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Thursday, August 10, 2000

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Dress code

Sir, - This is with reference to your news item regarding enforcing a dress code in a university (The Hindu, July 27). A discussion on freedom, body and dress is mandatory in order to elucidate this problem.

Descartes (as quoted by Sartre) said: ``The soul is easier to know than the body''. A naked body has such a tempting power that it can stir the consciousness of the onlooker and lead to a desire (or sex). There are three dimensions in a body: (1) ``I live the body''. Body is an object among the objects of the world but I live it. (2) ``My body is used and known by the other person''. Here, my body is an object for the latter which he can handle any way he likes, which he can use, investigate, mutilate, etc. (example: body in the hands of a physician or a person of any medical speciality). (3) ``I exist my body as known to others as body''. This is the plight of fashion models, movie artistes, prostitutes for whom existing their body for the sake of others (and subsequently for money-making) is their main concern in life.

The way young girls and even grown-up women uncover a major part of the body, not for their sake but ``for others'', raises the question of freedom and of shame. When a lady dresses herself sparingly, she is also responsible for the outrageous scene she creates by her very act of half- cladness. She cannot justify herself saying ``I dress the way I like''. Since every person's act has got repercussions on others, women cannot simply invoke their freedom for dressing.

If dressing reflects women's emancipation then this falls short of freedom and becomes only imitation. We imitate a person when we surrender our freedom to him. That way women have become alienated to other cultures, to movie world, to fashions and to the world of advertisement.

By shame is meant consciousness of one's being as an object to others. One is not ashamed of one's self when alone. It is only the sight of the other person falling on us that makes us aware of our own body and constitutes us as shameful.

That way, women seem to have lost their sense of shame or they tire themselves in pretending to be free from shame. Sartre has said: ``By renouncing to human ends man delivers himself from shame''. Incidentally that is the reason why mental patients are shameless and walk about naked.

V. Muthurangam,

Pondicherry

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