Unpacking the politics of women’s dress-code

This article is sadly inspired by the recent incident in Nairobi, Kenya where, in full view of everyone in the proximity of that cowardly and shameful act of physical and indeed sexual violence, a woman was stripped and assaulted. Her crime?,How dare she expose her body in public. Absurd!!

Women urged to dress decently to avoid violations

Women urged to dress decently to avoid violations

My mind often gets numb at this so-called African commitment to keep women sanitized and decent as if the female body was inherently in its very make-up uncivilized, wild, rampantly sexual and savage. And yet, this female body to which we offload so much violence has been with human kind since we first emerged. It is therefore truly baffling how it is that after three to four million years of existence (a few hundred thousand of various forms of social organization), we still look at the woman’s body as if it only emerged yesterday, as if it were peculiar and strange – and needed to be contained and quarantined.

But let me move on from this line of thought before the usual “bashing bandits” that characterize our beloved online news Nyasa Times  readers pounce on my otherwise well-intentioned article. The idea that women need to be somehow made decent speaks of a much more important matter. In fact, before the Christianization and Islamification of our constructed contemporary national societies, the place of the woman’s body even though it was not at par with men (because gender power differentials do precede external influence) was radically the opposite of what it is today. In fact, to put it mildly, it was openly exposed as was the male body.

But modernization (or what some call civilization) bestowed into the African cultural framework the idea to hold the female body bare was to be indecent. This was the onset of a new kind of sexualisation of the female body which not only entailed keeping the body hidden through grapping clothing, but also total exclusion of that body and its natural processes, such as child-bearing, from public politics. This is also how today there is a certain distance robbed in narratives of masculinity that exists between men and their children – as if women have the ability to asexually produce offspring.

The exclusion is important because politics is about the legitimation of social procedures through the actions of legitimate bodies. Invisible bodies thus have limited impact on public politics.

The dilemma at least from the woman’s point of view is that an illegitimate body – that is, a body that contravenes the prescriptions of decent female presentation – becomes one that automatically attracts to itself society’s mechanism of sanitization which, in the Kenyan case and indeed in our cases seen in Blantyre and Lilongwe, are violent in nature. These manifest in at least two ways (and there are more).

The first is the unwarranted believe that a woman who reveals herself is inviting access to her body that is defined by the one seeking that access. It is from this root that we hear the often stupid excuse amongst numerous our moments of stupidity that “indecent dressing makes men rape women.”

The second is perhaps the more troubling because it entails the power of society to imprint onto the woman’s psyche this same idea, and it is for this reason that women are often the first to chastise other women for freedom of dress.

Another stupid excuse that often flows from this second type is the saying “ukaonela nkazi m’modzi, waonela akazi onse (if you see one women naked, then you have seen all women naked)”. This is a false sense of community that instils unjust control through a violent generalization of female bodies.

In fact, it is so violent that it indiscriminately universalizes the entirety of the unique female experiences, abilities and all other categories that could be mobilized to broaden their narrative.What ensures is that banner that “all women are the same, and thus they can be treated and accessed in the same way”.

Again – and I will close as follows. There was a process of sexualisation drawn from the new currents that constructed the contemporary African disposition involving external and internal actors. Secondly, the female body has not emerged in the last decade – it has been with us for as long as the male one. Both these scenarios should inform us that the so-called moral idea of keepingwomen decent is neither justified within the authentic African experience, nor the general experience of humanity.

A note to the more attuned: this article is a polemic that has confined this argument to within the gender-binary which itself is problematic and needs to be challenged. No doubt a broader and more balanced discussion can be held on this important matter.

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Zain Adam Kaisi
Guest

Too much women rights,too much kutengela chikhalidwe cha ena,we got our own way our culture way of dressing why don’t we be proud of that?for instant check our former President Mama Joyce Banda iwent to her meeting in Johannesburg where she met President Jacob Zuma sort of apress people liked her dressing as am saying some people took her as agood influence,its afashion here in South Africa you should have seen how many tweets was posted on that minutes how people was impressed with her dressing and talk,ladies zitenje its our way no matter what 3quarter shorts are western ways

pedegu
Guest

A woman is a woman basi. Always brainless and retarded in thinking. That’s why amayenda atavula ngati ana.

njanji
Guest

My ssta shall never b the next victim coz she dresses Malawian way,stupid foreign cultures is the source of all these evils around around and within ourselves,HIV early preg etc,shut up don’t make unprofitable comments here,go damm

Throughly Disillusioned
Guest
Throughly Disillusioned

These sick, twisted individuals put their hands on a women without her consent under the guise of ‘maintaining culture’ and ‘reminding her where she is’ and yet somehow the women is the one with the problem? Let it be your daughters next… let it be your mothers next… let it be your sisters next… I pity those of you that champion such brhaviour… how like sheep you are- thoughtless, mindless, useless…

alukosyo
Guest

Asiyeni ayenda maliseche video yaulere nanga ufulu wa undressing ndi umenewu tipeze choonera akatundu obisika tione ali ndi katundu wambiri ngati panyera ng’ombe ndani kikikikiki

SIBONDA
Guest

A chicken covers its private parts with feathers , a cow with its tail, a grasshopper with its wings but some women decide otherwise , what a shame

Mauya
Guest

These are typical fruits of our sick society championed by confused leaders

Aubrey Madeya
Guest

Zamanyazi,zachisoni

Padoko
Guest

Women inspired by foreign cultures MUST realise that we stand by our culture. This is Malawi.Thats is not a dress code rather, Undress Code

victoria Dim
Guest

Last Days

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