Recently, the nursing head of a major hospital was quoted in a newspaper, saying “A patient takes his/her experience with the nurse back with him after discharge. If it’s good, he/she is definitely going to talk about the hospital and recommend it to other patients.” To facilitate this, city hospitals are not giving better pay and work conditions so nurses are in a good mood, or providing some new training. Instead they aim to change the face of the medical industry, through makeovers for nurses.
So, nurses at Kokilaben Ambani Hospital will wear a light foundation cream, maroon lipstick, and single-drop pearl earrings, while at the Hiranandani Hospital they will appear with pear ear studs, like girls in Dutch paintings, and pearl necklaces, like the Queen of England, with flesh-coloured (whose flesh colour?) lip gloss and black eye-liner.
The hospitals assert this is not about glamour, but neatness. To avoid any ambiguity, they clarify, “Nurses often forget that, for women, neat and tidy means well-shaped eye brows, threaded lips and waxed hands.” They’re clearly oblivious to the irony that the very place, which sees how varied human bodies are, seeks to impose this homogenous idea of female “neatness.” What you want to do with your body hair really should not be anyone’s business. And why is it that doctors can come as they are, but for nurses its their appearance, not their ability, which is in focus?
Don’t ask teachers this. Here’s why. A Bengaluru school’s survey of their high school students revealed that students want teachers to wear eye makeup, smell good and avoid wearing mismatched and wrinkled clothes. They also want them to wear smart shoes, not casual slippers and ensure that their nailpaint is not chipped.
Instead of ordering a psychological evaluation of these rather disturbed sounding students, teachers marvelled at how ‘observant’ they were. Sounds like no one suggested that then teachers should also get a dressing allowance. If they had, maybe the school wouldn’t have tripped all over itself to organise a session for the teachers with a fashion designer and skin and hair experts. All this is justified by — “students are looking for a teacher who can connect with them at a personal level.” So you mean students can’t connect to people who haven’t come off the cheery-but understated-kurti-wearing-Whirlpool-mommy-robot assembly line?
Parents of these students should worry — and object to this encouragement of snobbery and sexism masquerading as style and and neatness. Unless they’re happy to have shallow, cruel kids who have no ability to judge a book, requiring only a cover. This should give pause to all those well-heeled moms and dads who are so convinced about their own lack of prejudice as they fulminate about women being assaulted depending on what they wear.
Let’s not resort to facile political correctness and say beauty is unimportant or comes from within etc. Beauty is a marvellous thing and should be celebrated. Formality of dress could be conformism, but it could as well be a mark of respect for our public interaction. But to design acceptable women, via a biologically inaccurate, racially uniform and most of all, demure norm, is to emphasise that woman must always be judged primarily their appearance.
These notions of acceptability are as internalised by so-called cosmopolitan, urban elites as anyone else. Their flipside is that any woman who does not conform to this norm deserves to be subjected either to direct violence or understated (because we’re stylish) discrimination. The assaulter’s hand in a designer glove.
Paromita Vohra is an award- winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.