Over Thanksgiving break, I traveled with my mom and sister to India. It had been over 5 years since my last visit, so it was great to see family and explore a little bit. However, over the course of the week, I encountered a few instances where my cultural consideration and my feminism were put at odds. Even still, I don’t have my all my thoughts completely figured out– they’re all still bouncing around in my head not quite sure where to land.
Anyway, here’s how it went. One day, my family decided we should take a day to sightsee around Mumbai. My grandma reminded me that I needed to wear full length pants because two of the places we would visit would be temples. I took no issue with having to cover up because it involved being respectful of religious standards.
The following day, we were getting ready for a day of just strolling around, visiting some old friends, maybe doing a little shopping. Mind you, Mumbai is HOT. So I had on my sturdy denim shorts. But when my uncle saw, he asked me to change into full length pants, in fact he insisted. My mother chimed in saying there was no need for me to change; shorts would be fine and my uncle was being unreasonable. So I didn’t change. But even with the validation from my mom (a women who spent her first 22 years living in the very place we were visiting), I still felt uneasy, defensive, maybe even angry.
I understand and am more than willing to abide by religious clothing restrictions, especially when I’m the one entering a religious space that is not my own. But where I get uncomfortable is when my own family is encouraging me not to wear shorts because they don’t want me to be “looked at a certain way.” Should walking down a street in India merit a different outfit choice than walking down a street in America? For some reason, I don’t feel as though it should. This is partly because of a different piece I wrote called “Stop Sexualizing My Body” that tackled the topic of policing what people wear.
In that piece, I made the point that expecting someone to dress a certain way in order to avoid being sexualized is synonymous with victim blaming because it places responsibility on the wrong person. So– is that a claim that I can rightfully carry with me overseas, or is it one that only applies to American culture?
I don’t want to have to sacrifice my feminism for the sake of what someone else (even family members) consider to be “appropriate.” But I also don’t want to upset or embarrass them. And I most of all don’t want to be disrespectful to another culture.
It’s a topic I’m slightly uncomfortable with because I don’t have answers, only questions. I am far from being ready to make any concluding statements on this topic, which is maybe why I think it’s so important to talk about. For someone who wants to travel a whole lot more in her future, it’s some serious food for thought.
Have a more decisive approach to this topic than I do?? Please comment below! Maybe we’ll come to a conclusion together.
Featured image here.