This article exactly summed up why it’s NEVER OK for white women to wear bindi or saree, because Indian & Pakistani women are treated DIFFERENTLY, like OUTCASTS in USA when wearing Indian / Pakistani / Desi clothes. If you whitegirls are so desperate to wear Indian clothes or bindi, you better damn well acknowledge the fact that we do not receive the same treatment as you whitegirls get when we wear our traditional clothes that are part of OUR CULTURE, and not some fucking “trend” that you whitegirls think it’s OK to rip off. Yet you whitegirls are treated as “trendy” and “cool” while ripping off our culture.
This article also mentions an Indian woman’s husband who became embarrased because she wore Indian clothes in public even though they are both Indian!!! Because he wanted her to fit in. THIS IS THE STORY OF OUR LIVES! My mother was asked by my father to stop wearing the bindi, nose ring, and saree because he felt that we were stared at by white people all the time, too much.
This great essay explores both Indian and Pakistani women; Hindu and Muslim women; saree, shalwar kameez, and hijab.
Priya moved from India to Virginia in the 1970s, when she was in her twenties, to complete a medical residency. She was surprised to find that the United States had fewer women doctors than India, and that it was much harder for women to occupy positions of power within the medical establishment. Priya had been used to wearing saris in India as professional attire, and she arrived with suitcase full of them. In the American South, she was expected to wear dresses for formal events. She found this rather uncomfortable, because although trousers were common in India, dresses were not. As the only female in her residency program, and as a woman of colour, “I felt so different. I couldn’t find, or even afford Western clothing that was flattering. There are so many losses in migration, and clothes are also a way of holding onto something.” Today, Priya practices at a major teaching hospital in Philadelphia, and wears trousers and blouses under her white coat; she feels that Western garments are essential to establishing a therapeutic alliance with her patients, for whom her Indian clothing would mark her as different, and ultimately, as someone not to be taken seriously as a doctor.
Farzana was also in her twenties when she moved from Pakistan to Philadelphia in the 1990s to pursue medicine. The transition to trousers and scrubs, however, was not so painful for her as it had been for Priya. The thought of wearing a salvar-kameez (the dominant garb in urban Pakistan) in her professional life here “never really occurred” to her, partly because she did not consider it fashionable at the time. Like Priya, Farzana acknowledges the importance of “blending in” as a doctor. That is one reason why she says she doesn’t “believe in the hijab. Why would you want to stand out?” As a Muslim herself, she also questions whether the “modesty” it supposedly signals has any relevance now: “Maybe the hijab was valid fourteen hundred years ago, or maybe even a hundred years ago, but I don’t think it is valid anymore, at least not in the West.” But, on the other hand, she notes that in Philadelphia, “If a woman wore hijab to work at the hospital, patients and colleagues would think: you’re a Muslim, you’re different. There is bigotry in peoples’ minds, though they may not say it.” These remarks remind us that although many African American women in Philadelphia also wear the hijab, for immigrant women this garment (along with others, like the sari) has the potential to call into question their very right to belong.
Perhaps this is why, though Philadelphia is a diverse city, both Priya and Farzana feel that only Western clothes would make them acceptable to their patients. In their social lives their attitudes differ. Priya confesses that she does not “wear Indian clothing that often now. I become too much an object of curiosity. People see you as too exotic.” On the special occasions that she would prefer to wear a sari, she says, “my husband gets embarrassed. He would rather we blend in.” Farzana is more comfortable wearing Pakistani clothing, especially because current salvar-kameez styles are “much more Westernized…very stylish.” These differences speak in part to the fact that the salvar-kameez is a kind of pantsuit but the sari has no Western analogue, and tends to provoke more comment. But they also speak to the different experiences the two women had on arrival. Priya’s memories of standing out make her cautious about ever doing so, whereas Farzana feels that “exotic is good now, you know? I think society has moved on, being different is considered a plus point.”
Srilata has worn saris since she moved to the U.S. from India in the 1970s. She has worked in retail, at Kinko’s, as a taxi cab driver, and, for the past decade, as a university librarian. On days when she knows that she will be stationed at the information desk of the library, Srilata makes sure to wear saris “so that when people walk in they will say ‘oh, there are Indians also working in this library.’” Srilata’s devotion to the sari is also shaped, in her own telling, by her religiosity. She is a devout Hindu who makes pilgrimages to temples across the U.S, and no matter how long the drive, wears saris “out of respect to God….It is my own personal feeling, nobody says there is anything wrong with wearing pants to temple.” Srilata claims she has never been told that she could not wear Indian clothes, and is dismissive of her friends and relatives who feel the pressure to conform. While her sister stopped wearing a bindi because of constant questions and stares, Srilata proudly recalls how she dealt with them. And although her own children do not feel they can wear Indian clothes to work as doctors or lawyers, Srilata insists that in fact second-generation Indian women should have no such qualms: in the United States, “there is no objection” from the “surrounding culture.”
Indian women born and brought up in the United States tell quite a different tale. Sonia and Ratna are both students at Penn who grew up in places where there were not many Indians—Sonia in a suburb of Little Rock, and Ratna in a suburb of New Hampshire. Sonia was “very self conscious about being Indian in a “cloistered affluent white suburb” full of “churchgoing Baptists eager to proselytize.” Both remember their early aversion to public displays of difference: as a child, Sonia was embarrassed if her mother wore saris outside of Indian gatherings or events, and Ratna remembers refusing to pick up an item from the grocery store because she was wearing Indian clothes. It’s the classic immigrant story, Ratna wryly notes. “Now, I have a lot theoretical frameworks to understand it, like the notion of white privilege. But then, the burden was always on me. I never thought about it as external pressure.”