On the afternoon of Nov 26, my mother took my sisters and me to the library after we had been shopping; I was wearing a pair of casual denim shorts. Nothing too revealing but they did end above my knees since it was hot outside. We forgot about the rule (depicted in a picture sign outside) “no shorts, no slippers and no short skirts”. It wasn’t our first time at this library but this time it just slipped our minds.
The young adult fiction books are on the third floor, which is where I usually go to read. As I walked to the lift, a male voice called out to me to stop. I turned around to see an auxiliary policeman sitting by a desk, smiling condescendingly. He pointed at my shorts. I stared at him in shock, and he continued smiling sarcastically as he told me to “go home and change to long pants if you want to come in”.
Just then, my mother came up to me. Having remembered the “no shorts” rule, she brought me her shawl to tie around my waist and fashion into a skirt, as we had done at Batu Caves. Three other library staff were now watching too. The shawl went just past my knees.
I walked towards the lift but the guard stopped me again with that smile.
“You still can’t come in.” Bewildered, I asked why, and he told me that “skirts aren’t allowed”. Based on the picture outside, short skirts aren’t allowed. Mine extended past my knees. My mother asked why this skirt wasn’t allowed, and he looked at his female colleague. “You don’t understand, is it? You don’t know? Your first time here?” I shook my head. My mother asked them where it said that this long skirt wasn’t allowed. They exchanged looks. “Is she going to sit here and read or just borrow?” I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let me read. “Later people see and then ... not nice,” they said.
I don’t understand. I didn’t go there to show off my body. I just went to read and borrow books like always. I was following the rules, so why wouldn’t they let me in? And this makeshift shawl-skirt, was it really considered indecent? I’m not entering a temple or a mosque or a church. It’s a public library.
I felt ashamed for a moment and wanted to hide, but then I thought, why should I? If someone raped me, would it be my fault? For wearing the wrong thing?
This incident opened up bigger, scarier questions to me about the Malaysian mindset.
I only went to borrow books but instead returned humiliated. My 10-year-old sister, who was wearing a skirt with a hemline slightly above the knees, was terrified that she would also be asked to leave.
My mum was apologetic to me and deeply disappointed that I was denied the right to borrow books from the library just because of the way I was dressed. I hope in future that children won’t be judged for what they wear.
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