The Dilemma of Wearing Shorts in Public
Women are reluctant to wear shorts or clothes that reveal a little skin fearing the potential of sexual violence, although clothes have nothing to do with a person's chance of experiencing sexual violence.
I love wearing shorts. And tank tops. And summer dresses. It should make sense that I like wearing these things because I live in a tropical country where everyday temperature is approximately 30 degrees Celsius.
But, of course, it’s not that simple, because I live in Indonesia. Here there are strong opinion against people wearing what they consider “revealing” clothing and the people wearing them. I am not immune to such opinions.
The first time I was conscious of wearing short shorts – as in the shorts that come down to my upper thighs – was in 8th grade. Colorful shorts were the trend at the time, though I was more into wearing whatever clothes make me feel comfortable and presentable at the same time. I wore my grey shorts proudly and my parents were okay with them.
However, I soon found out there were places my grey shorts didn’t belong to: the streets and in public transport. At these two places, clothes that showed your thighs, your shoulders, and your chest often draw unwanted and discomforting attention, whether it’s catcalls or just people gawking at your body parts as you walk by. Whenever I was about to head out the door, my mother would suggest that I change into something “more modest”. Since then my shorts were only reserved for visits to the mall, a friend’s house, the beach, or trips that would require no public transport or walking.
I feel as if I’ve been dictated by some unwritten rule that I should not wear certain things in public, and I wonder if I were the only person to feel this way. Jakarta is an exceptionally warm city, so it makes sense that I would want to feel comfortable by wearing clothes that could lower my body heat. Some people would argue, “Well, it’s just how things are. There are rules that apply here and there are different rules that apply somewhere else.” Ok, I get that, and truth be told, I’m still figuring out a concise counterargument.
But I do know this: one of the reasons why I, and so many other women, refrain from wearing so-called “revealing” clothing in certain public spaces is because we perceive that the unwanted attention it may attract has the potential to result in a dangerous situation. We have been conditioned to believe the formula that tank tops = male gaze = potential for sexual violence – the fact that sexual violence of any kind occurs regardless how much of the skin the victim is showing. Many people have realized that what causes sexual violence isn’t the victims themselves, but its perpetrators, but they may be in the minority. The reality is victim blaming is still prevalent in our society, one in which rape culture thrives.
Thus, my question is if I were to keep my shorts away from public transport and the streets, would I be maintaining rape culture? Would I be in some way admitting that sexual violence is dependent on what I wear?
Throughout many women’s lives, we’ve been accustomed to getting verbal sexual harassments. Some would argue that catcalls are “harmless” in spite of the fact that it makes most women at the receiving end very uncomfortable, thereby making them every bit a part of rape culture. Catcalling and its normalization perpetuate the idea of women as sexual objects for men. And even catcalling does not recognize what you wear. I wore a baggy t-shirt on the streets once and I still got several whistles!
Some people believe that one’s clothes is one’s armor; thus, it makes sense that one would choose to wear a long-sleeved top and black bottoms in a 30-degree heat to protect oneself from, say, predators. But if your armor doesn’t really work because there are external factors that can cause you harm either way, how can you continue to put up your defenses? I may sound like I am implying that all men are unable to control themselves, and we all know that isn’t true. In the end, though, knowing that not all men are like that won’t change anything: women (and men) are still at risk regardless of their defenses.
Everyone is entitled to their fashion choices. I’m just here writing as a person who likes wearing shorts and would love the opportunity to wear them at all times without feeling like I’ve put myself in an unsafe situation.
Some women may not feel this way – I have stumbled upon women wearing high-waisted denim shorts and spaghetti-strap tank tops at a TransJakarta bus or on a train stop. Maybe they were never raised to feel like they should cover their body for safety, or they had arrived at a point in their life where they just stopped caring. Maybe they had forgotten that they had to take an angkot that day and so decided to just go on with their day. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to compose my own confidence to say “fuck it” without being apologetic (especially to my mom).
Maisha Rachmat is an undergraduate student majoring in English. When she’s not stressing over her assignments, she can be found in the kitchen trying out the latest viral food recipe.