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April 02, 2020

If parents cannot, who can? If parents will not, who will?

Ours is a nation with a long history, unique traditions and culture that value modesty of thought and behaviour and avoid extremes.  But at the same time, since it is a land where over 100 national races reside, Myanmar people appreciate diversity and are willing to assimilate new ideas and accept innovations if they are not contrary to our time tested values.
Due to rapid modernization, expanding globalization, instant communication, widespread migration and cross border travels, there is no doubt that all societies are being influenced by each other and are changing, even those that are very conservative. What is trendy in one region, especially in the US, Europe and East Asia, whether it is in the matter of cars, clothes or cell phones, become instantly trendy in another. So also, what is fashionable among the local celebrities also spreads like wildfire among young people. Societies that are liberal adopt indiscriminately, those that are creative and innovative, adapt new styles to suit local conditions and culture, while those that have strong regard for their traditions and cultures, demand extensive modifications before accepting. After decades of reclusive existence, the country is opening up politically, economically, mentally and physically. This has created an influx of peoples, technologies, skills, cultures, thoughts, artistic works including films and songs, behaviours, capital, consumer goods, including clothes, etc. from neighbouring as well as distant lands. Within the period of a few years, the new developments, some positive and some negative, have impacted on the thoughts, behaviours and preferences of people, especially the young. The positive ones are the desire and ability to learn new skills and knowledge and improve themselves and a more questioning attitude. The most negative ones are the immodest way some of the young people behave in public and the lowering of the standard of decency of the way they, especially, girls dress. Worldwide, wearing less and dressing more in transparent clothes seem to be the trend. The wearing of micro shorts, low necklines, transparent clothes, clothes that reveal underwear, and bare necks, shoulders, midriffs, backs, legs, etc. seem to be the height of fashion for women. For those cultures that have adored bikinis, miniskirts and low necklines for many decades, the trend may not merit much interest or comments.  However, for a country where for centuries the fashion for women has emphasized beauty with minimal exposure and modesty, the trend is cause for much alarm, especially when some Myanmar girls are shortening the already short shorts by turning up the edge of the shorts, and some are beginning to wear knicker-like shorts. Actresses, pop singers and models seem to be the main culprits who popularize it, as seen on TV and in magazines.
What action is being taken in other countries regarding such matters? Some countries thought best to enact laws against indecent dressing such as banning the wearing of mini-skirts. Other countries have attempted to introduce such laws but legislators felt that since it was difficult to define indecent dressing it was best left to religious and community leaders, social organizations and parents to persuade women to dress in a more decent manner. In some countries, the public has taken the law into its own hands by attacking women who they regard as been dressed indecently.  In a fashion conscious East Asian country that is popularizing minimum dressing for women in the region through its pop stars, the leader who is a woman has spoken out against the wearing of short dresses and a new overexposure law was introduced in early 2013 that could affect wearing of miniskirts.
What is the reaction to this matter in Myanmar? As there have been very few widespread discussions and few condemnations on this matter, except in informal conversations and a few newspaper articles, more and more girls are boldly dressing in this way and this style is gradually becoming a norm rather than an exception in urban areas in Myanmar.  Even foreigners are surprised by how swiftly Myanmar girls have taken up this fashion.
Modesty in thought, modesty in behaviour, modesty in dress have for centuries been the norms of the country. Shame is strongly associated in Myanmar society with being improperly dressed.  However, unfortunate it seems that all of a sudden, an unhealthy competition of who can wear the shortest or the most revealing skirts and shorts seems to be emerging among city girls in Myanmar. Myanmar youths must know that different countries have different cultural norms based on a variety of factors and sound reasons. Myanmar too has cultural norms based on its religious beliefs, long history, its traditions, outlook on life, geographical location, weather conditions, the livelihoods of people, etc.  With a variety of dangers and challenges being faced by youths all over the world from drugs, terrorism, human trafficking, cultural colonization, knowledge, technology and skill gaps, climate change, environmental degradation, etc., Myanmar society needs to make clearer its cultural norms to its youths which will give them a certain degree of protection and strength. They need to be imbued with strong religious beliefs while accepting diversity. They need to be taught ethics. They need to be taught to admire the positive aspects of more advanced countries, such as the intellectual prowess and leadership and creative abilities of women rather than the way they dress. Youths need to understand that they are the main force in the protection of their nation’s independence, territorial integrity and safeguarding of and having high regard for their own culture which contribute greatly to the protection of the former two.  On the other hand, as exemplary persons to young persons, pop singers, actors, and models must also avoid cheap popularity and refrain from corrupting their young fans and contribute to the good of the youths and the nation where they live and amass their wealth. TV, newspaper and magazine media moguls also have the important responsibility of ensuring the perpetuation of the positive national characteristics of one’s culture and must refrain from giving publicity to indecorous behaviour as cheap means to promote their products, and have common decency standards for stars both in manners as well as dress in public.  Designers also have a lot of responsibility in promoting the dignity of Myanmar women. They must come up with designs that evolve from within Myanmar culture and not simply imitate what Myanmar society regard as alien, indecent and sensational.  In the same way, those running businesses must not unnecessarily make their staff dress in revealing Western clothes. This habit formation compounded by saturation of all TV channels by East Asian movies, will breed constant compulsion for such kind of decadent clothes in both staff and customers and make them abandon their convenient and elegant national dresses for no good reason.  Teachers, who meet their students five days a week, play a leading role in inculcating traditional values, difference between right and wrong, ethics, good behaviour, love for their national dress and avoidance of extremes. Women’s associations at different levels, many of whose members are mothers of girls themselves, have a wide outreach and can play a leading role through their members as well as through contacts with girls of different age groups and campaign on the importance of dressing decently. Most importantly, mothers must ensure that their daughters, who are under their direct care and supervision, dress decently. If mothers do not object, who will? If mothers cannot control their daughters, who can? If mothers do not pass on our cultural norms to their daughters who will? Of course, fathers too are responsible because as head of the household they have great authority in the family.  However, not all fathers seem to assert their roles as some fathers are seen proudly escorting their scantily daughters around in public.
That moral standards are changing all over the world, nobody will deny. Some blame this on economic reasons. Others put the blame on laxity of parents and their lack of time to supervise their children. Still others blame it on too much worldly knowledge at too young an age in this Information Age. However, what will be agreed is that morality and self-control has declined and selfishness and self-indulgence are on the rise.  It will be noted that laxity in one area leads to laxity in another.  A study of the number of orphanages and the number of those in care will show that there are sharp rises in both due to the increase in the number of abandoned children as well as increase in the number of babies handed over to orphanages by the mothers themselves citing many reasons.
Many people say that appearances are deceptive. This may be true in some cases, but not in all cases these days. Those who are endangering Myanmar culture and conniving to erode traditional values that help maintain moral standards for the sake of making money are doing a great disservice to Myanmar society and destroying its core values and should not be allowed to do so. So also, parents, especially mothers, must accept that they have a lot of responsibility in promoting self-control and avoiding extremes in their daughters.

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