23 May, 2024


Great But Fragile: The Conundrum Of Culture & Morality

By Maheshi B Weerakoon

Maheshi Weerakoon

Recently, much resentment has been shown by the public towards the unethical conduct of a journalist in reporting an accident involving a drunk driver.

Although the public seem to be outraged by the incident, the style of the report is not an accident. It merely mirrors the culmination of the attitudinal degeneration of this society.

There is a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”  If we apply this proposition to our collective social consciousness, devoid of productive political, social or philosophical discourses (or equivalent of “ideas” mentioned in the quote), we would see how it tends to find joy in discussing frivolous topics. “People”: their personal relationships, sexual preferences, and even more trivial details such as their fashion choices. Thus, the deterioration of media ethics as to the point of implying an association between an accident and the fashion choices of the people involved is not a phenomenon. It is the exact reflection of the collective social consciousness of the nation. It is what we expect to be reported. It is where our concern lies.

And why does the reporter find it a promising way to incite the interest of his readership? Because we, as a society, have fostered a cultural ideology so ludicrous that it makes us capable of connecting fashion choices of the individuals with the level of morality of the society.

It is, in fact, a tragedy that our morality and culture are so vulnerable as to be challenged by the clothes people choose to wear. It is sad that we attribute so much importance to petty external factors such as clothes and tattoos, while neglecting what is inside of us.

In advanced societies, clothes are a means to cover and protect the body from external conditions; specially weather conditions. The convenience and comfort that the garments provide are other important factors as well. Irrespective of their age, they wear whatever they want, they accessorize themselves as they desire, and no one bothers about what the other person is wearing. But for us, clothes have an added value. It bears the pressure of morality, culture, character, family background, educational level and even marital status.

Needless to say that in regard to fashion choices, Sri Lankan females are more often and more severely persecuted than males. They are being attacked from two fronts at once. On one side there is the demand to maintain a certain level of beauty standards, while on the other side, they are expected to uphold the cultural and so-called moral values by wearing “modest” clothes. It is as if the entire entity of culture depends on the length of our women’s dresses. The Victorian puritanism has taken so strong a stance in our minds that, from a historical perspective, we have totally forgotten how simple and open-minded we used to be as a nation towards clothing.

Most people in the Sinhala Buddhist hegemony, mostly men, seem to feel sorry for Muslim women’s predicament of being subjected to an oppressive dress code. Although the argument is justifiable on security grounds, when their sentiments are based on the correlation between Muslim women’s oppression and their dress code, it becomes an irony. It is ironical because when it comes to Sinhala Buddhist women’s clothes and fashion choices, these men (and women), guardians of patriarchy, do not hesitate to condemn the former for choosing to wear so-called “inappropriate” clothes. Accordingly, the bottom line of this hypocrisy is that it is their patriarchal fantasy to police women’s bodies. As the hegemony they do not tolerate even other men, deemed “the other” in their consciousness, doing it.

Even the inconvenient and complicated nature of the attire that the women working in government offices are supposed to wear, presumably does not contribute to the productivity of the work they are doing. Au contraire, the burden of wearing and travelling in a saree might restrain the capacity of performance. Despite this fact, the idea of shifting to a more sophisticated and comfortable office dress code is frightening to us because (according to the popular notion) it might sacrilege our “cultural heritage.”

It is high time that we, as a society, discard connotations associated with fashion choices people make, because what people choose to wear belongs in the private realm. It must not be a public concern. On the other hand, we have enough of social, political and economic issues which need utmost attention.

It is high time that we start exploring “ideas”, and one such idea would be to start understanding that culture is a dynamic entity. Charles Darwin, the father of Evolution, has once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Hence, if certain aspects of our culture cannot withstand constructive changes, then those aspects better be abandoned.

True morality or cultural values are not what is outside of us but what is inside our minds: The respect, love and empathy we have for each other, the spirit of unity and compassion as a nation. That is the conceptualisation of morality which should be entrenched in the society.

True morality is humane and rational. It comes from within!

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Latest comments

  • 1

    It tells us that some segments of Sri Lanka are not matured enough to tolerate different views and respect females ..
    Their cloths; their appearance; their attitude all must be moderate and modest ; yet; men can do all what they want ..
    No one to question their modesty and attitude in patriarchal society like us ..

    • 1

      “Accordingly, the bottom line of this hypocrisy is that it is their patriarchal fantasy to police women’s bodies’
      Interesting point. I know Maheshi is not talking about female police constables, but why is it that though in the past, WPCs and PCs both wore shorts/ skirts, the female PCs nowadays are not allowed to wear trousers like their male colleagues? Can it be that the skinny legs of the male PCs need to be hidden?

  • 2

    If you want to see our dress codes simply look at our ancient texts and art. Sinhala women wore whatever they wanted. They could walk topless if they wish to. Sinhalese in the past were very liberal. When it came to the family, sturcture was not patriacal, It was matriacal. Similar to elephants. Men did not poke their nose in women’s business. Women were part of the labor force. Men were the hunters, women were the gatherers. Men ploughed the fields, women planted the seeds. Women were heavily protected and some women were worriors and acted as the last line of defense. It is the woman that gives birth and she is more presciuos than a man. Mothers are at the very top. Even the king has to listens to the council of his mother, sister, wife, etc. They were part of governance. Queen is not just there to sit and warm the chair. You can read how powerful women were from the Anuradhapura kingdom onwards. Not just that, “Kuveni” was the ruler of her people. Men die to protect the women and children. Even things like virginity, virginity test are alien concepts. Those things might have mattered to Royalty but not to your everyday man and woman. Things like homosexuality and many many other so called hot topics today were non-issues back then. We were once very liberal. That all changed a few centuries back. Breaking this mind set is not going to be easy.

  • 0

    Maheshi B Weerakoon
    Immorality is not part of culture as we know it. Immorality is associated with decadent culture.
    Culture and Morality are constantly under change and dress is one of these. Saree has been found to be clumsy to wear to work and society accepts this, albeit reluctantly but accept they will!
    Maheshi says ~ “On the other hand, we have enough of social, political and economic issues which need utmost attention”.
    We are in full agreement here. The culture of corruption/nepotism/impunity obtaining must be looked as an immoral issue.
    The last two sentences sounds sermonish Maheshi.

  • 1

    Topless ancients of privilege and the enforced topless of the Kandyan kingdom !!!

  • 0

    Ms Weerakoon thank you once more analysing things that matters to uphold human dignity. Specially the unnecessary and inappropriate focus we give undermine things further shows the injustices mind and double standards correct? Hence you say in your conclusion….

    ‘True morality or cultural values are not what is outside of us but what is inside our minds: The respect, love and empathy we have for each other, the spirit of unity and compassion as a nation. That is the conceptualisation of morality which should be entrenched in the society.

    True morality is humane and rational. It comes from within!’

    I guess is also same as saying “We should be honest to our selfs always in all what we do” and ‘treat all others the same way as we want to be treated” then all falls into place. Thank you.

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