Friday, December 14, 2007
Out of Breath
This story out of Canada (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22204779/) received much press in it's home country, but only the passing blip in the US.
The basic story summary: a 16 year old Canadian Muslim girl named Aqsa was strangled to death, by her father, reportedly because she refused to wear the traditional head scarf, or hijab. When the police arrived on the scene, the victim's 26 year old brother was also arrested, charged with obstructing the police. Now, this is a preliminary story, and the motives of the murder could be as reported, or they could be completely different. But one thing is true: women have been killed for much less, and it wouldn't be surprising if the head scarf was the cause -- but it is extremely shocking, sad, and horrific. As Westerners, and seeing this happen in Canada of all places, which has a large, yet extremely progressive and well-to-do Muslim population, is indeed cause for concern. Stoning and harsh laws and punishments are for countries under Sharia law, not a country north of the US, you would say. The BBC made a huge story about an English teacher who named a teddy bear Muhammad, but where are the news tickers now?
Perhaps we don't like to discuss this story because, if reasoned out, we might find ourselves feeling ever-so-guilty about our own views of women and dress. So let's reason out some points, both about the Canadian story, and our own climate for women and choice of dress.
In the Canadian story, this young girl was refused the Muslim teachings that require women to cover their heads. Hijab is known in western countries as the head scarf, but the word Hijab itself, in most Islamic communities pertains not just to a physical aspect of women's dress, but their approach, and the words "modesty, privacy, and morality." Hijab, at its core, means a spatial curtain that divides and gives privacy - in extreme cases, it means that women should, while in public, cover every body part except the hands, feet and face. Men, on the other hand, (while modesty was a good virtue to possess), are not "required" to dress in anyway, though it is asked that men cover up from the navel to the knees - a decree that most men the world over, regardless of race or affiliation, adhere to. So need we say "double standard?" Probably not. It is important to remember that women are required in certain ways because not only of modesty, but to cover their physical features, and for the distinct reasons of what men think of women. There is no consideration of the woman's inner self - it is all about covering her body, and no consideration is taken of her own psyche, or thoughts on the matter - the chief concern is that of the man's reaction to how she presents herself.
So the west must be much better, we don't strangle our girls into wearing scarfs, right? Well, it would be insane to say that physically we do the same damage -- but you can find the psychological and ethical damage of Western approaches and belief's for women's method of dress just about anywhere. And perhaps it is even more insidious, because not only do we choke women into unfair stigmas about dress, and press for conservatism, as a culture we also paradoxically prize the absolute opposite of conservatism too. Right now, we are stuck in a precarious and underhanded land of extremes.
What? Let's explain.
Women in the US are held to standards of dress, and these standards are mostly established in a way that requires the woman to dress in a modest fashion, at least for most life experiences. Women should be covered in certain areas, not just the necessary ones. If a woman shows too much clavicle, too much cleavage, too much leg- this is a thing to worry about. But here is the even more confusing part - though women don't have to "cover it all up" so to speak, they do have to dress conservatively in a professional setting, yet they are also (unspokenly) required to dress attractively, and accentuate the features they're supposed to be covering up in the first place. The woman walks a serious line, and its a cultural phenomena how we can criticise other cultures, yet in the next moment make the offhand remark that so-and-so looks like a slut. And that's the other problem -- as mush as we criticise anyone for not dressing appropriately, there is another time, with the same set of the population, that judges women on how provocative they can dress -- and still while in public. So our western culture whats us to be both Madonnas and Whores, and this is perhaps a request even worse than just one guideline of modesty.
But this is good, it allows choice, you might argue - no, because still, no consideration for the woman herself is taken. Its all about how she looks, and how she is perceived by men -- the voyeur becomes the emperor and authority, while the subject is merely the piece of art, an inert being with no choices. We say this country is better, but their are groups like this: http://www.purefashion.com/modesty which want to distort women's own self-awareness and freedom, dictating to young girls not only how they should dress, but how they should think about fashion and dress- it is no longer about comfort, or self esteem, but about how you are viewed. These conservatives seek to scare women into submission, by telling them to consider only how men will view them, and how they better cover up, because if their boss (who is ALWAYS OBVIOUSLY going to be male) sees a bit of cleavage, they won't be able to even get close enough to see their breath bloom onto the beautiful and carefully constructed glass ceiling above them. It makes me sick to think about this, physically. And the other extreme is equally nauseating. Women must be sex personified, according to some fashion shows and designers. Again, it disregards the choices and approaches of women. It becomes all about the physical, and throws any consideration of women out the window. Now, both men and women want to be desired, for sure -- but the culture is irretrievably skewed towards male-fantasy. There is a glaringly obvious double-standard throughout the world, and it takes all different shapes, sizes, and fashions. There is so much more to say, but my breath is bating. This post will certainly be edited soon.