Revolutionaries in shorts
People in Azerbaijan are often shamed for wearing "provocative clothes," but each generation of young people becomes increasingly more free in their choice of style. Conservative Azeris have reconciled themselves to miniskirts and low necklines, but it seems that the custodians of tradition have a particular distaste for shorts. Meydan TV reports on the war over naked legs that started in Baku this summer…
A video went viral on Azerbaijani social media last month that showed a young man on a train on the Baku metro reprimanding a young woman for daring to wear shorts. The young woman was not easily intimidated and yelled in response. An elderly lady defended the young man and it all resulted in a brawl: enraged by the brazenness of the young woman wearing shorts, the elderly lady hit her. At last, other passengers, who had been silently watching, intervened, and the clash between generations ended in a tie.
The incident unexpectedly generated an intense public reaction and was discussed on social media for a month. Many were shocked, and not only because you could still get beaten up in Baku because of the clothes you wore. It turned out that many users were surprised that lots of people were ready to stand up for freedom of choice. Women, men, young people and adults - they all had arguments against the social conservatives.
People have always worn "provocative clothes" in Azerbaijan. In the 1980s, mini-skirts were thought to belong to that category, while in the 1990s women's pants challenged public morals. Owing to a certain degree of modernization, which started in Baku in the early 2000s, young people in the capital city were more courageous in adopting Western fashion, and people in the city quickly got used to seeing young women wearing short or form-fitting clothes.
Only shorts remain a stumbling block. However absurd it may sound, for a conservative Azerbaijani someone wearing shorts is a desecrating the traditional way of life and showing disrespect for their elders.
"Each time I wore shorts I could see hatred in the eyes of passersby," says journalist Vafa Naghiyeva, 34, who now lives in Turkey. "Once, I was expelled from an English class for wearing shorts," she recalls.
Seven years ago, Vafa was beaten up for wearing shorts. It happened in downtown Baku in front of witnesses. "Passersby didn’t try to defend me, the assailants ran away, and when I arrived at a police station, they pelted me with accusations - why do you walk around wearing shorts? - and demanded that I withdraw my complaint," the journalist says.
In their intolerance for this item of clothing, the guardians of morality maintain a certain gender balance - they are sometimes equally harsh toward men.
For example, several years ago, Azerbaijani politician Hafiz Hajiyev, who had run for president three times, first called on his compatriots to hiss at men in shorts in the street, and then even suggested that their legs be doused with acid "to teach them not do it again.”
Journalist Natig Javadli once told his followers on social media about a conversation he had with his male neighbors about his shorts - they strictly warned him not to wear "those obscene clothes in front of their mothers and sisters" ever again.
Who can do it
It’s true, the closer to downtown, the less stringent the taboo. In Baku's main street, Torgovaya, if you wear shorts, you might get stared at or hear rude comments - but that's all.
A possible explanation for this tolerance is that affluent people who live on Torgovaya are often well-connected. Who would risk assaulting officials' or businessmen's offspring?
People also often ignore athletically built men when they wear shorts. For example, Azerbaijani blogger Zaur Gurbanli is tall and broad-shouldered. He believes that it is for this reason that the defenders of tradition stay away from him: "I went to the beach by bus once. People stared at me the entire journey but they didn’t say anything. If I had looked weak, they would have definitely pestered me."
Recently, another incident took place on the Baku metro: a passenger - a young man - loudly used bad language about some young women in short skirts who were sitting nearby. But this time, people who happened to be there put him in his place.
Perhaps, society got a glimpse of itself in this viral video and suddenly realized how absurd the taboo is?
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