India’s tourism minister Mahesh Sharma stated this week that tourists would be handed a list of do’s and don’ts at airports that would advise them “not to wear skirts” or “venture out alone in small cities.” Cue outrage on Twitter.
He clarified later that he was referring only to religious places, and that he “spoke out of concern.”
“I was speaking about religious places, like temples. I did not comment on what women should wear or not. I am the father of two daughters. I cannot put a ban on when women wear.” One suspects from the clarification that he participated in a discussion with the female members of his household.
But this is not frivolous. According to IMF Chief Executive Christine Lagarde, India’s economic output could increase as much as 27% if the number of female workers were to increase to the level of men. To do that, all Indian women would have to feel safe enough to travel out of the house.
In Christine Lagarde’s own country, France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls gave a rousing speech on Monday in which he hailed the bare breasts of Marianne, a national symbol of the French Republic.
“Marianne has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free! That is the Republic!” His inference was that bare breasts were a symbol of France, while the Muslim headscarf was problematic.
The U.N. has called on French beach resorts to lift their bans on the Burkini, and France’s highest administrative court has ruled them illegal.
Both men and women are obsessed with what women wear. But it’s the men who make such statements with the force of ruling power behind them. In Riyadh, Mumbai, and the Riviera, women continue to have to fight to simply wear what they want.