On a trip to Kolkata last week, I travelled Air Deccan, which set me thinking about air hostesses on all the major airlines in India. Air Deccan has fairly neatly turned out air hostesses, even if they don’t have the ‘glamour’ of the Kingfisher women, and they wear long ankle length skirts showing very little skin.
Now, I have nothing at all against women wearing western clothing, I don’t believe in this “we-need-to-promote-Indian-culture” bit, atleast not through wearing Indian clothing. And. Politically, I do believe in free markets and minimal (not nil) government regulation and interference. So employers do have the right I think, to have certain conditions at work, including a uniform. But. That doesn’t mean ofcourse, that employees can’t crib.
Which brings me to my point. What do the employees of airlines like Kingfisher really think about the short, tight skirts that they are required to wear to work? Do they all really like it? Or given a choice would they prefer to wear something a little less revealing? I am asking, not because I think Indian women shouldn’t wear revealing outfits. I do believe that any woman is free to choose her style, without being told that it means she is “asking for something” etc. But, if you were to look at any of our roads, or even an avenue in a fairly posh colony, a short skirt is not the most common, or even a fairly common outfit. By which, I can only infer that its not an outfit that most Indian women, at this point of time, want to wear. The reasons could be personal preferences, family pressure to dress in a certain way, or the nature of the street which punishes certain kinds of clothing.
So. How do they really feel about a uniform that reveals considerably more than what regular wear does? (I am not talking Bollywood or clubwear here). Do they have the option of wearing a longer/fuller/less revealing skirt? Personally, I think they should. Its very well to say that employers are allowed to prescribe a uniform, but surely a workplace should allow its employees to negotiate on issue like these.
I have another beef with these uniforms. They seem to be relics of another era when almost all airline passengers were male. It says a great deal about how you define the function of an airhostess (or stewardess, or whatever fancy word they use now.) If airhostesses are meant to make passengers comfortable, attend to refreshment, and aid them in the event of an emergency, then the key criteria for airhostesses should be quick thinking, fitness, alertness and agility. Ofcourse they also need to be neatly turned out – can imagine how customers would feel being served food by a sloppily dressed, untidy person. But. These uniforms show that another function has been tacked on to these ladies. To appear attractive. To be eye candy. To be entertainment, in a sense, so that male passengers can spend time discussing the merits of rival airlines and hostesses. Kingfisher infact had at one time announced that its hostesses were like, models. With the number of female passengers increasing, does it even make sense from a market perspective? Whom is this glamour being marketed to?
You might say, whats the harm. Well, no harm in someone being glamorous, but why is glamour becoming a criteria for jobs where it doesn’t play any role? This is not a Bollywood screen test, surely. Apart from the comfort aspect. Are short, tight skirts, with pointy high heels really the most comfortable thing to wear when walking up and down a aisle a hundred times a day? I wonder we don’t hear more protests from air hostesses. Increasingly, it looks as if we are buying into myth that we need to be attractive, first and foremost. Don’t be surprised if we soon start awarding beauty points to female politicians, like the West already does!