I vividly remember the day I told my mum about the uncle whose fingers lingered on my bottom when saying goodbye, just a little too long. The look on her face, the way her eyes darted over my face, her smile, which disappeared and reappeared several times as to catch me in my ‘lie’, and the sadness in her eyes when she realized I wasn’t indeed lying. Then she turned away, shrugged, and said ‘well maybe you should dress appropriately then’.
This was more than a decade ago yet, and mind you, even though me and my mother have a lot to work through, we’ve come a lot further now. That particular uncle, however, ended up passing away shortly after having been caught doing the same thing to other girls.
But what has, and will always sting, is the betrayal. Even though my mum said what she said at the time, the truth is, as women we are slut-shamed daily.
I was confronted with this issue a few weeks back, when a popular international student platform I voluntarily worked for called me out for having a visible bra strap. Their Instagram account features takeovers from students from all over the world, and I’d been doing them too for a couple of years. When I’d been asked to do them several years ago, there were no guidelines on what was and wasn’t allowed, and throughout years I’d never been condemned. With time, some basic guidelines were put in place, one of them stating that ‘nudity wasn’t allowed’. So when I finished my takeover a few weeks ago I was shocked to receive an email with a warning. As I began to read the email I became upset. My crime? A bra strap.
At first, I was taken aback. I blamed myself. I thought about the repercussions it would have within the marketing teams that I manage and work for within university. I asked around in my work environment and was told to ‘rise above it’. Something about that sentence bothered me; accepting the ‘warning’ felt like a betrayal to myself and the women around me. Subsequently, as we all do, I told my friends. They all told me that I was not in the wrong, in fact, they could relate because they had been told off for similar reasons, been through the same experience. This gave me strength, because I too, had experienced this before. Not the exact same thing, but the action of being shamed for my features: for being prominent, present, and different. Naturally, my fear turned into anger. I was angry for all the times I had been told what to do. Angry for dressing up and still being judged for it. Angry for all the times that people felt like they could comment on my body. My clothes. My skin.
It goes further than just clothes. How many times, as a colored woman, have you been censured for something that your peers have done too? For me, it’s mainly been in the form of countless rejections. Tens of people telling me I would never reach anything. I feel like as women of colour, we are told on a daily that these comments are learning experiences, from people looking out for us. I have been told I am too dumb, too ambitious, too much. That people in my demographic do not study beyond high school (which I also barely finished). I was a statistic, something that would be an anecdote during a family dinner. ‘Look at her, bless her soul’. That email encompassed so much more than just an email- it was another rejection. ‘You don’t fit in here either’ is what I saw written all over it with invisible letters.
I ended up replying to the email. I explained my side of things and how I’d experienced a discriminatory occasion with the institutions before. I expressed how the email had made me feel and how I felt like I was being punished for my voluntary work. The reply I got? ‘Sorry to see you go’. I was not met with understanding. Instead, I was shown the door and thanked for my hard work. This one hurt. Aside from the amount of hours I had put into my voluntary work there, I felt like I was pushed back inside my box, my quota. It was then that I grasped the understanding of being a quota- I had been picked because of my skin tone. I had one job: to show the “diversity” around The Hague. I did not fulfill my task as wished for, and was thus tossed away. I went through the Instagram page, looking for girls that looked like me, preferably with their shoulders exposed or a bra strap showing. I saw a ton of girls; all pretty, but all a different colour than mine. Some had their shoulders showing too. Some had bras on too. Had they received a warning? Were they told to take their picture down? I suppose not- I mean, after all, the pictures were still up. It left me wondering. If I had been another colour, would I have gotten the same email? Or would I be thanked for my hard work and asked when my next takeover would take place?
So I put the whole fiasco on social media. For the world to judge, to look at. To be frank with you, I went into this expecting a lot of backlash. I thought people would be divided- that some would agree and some wouldn't. If I was being reprimanded for the clothes I wore by a significant institution, then the internet would not be any kinder towards me, or so I thought.
What I did not expect was the amount of support I would receive, and am currently still receiving. Women from all over the world could relate- they too, had been judged, were tired, were appalled that this is something that is still being discussed. Messages upon messages from people who wanted to talk about the time they had been in a similar situation, or apologizing, frustrated, and encouraging me to stick up for myself. I felt a closeness I had never been a part of. Growing up with a mixed heritage had left me feeling like I did not fit in anywhere, yet here I was, relating to people from all different backgrounds. People like me.
But why are we as women exposed to criticism on a daily basis? I always say that it's like I have an invisible sign on my head that says ‘please judge me constantly’. The worst part of it is, however, that we are expected to ‘rise above it’ and take the vocal judgment. When we choose to cover ourselves, we are deemed haughty; when we choose to wear tank tops, we are cheap and told to cover up. We as women are always ripped apart for every one of our actions. Mummy-shaming, body shaming, slut-shaming just to name a few. It’s always and it’s constant. You know what it also is? Tiring. And let me tell you: women are tired. We aren’t here to take your verbal abuse. We don’t feel like being put into boxes, we are more than that. We have more to offer than our bodies, or be quotas for your ‘diversity’ check.
I try to remind my friends daily about how beautiful they are, on the inside and outside. I tell them that they are strong, resilient, loving, and how much I admire them. I feel like when we remind one another of those characteristics and how much we value those, we are changing the narrative. In order to demand to be looked at differently, we need to remind our loved ones of their value, beyond how they look and what they offer you.
As for my mum’s reaction this time? About a day after I put my altercation with the institution online, she called me from the UK. It was a long talk, one where we went through a lot of different emotions. She sounded moved, and apologized for the things she had said that one time. How she wished she would have acted differently, and been there for me. She told me that she was proud of what I had done, and she would always support me, regardless of my bra strap showing or not.
By: Simran Amani
Simran is an ES Student, your go-to marketing woman, who loves to take on new adventures. If you see her in a restaurant with a gin tonic in hand, you’ve found her in her natural habitat.