India's sartorial police fight harassment

... by forbidding women to wear jeans. Also: A U.S. city criminalizes G-strings.

Published June 11, 2009 10:10AM (EDT)

Colleges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are finally taking campus sexual harassment seriously. Only the plan of attack is, oh, massively troubling: They're telling female students to stop asking for it by wearing jeans and other Western wear. It's the familiar sartorial panic defense: Your sexy clothing made me do it. Any girls who refuse to follow the new dress code "will be expelled," said Meeta Jamal, the principal of a local school. "This is the only way to stop crime against women."

I guess punishing harassers is out of the question? It's certainly much easier to slap women on the wrist for failing to police male sexuality. That's the same thinking that led to India's former ban on female bartenders: It was in women's best interest to protect them from belligerent men incapable of (and apparently unaccountable for) controlling their actions. It's also the catalyst for the Indian blog Blank Noise's "I never asked for it" project, which asks women to send in or publicly display an item of clothing worn while they were harassed. The point is to illustrate just how irrelevant styles of dress are in street harassment.

Of course, India hardly has a corner on policing women's clothing. The city of Yakima, Wash., just criminalized visible thongs, "cleavage of the buttocks" and see-through dresses. The penalty: a fine of up to $1,200 and possible jail time. (If the supposed indecency is witnessed by a child, violators face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.) The absurd law is a response to an apparent "explosion" of coffee shops featuring scantily clad baristas -- but what about a woman who wears a dress without realizing how sheer it is in daylight, or who bends down and accidentally reveals the top of her G-string?

Any minute now, I bet one of these stories will stir up yet another panty protest -- or perhaps a global G-string and jeans revolt.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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