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Slut-shaming Women’s Dressing Is Against African Culture

Slut-shaming Women's Dressing Is Against African Culture

Opinion

Slut-shaming Women’s Dressing Is Against African Culture

On Africa day we wear everyone’s African attire except our own, because our own attire has been legislated against as public indecency. We criminalized and slutshamed our own culture.

In August, Misred posted a picture showing her legs and a Twitter user edited it to cover her legs, captioning, “there is no need to show your bedroom tools to the world!!!” I remember when I was fifteen and vendors at Egodini bus terminus physically assaulted and called me a prostitute for wearing- a miniskirt, because of course a fifteen-year-old child wearing a miniskirt is a self-employed entrepreneur in the sex industry. Talk about being an independent woman. I’m often told, “Go dress up, stop dressing like whites, sies.” The claim that women wearing revealing clothing have been brainwashed by the west to dress provocatively and have no morals is strange. I’m here to tell you you’re wrong and that you smell of this perfume called Identity Crisis, Eau de Colonialism.

Africans have walked around half naked for time immemorial. If anything, being half naked is our culture. The Ndebele traditional attire is a very short bead skirt, breasts and midriff exposed. Some African attires expose bums too. Yet you get triggered by seeing my thighs? While other African countries have a traditional attire: Sothos with their shweshwe dresses, amaXhosa and umbhaco dresses, Nigerians with their agbadas… we have no attire. On Africa day we wear everyone’s African attire except our own, because our own attire has been legislated against as public indecency. We criminalized and slut-shamed our own culture.

Conservative clothing doesn’t even make sense in Africa. We live in savannah and desert climates. Temperatures go up to 38°C and you expect us to wear long sleeved blouses and long dresses? In that case, hold on while I phone Santa Claus in the North Pole to remove his red tracksuit and wear a bikini in the snow. Do you realise how ridiculous you sound? Your ancestors rub the bridge of their noses, sigh and slap their foreheads when you claim revealing clothing is un-African. Some of your female ancestors probably get so irritated they’d slap you with a boob because Africans were the pioneers of the free the nipple movement.

https://twitter.com/paida_garwe/status/1299274970560966656

We’ve been so thoroughly colonised we think western values are our own. The reason you think revealing clothing is indecent is because Zimbabwe was colonised during the Victorian era during which custom was for English women to cover their arms and wear skirts and dresses that are as long as ZANU PF’s reign. This idea was exported to Africa by colonizers who indoctrinated us into hating ourselves and our own culture. They called our spirituality witchcraft and made us adopt Christianity which was deemed correct, so we developed contempt for African spirituality. They taught us white is right, making us praise western medicine and look down upon indigenous herbalism even when it’s more effective. And in this article’s context, they called us “uncivilized” for exposing our skin, making us dress like them, because our culture was wrong and European culture was correct.

Joke’s on us because Europeans realised how impractical their strict dress code was and now wear whatever they want while we desperately cling onto the values they imposed on us over a century ago. We claim we are independent but our minds are colonised. Decolonisation is more than formal independence, it’s addressing every way in which colonisation pervaded our society, including dressing. Before you throw loose statements about revealing clothing being un-African I’d like you to use the Harvard Method of referencing to tell me where exactly you got that lie.

Go to the National Archives and I tell you, you will find so many photos of exposed breasts that a bomb in there would amount to a booby trap (couldn’t resist the dad joke). Women’s bums and thighs weren’t sexualized because Africans understood they are for sitting. Women’s breasts weren’t sexualised because they were designed to feed little terrors which cry, poop and sleep–no, mom, I’d rather sweep Sahara Desert than have a bundle of joy. Besides, breasts aren’t sex organs; they’re secondary sex characteristics like beards, deep voices and broad shoulders–there is no reason to sexualise them. Unless of course, let’s start yelling “hambogqoka!” to men’s beards then give them iZambia/ntsaro to cover their scandalous beards.

An old man once said it angers him when people blame victims’ dressing for being sexually assaulted because in pre-colonial times, blaming women’s bodies was unacceptable because women were to be respected and you were to blame for your own rapey tendencies. Rapists were dragged away never to be heard from again, no nonsense of “what was she wearing?”

African women walked around half naked because society actually respected women enough to not sexualise them. African culture respected women enough to not tell them what to do with their bodies and let them dress however they see fit. African culture is ubuntu, because ubuntu means treating others with dignity and respect, but where is the ubuntu in yelling at girls and women on the street that they’re whores? Where is the ubuntu in calling women sluts for literally anything? Where is the ubuntu in demonizing women for wearing what makes them comfortable?

Instead of telling women how to dress, teach boys and men to keep their eyes to themselves. “But Zoleka! Men have no self control!” If I can train my dog to not eat its food until I say so, surely a grown man can control himself. “I couldn’t help myself” is a confession in any other crime but it suddenly becomes a justifiable defence when it comes to sexual assault. Even if we attacked this from a religious angle, Christians love regulating women’s dressing. When men asked Jesus what they must do if a woman’s beauty tempts them, Jesus said if your eyes cause you to sin, gouge them out; if your hands cause you to sin, chop them off. Jesus himself said a woman’s sex appeal is no excuse for behaving like trash, it’s your responsibility to control yourself around and respect them.

Some have the audacity to think women wear revealing clothing for men yet women dress according to their mood swings, waxing schedules, matching shoes, make up or jewelry, location, weather and periods. Men aren’t even on that list, please calm down. If anything, women dress for other women. That “omg where did you buy that dress?” Is like winning an Oscar.

But even if women dressed for men, is it not her clothes and body? “But Zoleka, if women dress provocatively, then they must expect to be judged!” Okay Judge Judy. Commander of dressing. Prefect of clothing. Minister of public decency. Someone tell the Supreme Court judges to resign because hey, judging is now your job. Can someone else alert the Greek gods there’s a new deity on the block: the god of morals and decency! Tell Marvel there is a new superhero: Avenger of Decency!

What the above statement insinuates is women’s bodies are public property for you to comment on, shame, approve of, disrespect. If you hate miniskirts, then don’t wear one, Peter. Then there are the Women of the Cloth who slut-shame other women. That day, female vendors slut-shamed me, one of which poured water on my legs and threw a box at me. Are you really a queen if your throne is made of the women you’ve stepped on, humiliated and judged? Men must respect us but that begins with women respecting and protecting each other. Wear conservative clothes, that’s fine, just don’t expect every woman to.

I always wear short clothes because I feel most comfortable in them, and I am called a slut throughout town. However, after expert research, here is a graph showing the correlation between a woman’s dressing and her sex life:

Even if there was a correlation, her sex life is not your business. Fortunately, I checked my plantation of damns and it appears the field in which I grow my damns is barren. But not every woman is as fierceless as I am. Street harassment is traumatizing, especially because many of us experience it from as young as 9. Imagine sexualising a child, calling her a prostitute because she hates jeans.  If you tell children to cover their legs because there are male relatives, why are paedophiles at your family gathering? Women are not dressed like “whores”, you are thinking like a rapist.

As Africans we need to reject this mental bondage to Eurocentric standards. Because my Ndebele attire is illegal, I pay homage to my heritage by unapologetically showing my skin. Don’t slut-shame me. Don’t slut-shame my culture.

https://twitter.com/vivian_iwuoha/status/1279368959171727362

When I'm not smashing the patriarchy, I debate, paint, and work on my YA African feminist fantasy novel on Wattpad--which I guess is also smashing the patriarchy. Currently stu(dying) BA Law at University of Pretoria. I may or may not be a mermaid masquerading as a human. Pro-LGBTQ+. I'm just out here not hearing problematic people over the volume of my Afro.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: We Should Believe The Bulawayo Photographer's Rape Survivor - iNgudukazi Magazine

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