Our common “understandings” are starting to balk

Not everyone is on the same page as everyone else nowadays.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Dress appropriately to travel. Don’t wear casuals to the office. Don’t expose yourself on the metro. Stay as close to the main roads as possible. Always walk in well lit areas after dark.

Apart from these, there are many subtle and unspoken rules in life we’ve just quietly adhered to for years. Conservatives have been screaming out these indiscriminate rules from the rooftops. But with an upwardly mobile population and an increasing number of people exercising their bodily autonomy and freedom, where exactly does one draw the line?

And should we even draw a line to begin with? Even if we did “draw a line”, who are the ones residing after this line that we are so hellbent on protecting? The kids? Conservatives? The religious fanatics? Or the culture fascists?

Vague definitions and indiscriminate rules

““dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed” says one airline.

“offensive clothing isn’t permitted on board our flights” says another.

But neither airline is ready to explain what they mean by ‘appropriate’ or ‘offensive’.

An excerpt from this article on Airplane Etiquette conveys what I am trying to say:

“While there is no definition of what an appropriate attire is, there is enough debate about it on the internet. Less than a week ago, a lady doctor traveling with her 8-year-old son from Jamaica to Miami was denied boarding because according to the cabin crew, she was not dressed in an appropriate manner. While the lady took to Twitter to express her frustration and disgust at the situation, many other such cases came to light.”

In the clear absence of rules on what constitutes “appropriate attire”, shouldn’t everyone be free to wear whatever they like? Or shouldn’t the airline provide passengers with a rule book, stating what’s allowed and what’s not, just like they do luggage?

Realistically, who can know beforehand what is offensive and what isn’t ? Something that’s deemed offensive to a certain section of the population, may just be a part of the daily routine for another. It’s all so relative isn’t it?

The world is a global place, and airports and planes even more so. The airlines just seem to be making the rules as they go on what’s inappropriate and what’s not. But they must be willing to agree that this approach seldom works in the long run.

It seems even more absurd that these incidents are happening in such globalized places as airports and planes, along with cities that boast off a cosmopolitan culture.

The other side

And what about those on the other side? Just because they “choose” to wear doesn’t make them “holier than thou” or morally righteous. This article isn’t about secularism VS religious and cultural indoctrination. Its about the context of “public decency” and about what we mean when we say “dress appropriately for the occasion”.

Recent incidents

Take a glance through any online news publication and you’ll see tons of recently surfaced news items talking about how passengers (mostly female) have gotten de-boarded from a planes or other public setting for “dressing indecently”.

A quick Google search is bound to yield plenty of results on such incidents. Instances where people have been asked to get off a plane for not adhering to standards of “appropriate clothing”. Yet, there is no mention of any such rule on an airplane ticket, nor does anyone have a clue regarding the deeper meaning of the term, where it does exist.

The two screenshots above are just the first page of Google results.

If you go ahead and check the remaining pages, you’ll come across similarly appalling news items about how women have been brutally thrown off planes for not adhering to “dress codes” and vague, on-the-spot made up rules of “public decency”.

A myriad number of justifications for doing so are given by airlines, such as:

From showing “too much cleavage”:

To “wearing a frock that ended above her knee”:

To “wearing denim shorts”:

And “causing offence” and being “inappropriate”:

This last incident set Twitter ablaze, and both factions started battling it out online. I’ve only put the gist of the argument here:

Well said!

The airlines seem to be inventing new reasons every day to enforce orthodox rules, and kick women off planes. All in the name of maintaining public decency and enforcing airline dress codes. As “Rich Girl In Transit” succinctly put it above, “there’s no policy that states what is inappropriate with regards to dressing”. The truth couldn’t be said any better!

So let’s discuss. Who exactly frames these rules? what goal do these rules aim to achieve? safety? comfort? Or to prevent men from turning into horny beasts at 30,000 ft? You can bet your bottom dollar that that’s the one.

More importantly, which section of the population do these rules cater to? There’s only so much you can do to include every section of society into the ambit of “public decency”. What might be decent and welcomed in New York and London, might attract scorn and ridicule in Oman and Doha. What might be considered acceptable to wear to a park in California, might be considered bold or indecent in Dubai. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. We’re here to discuss what happens when there’s a clash of conservatives and liberals in cities where there is no dominant culture. I’m talking about cosmopolitan cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi, along with many cities in the US and UK.

And with its aggressive stance towards welcoming outsiders, cities like Dubai as well.

These are the places where the two classes of thought exist side by side, barely noticing the existence of each other, until the difference of opinion is brazenly out in public. Indian women are all but used to the daily male gaze; those scheming lecherous looks from men wherever they go, regardless of whom they’re with. In fact, in some cities it isn’t even about the clothes one wears but the mannerisms, style and behaviour that one carries oneself with. Things that can easily be construed to not being in alignment with the majority of that place.

Afterall, if someone feels safe and comfortable in a particular outfit of their choice, who are others to point out and tell them otherwise?

Conversely, where do the liberals draw the line? Does it really stop at crop tops, mini shorts and sun dresses? After all, they could use the very same logic to just fly in their underpants, can’t they? See how philosophical and complex it becomes after a certain point? It’s not that conservatives are offended at what liberals want to wear. It’s about how far or to what extent they’re willing to go to “bare it all”. There’s no need to even imagine it happening anymore, as a group called the “gotopless” mission is currently fighting for the rights of women to go topless wherever men can. And they have been given that right. A women can go topless at many public parks and beaches in the United States. And she wouldn’t be breaking any laws while doing so.

So are women just taking undue advantage of the liberal system? Are they going to fight to fly naked from now on? Not really. All they’re asking for is the right to go topless wherever men already do. And that’s fair enough, if you ask me!

Also, we must remember that men aren’t the standard against which freedoms need to be compared (and granted) to women. They can demand their own freedoms, which would still have nothing to do with men.

This philosophical debate will rage on interminably till one side acquiesces, and allows the other to win. Until then, cover up and maintain decorum whenever you travel. Why go through all the hassles of being called out, de-boarded, shamed, and made a mockery out of for not toeing the line?

I am an avid trekker, content writer, photographer and sports enthusiast. I write about trekking, society, overpopulation, lifestyle and veganism in general.