Not too long ago, I was at a second clothes market sniffing around for a bargain.As I browsed through cramped stalls, stuffed with overhanging threads, I stumbled across an attractive woman trying on a jacket that emphasized a striking hourglass figure. I felt inclined to offer a quick unsolicited compliment,
“You look lovely in that top” and this was a sincere compliment.
I was rewarded with a broad smile, followed by a drawn out, “Thank you”.
The fact is most women will not be offended by flattering remarks from total strangers as long as they do not stick around to gawk. However, if I had said the same thing to an 18 year old in the same context, I would probably be branded a dirty old pervert.
I suppose this is the conundrum that Education minister Mutula Kilonzo was confronted with following his highly publicized remarks on dress code for school girls. Students in a Rwathia Secondary school in Muranga had gone strike complaining about the hideous length of their school uniforms. The Education minister, probably eager to add some humour to the issue controversially implied that society should celebrate beauty of youth, embrace modernity and stop the prudish mentality of clothing school girls like nuns. The images that statement conjured up were alarming and it soon escalated into a heated national debate about the inherent dangers of endorsing miniskirts as acceptable dress code in schools.
Yet, Mutula’s position was pretty valid. School uniforms have traumatized many and a little upgrade to otherwise tacky, ill fitting uniforms can do much in the development of a young woman’s self esteem. But as expected the conservatives played devil’s advocate. All they heard was mini-skirts and we were subjected to the trigger-happy response from the custodians of moral righteousness and African values. The commentators were largely men who still believe that a woman’s primary motivation for dressing is to tease men. In line with that thinking as responsible men, we must encourage our daughters to dress ‘decently’ to keep them safe from harm, which is just another example of typical Kenyan denial in play.
We live in a society where women and girls are constantly reminded that their natural bodies are essentially too sexy for show and are instruments of sin that cause men to lust. So the only way to repel unwanted male advances is for a girl to dress up in a tent.
Nevertheless, our young generation is growing up in different times and trying to impose the standards of yesteryear will only turn them into rebels without a cause.
Advertising targeting this powerful emerging class of consumers is heavy on sexual innuendos. The underlining message tends to read , ‘Buy the product, look the part and nail the man’. The male gaze that rules TV’s point of view and the cover personalities that dominate glossy magazines continue to portray professional women as objects of allure. Female TV presenters by and large are subjected to a beauty scale. These essentially are the role models of Kenyan school girls.
Our girls grow up brainwashed by contradictory messaging of contemporary media and it is no wonder that a young woman at the prime of her sexuality would want to emulate a bimbo in a reality show. Eventually, the young woman grows up conditioned believe that men won’t desire her because her she doesn’t dress sexy. Promptly after completion of high school, in effort to appeal to someone she loves, she acquires the tightest pair of jeans available and her potential mate dismisses her as a floozy who is not fit for marriage.
Life is harsh.
Image source: @Nairoboy2012