Few days ago on the important news reel that is my twitter feed I came across a post by the one and only Cash Madame aka Vee Money aka Vee if you nasty which read, “Only in Tanzania is my skirt which is at my knees too short to enter a public corporate building. This is incredible.” What got my attention even more, enough for me to type this article, is the response from one of my imaginary Shangazis (read strong ass woman I put on a pedestal) Maria Sarungi. She said “Pole sana aisee- the almost single minded focus on women’s body and to control it including what and how and where to wear is almost a uniquely Tanzanian thing. Hope you made it inside.”Why a dress code that governs how a woman dresses? The answer is simple. Patriarchy - Manka Click To Tweet
Now let’s dissect. First of all Vanesa Mdee is a SUPER STAR. She is famous. If She went through that so imagine the rest of us riff raff people. Second her skirt was at her knees. That is not an inappropriate length no matter who you ask. Michele Obama, the single most important FLOTUS that ever graced the USA white house wears that length of skirt to meet dignitaries, sembuse (couldn’t find an English word that would so perfectly fit there like the Swahili word ‘sembuse’) the workers in that building. Third the building was not even a government building, (another story we’ll get to later) it was private. Who is placing dress code rules for visitors of a private corporate building? I mean, I totally understand placing dress codes for workers of a company. But how does one want to control how a visitor dresses? Like do you know where I need to be after I meet with you for those 30 minutes?
How the hell did we get here?
Apparently dress codes in Tanzanian government offices started officially being implemented in 2016 but have been present for a long time according to the the President’s office, Public Service Management and Good Governance.
In practice I have come to understand that men rarely suffer from such restrictions. The dress codes seem to mostly concentrate on women. Why a dress code that governs how a woman dresses? The answer is simple. Patriarchy. It is no secret that our society is deeply steeped on patriarchy and religion (foreign mostly. Islam and Christianity both call for modestly of varying degrees, mostly imposed on women). (Indigenous religions is my area of research and interest but I haven’t found anything on it at the time I am writing this article). One day when I personally asked the guard why I need to wear a khanga to go inside this building, he replied,”so that you don’t entice the male workers at this building”.
I wore the khanga, went it. Still some sexual advances were made by the man I went to see towards me, he also became mad and unhelpful when he found out I was married. To a white man. (He actually insulted me for that. But that’s another article for another day.)
Worse than being stopped at the gate of some building is being harassed verbally and physically on the streets because some man finds what you are wearing inappropriate. It always trickles down to the society at large. Men in our society are allowed to decide what is inappropriate on a woman and attack the wearer as they wish. I have witnessed a woman being sexually abused at a bus stop at night because some men were bored and she passed with a skirt that was a little above her knees. I talked to one of the bystanders, a woman, a vendor at the said bus stop, she said they also size up the victims, they never attack someone they perceive as strong. Also they use it as punishment for unwanted advances. To teach the woman a lesson.Worse than being stopped at the gate of some building is being harassed verbally and physically on the streets because some man finds what you are wearing inappropriate. Click To Tweet
It is also tricky because what is inappropriate dress is very subjective. Everyone depending on their religious beliefs, customs, culture, personal preferences, and upbringing will have a different answer for that. How are we expecting our women to cater for everyone’s idea of appropriateness? It is ludicrous. And*clap* I am *clap*not *clap*here *clap* for *clap* it.
It is fruitless to explain to a grown man what patriarchy is and how it benefits them and harms women (and LGBT). I find it more useful to concentrate on young people. To teach them from a young age respect for a woman, for her body, her autonomy over her own body and existence. Patriarchy needs to die with the current baby boomers . But it will be difficult to kill, since it benefits half the world generation X and millenials. We will still try though.To teach them from a young age respect for a woman, for her body, her autonomy over her own body and existence. Patriarchy needs to die with the current baby boomers . Click To Tweet