Another day, another disturbing story of a young girl being criticized and punished for her clothing choices. Already this year, we’ve seen girls removed from class, refused entry onto flights, and, now, barred from playing chess. Recently in Malaysia, a 12-year-old girl was forced to withdraw from a chess tournament because she was wearing a dress that a tournament official deemed “seductive.” According to her coach, the experience left her feeling “harassed and humiliated”
Last week, Kaushal Khandhar, a chess player and coach in Malaysia, wrote a Facebook post recounting an incident that occurred in April at the 2017 National Scholastic Chess Championship in Putrajaya. Khandhar alleged that, while his 12-year-old female student was in the middle of playing, the tournament’s Chief Arbiter told her “the dress she wore was improper and ... violated the dress code of the tournament.” Khandhar said that the Chief Arbiter later informed the girl and her mother that the “Tournament Director deemed my student’s dress to be ‘seductive’ and a ‘temptation from a certain angle far, far away.’" The offending garment? A loosely fitting, knee-length striped dress. The fact that someone would see this on a 12-year-old and think, “Seductive!”, is bizarre and creepy, to say the least. “We found this statement completely out of line!” Khandhar commented.
Khandhar claimed that the Chief Arbiter eventually apologized to the girl and admitted that he didn’t find her clothing problematic, but, weirdly, he said that because the Tournament Director had complained, the girl still would not be allowed to compete in her dress. At 10 o’clock that night, the Chief Arbiter told the girl and her mother that they could compete the next day if they purchased new clothing. By that time, however, the shops were closed and wouldn’t open again until after the tournament’s start time. “This situation had led to the inevitable decision of withdrawal from the tournament all together,” Khandhar wrote.
Although chess tournaments can and do have dress codes that reflect different cultural standards, The Washington Post reports that knee-length dresses worn in public are nothing out of the ordinary in Malaysia. Khandhar certainly seems to find the controversy over the girl’s dress strange. He wrote, “I have been playing chess in Malaysia for almost 2 decades and I have never heard this type of issue ever in any tournaments in Malaysia.”
Khandhar described his young student as a “bright young girl” who “was recently the champion of her district in MSS Kuala Lumpur and has shown tremendous potential in Chess.” Being forced to withdraw from the tournament “resulted in loss of time and money which was invested before, during and after the tournament on coaching, registration fees, travelling, accommodation and other incurred cost,” Khandhar wrote. In addition, the experience has left the young player feeling “extremely disturbed, and embarrassed.”
Stories like this one are far too common. There’s nothing wrong with having a dress code in schools, competitions, or other public settings, but too often these codes place a greater emphasis on restricting girls’ clothing than boys.’ By strictly policing what girls can reveal of their bodies, for fear distracting others, these codes brand female bodies as inherently sexual and therefore “inappropriate” for public spaces. This dynamic is even more harmful and creepy in a situation like this one, when the girl in question — the girl whose clothing was labeled “seductive” by an adult — is still a child. Dress standards are all well and good, but they shouldn’t limit girls’ abilities to learn, embrace opportunities, and move in the world.
In his Facebook post, Khandhar demanded an apology from the Tournament Director and threatened to begin legal proceedings if no apology is forthcoming.