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In an age where we are always speaking about letting our girls follow their dreams and not judge them by what they wear, we come across an incident that takes us back to where we began. This Kerala school has come under great scrutiny because of one such decision – their school uniform.
School is the foundation-building institution for every child. It is a safe place for every child, where they are free to explore, imagine and learn. However, what happens when at that very age you also learn the concept of ‘objectification’? Today, when on one hand we talk about respecting women and bringing up our girls by instilling a sense of ‘acceptance’ in them, this incident involving the uniform design of a Kerala school perhaps speaks otherwise.
So, What Exactly Happened?
St Alphonsa Public School at Aruvithura in Kottayam, Kerala is in the news these days for an incident that has sparked a huge social media outrage. The controversy revolves around the design of the school uniforms of their girl students, that some deem as being ‘vulgar’ or ‘sexualising’.
Zachariah Ponkunnam, a photographer posted this image (cover) on his Facebook timeline, commenting on the poor and distasteful design sense of the school authorities for coming up with this particular uniform which in many sense seems ‘vulgar’ and ‘obscene’.
A series of comments followed as the post went viral and several social media users were seen criticizing the school authorities and their ‘obscene’ uniform design sense. What was interesting about this whole controversy was that most of these comments were posted by men, as they resorted to making vulgar comments and posting obscene memes to counter the school’s ‘vulgar’ mentality.
This post was shared by more than 5,000 people online in a single day and it was soon all over social media, including Twitter. It is also reported that someone filed a complaint against the school authorities with the Child Rights Commission over the ‘inappropriate-ness’ of this whole uniform situation.
The Current Situation
The post of the photographer has been inviting heavy criticism from all over mainly because of objectifying the bodies of minor girls. Many people are of the opinion that they see nothing ‘vulgar’ with the uniform design and the problem lies with that particular photograph only. However, many agree that the sheer sense of design completely lacked from the school’s end.
Speaking regarding the whole incident, the principal Sr Rosily says, “They are spreading a photograph which has been photoshopped. We have not received any complaints from the parents regarding the uniform till now. We have filed a complaint with the police against such defamatory campaigns against the school.” He says the original uniform is nowhere close to what it’s being projected as.
“We have also appointed a five-member PTA executive committee to enquire whether there are any complaints regarding the school uniform. We would take further action after receiving the report from the committee.” says Rosily.
Although the PTA of the school has said that they haven’t received a complaint as yet, the PTA president Sabu Cyriac says, “No parent or student complained about it. We chose the design from a booklet that illustrated various types of uniforms. The school purchased the cloth and stitched the uniform for its students. Obscenity is in the eyes of the beholder.”
The Effect of The Internet
The post that Zacharia initially posted spread like wildfire and was shared by five thousand people in a single day – with a ton of vulgar comments on the post, and mostly by men. Before this post, however, as per the school authorities, there were NO complaints regarding the uniform. In fact, the PTA had finalized the uniform!
However, the effect of the post is such that the school authorities have been forced to take a decision to alter the uniform design. Parents who previously didn’t have any problems, started writing in complaints demanding a change in uniform to make it ‘decent’. An emergency PTA meeting called in by the school decided that the final decision on a new uniform design would be taken soon.
Vulgar or Bad Design?
At the centre of this row is a question about much more than just the design of the uniform. With a single post that questioned the decency of the uniform, the bodies of the girls in the picture were ‘sexualized’. A post on a public sphere like the internet is an invite for people to comment and criticize, and at the same time, ‘sexualize’ a woman’s body. Such a post regarding impressionable school girls can drastically undermine their confidence!
When a user posted the original uniform in the comments for comparison, one can clearly see that the uniform in particular isn’t at fault, it’s the mind-set of the people.
The internet generation has propagated ‘herd mentality’ and false propaganda with the drive to get more and more ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ In this pursuit to gain internet fame, whether the truth is being portrayed completely or not becomes secondary and, as can be seen with the incident above, can be disastrous for innocent young minds. The ongoing controversy has resulted in a case being filed against the school authorities and more importantly, put the girls of the school in the spotlight where they stand to face harassment and criticism that may affect them adversely.
How Can We Protect our Children?
Our children are a part of the internet generation and how society functions will be a direct result of their thinking as well. As parents, we must educate our kids to have positive body-image and not fall prey to any objectification or harrassment, just because they are girls, or weak in any way. The only way we can protect our children is through communication:
1. Promote open conversations
Build a safe environment and make sure you emphasize that open conversations and honesty are welcome. This will help build your child’s self-esteem and ensure that his or her beliefs and values aren’t influenced by other people’s judgment.
2. Teach online behaviour and etiquette
The internet has a troll culture where people tend to use hurtful comment to gain reactions, disregarding the effect of those words on other people. The magic of the internet is that it reduces a person to a simple user behind a screen – someone who has no connection to you. Teaching your child to be considerate online as he would be in real life is important to cut down on this harmful troll culture.
With the internet increasingly becoming a weapon for psychological harm that has lasting effects, it’s time we take up the safety of our children in our hands and do as much as we can to not only protect them from physical harm but also ensure that they are protected from emotional harm.