History has many examples of telling women what they can and can’t wear. We’ve been banned from wearing trousers because they were deemed too masculine and coerced into corsets and hoop skirts so we become dependent on others to help us do basic tasks like climbing stairs. In Roman times, what a woman wore was dictated by your class or social status, so you got a stola if you were deemed to be a respectable, married and likely upper class woman, or a toga if you were seen to be low status.
In the early 20th century we were told we couldn’t have hat pins over a certain length, due to our rather unladylike habit of stabbing men who tried to put their hands where they were not wanted. There have been more modern examples too. The Cannes festival came under fire a few years ago when it banned women from wearing flat shoes, insisting that they wear heels. In some countries women are forced to cover their bodies entirely while in others they can face criminal charges if they do. In short, there’s lots of people out there with ideas on what women should or shouldn’t be allowed to put on their bodies.
Now, a story from China about a young goth woman being forced to remove her dark makeup by train guards before she was allowed to ride the subway. The first guard who approached her about it then went and got her manager, with the pair of them telling her that her look was horrible. There has been an online backlash to this, with the hashtag #ASelfieForTheGuangzhouMetro springing up on twitter and thousands of other Chinese women posting pictures of themselves in full goth attire at the treatment of the woman who has since received an apology and a staff member is said to have been suspended.
However, it appears this move was maybe to appease the international attention it has attracted, as it was revealed this is not the first time something like this has happened, with a very similar incident reported in November 18 that again occurred on the Guangzhou metro at different station.
As a young wee goth myself, I was used to stares and an occasional remark. Probably the worst thing that even happened to me in the rural village I grew up in was three kids jumping put at me from behind a dry stone wall, yelling ‘Beetlejuice’ at me three times before they disappeared which I can live with and was frankly hilarious. Even when I’d turn up at the sole nightclub which played only chart songs and cheesy disco, I’d occasionally get asked why I’d turned up wearing a long black funeral veil, which I don’t think was an unfair question.
Generally, people were always tolerant, curious or both. Even when I moved to a particular rough area with a bunch of spooky friends which had a pub at the end of the street notorious for violence and gangland murder, we were sort of adopted by the local hard cases who drank there as some sort of pets or mascots. We never figured out which. When an inebriated punter in there had staggered over to us one night and hissed “freaks” in our faces as we sipped cider n blacks, a bunch of them immediately stood up defensively and bellowed the immortal line “Here, they might be goths, but they’re our fuckinggoths, so fuck off” at our tormentor, and we waved at him cheerily as he was then ‘escorted’ out of the bar.
I know that I’ve been lucky and it has not been like that for everyone. I’ve had a few mates who have taken a kicking just for the way they were dressed, particularly from punk and goth subcultures, and it is hard to forget the horrific murder of Sophie Lancaster in 2007 who died of head injuries when she and her boyfriend were attacked by a gang in Stublee Park, Rossendale, Lancashire.
The story from China ridiculous and frustrating that staff even thought they had the right to try and enforce it, but it is not at all surprising and a tale as old as time. When authorities try to control how people look through legislation or societal norms, it’s usually because of fear of the other or a desire to surpress individual and artistic expression or free thinking. It will be interesting to see what else comes out about this story, as even from the snippets of information we have got from citizens so far, it’s part of a wider picture. But ones thing is for sure, be it from goths in China to punks in Iran: youth subculture will always find a way to flourish.