|© Sibichen K Mathew|
Today’s fashion is tomorrow’s lifestyle. When jeans entered the neighborhood market, I had thought that it was a dress for the cowboys, for those who were into western music, and those who were ‘deviant’ and promoters of a counter culture. As hippies also got ‘upgraded’ from their bell-bottom pants to the jeans, it was thought to be representing an abnormal way of life. Movies of those days created Jeans clad men when they wanted to showcase drug addicts, deviant urban youth, and rebels of any type. Thus my first reaction to this costume (originally designed for miners and sailors) was negative.
My negativity slowly transformed to curiosity as I saw the rich urban young men wearing jeans that looked torn, shrunk, and faded. I wondered why they couldn't afford to buy new jeans. Only after a while I realized that the jeans were sold just like that and they were not to be washed so often like other clothes. Someone told me that Levi Strauss, a German who migrated to United States in the nineteenth century (collaborated with a Tailor named Davis, to design and manufacture denim trousers) advised the customers not to wash them. I knew only one Levi Strauss till that time. That was Claude Levi-Strauss, an anthropologist about whom I studied in the college. Initially I thought that he was the same person who invented the Jeans also, as he was known as a ‘structuralist’, as per the lecture by my sociology professor.
Slowly I found not only men, but many young girls in the cities in blue and brown jeans. My professors entered the class rooms in Jeans and Kurtas and lectured Gramsci and Chomski with fervency. That was the ultimate signs of legitimacy for me. I picked up my first jeans from a street vendor in Karol Bagh market in New Delhi. Though I am not sure whether it was a used one (it looked so), I felt that I am also ‘trendy’ in the campus. I was curious how others looked at me for a few days. But for the sarcastic remarks of some of my country cousins (from my home state), most people appreciated my decision to enter the ‘intellectual’ cultural domain in the campus. Yes, in a matter of few years, jeans transformed from a costume of the ‘miners’ and the rebels, to that of urban elites and then of so called intellectuals.
Now, jeans have become an everyday wear not only for the young but also for the old. There is no other garment in the world which has appreciated and worn by all types of people. Like Pizza and Burger, jeans also turned out to be a universally recognized and globally sought after product. It was reported that a Canadian student named Josh Le used his jeans for 15 months without washing them. He wore it 330 times during that period. When he found that his professor researched on textiles and bacteria, he requested for a bacterial analysis of his jeans. It was mentioned in the test result that "there did not appear to be differences in the bacterial carriage depending on whether the jeans had been worn for 15 months or only 13 days"
In spite of its huge popularity and recognition, it is a paradox that this particular clothing has invited maximum criticisms than any other attire in the history of textile wears.
The most recent attack was from the 74 year old music legend from Kerala, K J Yesudas who said that women should not wear jeans as it attracts unnecessary attraction from men and they would get tempted to do undesirable things. I don’t doubt his good intentions, though I prefer to disagree with him. A few years back, a group of girls living in two villages in the Uttar Pradesh state, carried placards against the ‘vulgar outfits’ and collected jeans from all the houses and burnt them at a public place. They said that the skin-tight clothes provoked antisocial elements to attack the ladies. A khap panchayat (union of villages) in Hisar in Haryana State banned wearing of jeans by girls in all the villages under it.
Not only in India, in many other parts of the world, certain people and institutions felt that skinny jeans are a distraction for men! A school in United States banned skinny jeans and leggings stating that ‘the action is not meant to objectify girls, but to stop boys from focusing on something other than class work.’
Jeans, unlike many other clothing is an ‘attitude-neutral’ clothing mainly because of its heterogeneous patronage down the history as narrated by me earlier. However, certain jeans manufacturing companies, in their advertisements tend to associate Jeans with sensuality and market it as a tool to exhibit one’s related predispositions. Advertisements put up by Diesel in prominent locations in the cities had to be removed on a protest by a political organization in India.
Whom or what to be blamed? :Whether the blame lie on the jeans made of denim which is known for their comfort, durability, ease of maintenance and style or the persons who wear it? Or one needs to blame the people who look at the persons wearing it with a lot of prejudices and rigid notions?
Many argue that by wearing jeans, a woman invites trouble from the hooligans. They say that rapes and other sexual abuses happen in society because women wear jeans. If that is the case, no rape or sexual abuse would have happened in villages where not many women wear jeans. Even if one conducts a study on the sexual assault cases and attempt to find a correlation with the dress worn by the victims at the time of the unfortunate incident, one would not find any! (Don’t know whether any study has been done on this). But there are many reports from different parts of the world which clearly indicated that the way one dresses has nothing to do with being sexually assaulted.
However, there is a tendency to put the blame on the victim if she had dressed ‘provocatively’ just before the assault. In a study conducted on 352 high school students to investigate the effect of the victim's clothing on subjects' judgments of the date rape, the students were shown either a photograph of the victim dressed provocatively, a photograph of the victim dressed conservatively, or no photograph. It was found that ‘the subjects who viewed the photograph of the victim in provocative clothing were more likely than subjects who viewed the victim dressed conservatively or who saw no photograph of the victim to indicate that the victim was responsible for her assailant's behavior, that his behavior was justified, and were less likely to judge the act of unwanted sexual intercourse as rape’.
My view is that neither the Jeans to be blamed nor the persons who wear them. The fault lies with the perceptions of people. There is no logic in singling out Jeans out of an array of dresses women wear. In fact, jeans are one of the most protective dresses a woman can have in any unpleasant situation. It could aid in preventing any abuse and most appropriate in case she needs to fight back. Such advantages are not available with skirt, sari, capris, normal pants, leggings or even salwar-bottom.
Any dress can be perceived as vulgar if one does not take care to select the fitting that is appropriate to one’s figure. Another aspect of importance is the awareness regarding what to wear where. One should be clear of the type of attire one has to be in when one goes to the office, to worship places, for shopping, on a picnic, to the gym or for a swim. This awareness is important for women for not to ward off the hooligans or assaulters but to be more attractive and presentable and to be perceived by others as ‘dressed for the occasion’. No doubt, a perverted mind would attempt to figure out the finer structure of a woman’s body even when she wears a long niqab or burqa dress.
Those who see a ban on jeans as a solution to the sexual assaults on women are clearly advocating a view that, it is natural for men to attack any woman in a vulnerable status and thus the women are both the victims as well as the ones who are responsible for the crime. As long as the patriarchal, chauvinistic and oversimplified approach to sexual assault on women persists in society, there is no hope.
Let the jeans live long! Let the prejudices die early!
Views are personal. © Sibichen K Mathew