system in which men hold pretty much all the power; the one where women promise to honour and obey them; the one that dictates that a good wife will take on her husband’s surname; the one that came up with the term “corrective rape”.
This system is at the heart of the sickeningly high level of gender-based violence in South Africa.
And it’s part of the system that allows men to tell women what they are allowed to wear.
Just to clear things up, men are not more important than women, and they’re not the boss of women.
The sooner they realise this, the sooner women and girls will be able to live in a better and safer world – a world that will be better for all of us.