Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Oh, the Oppression!!

Daisy (from Daisy's Dead Air) and I belong to a Facebook group dedicated to Muslim/Christian dialogue. It should come as no surprise that the subject of hijaab came up. If you have ever engaged in a group like this, you're probably shaking your head right now, because this is one of those subjects that you know you'll see discussed over and over again. It's practically a classic. The arguments are so predictable that it can become tiresome because you find yourself explaining the same things over and over again.

I have a teen-aged daughter and it is EXTREMELY difficult to find clothes that don't show all of her body in ways that make her quite uncomfortable. I have shopped with my female Muslim friends and they say the same thing. And even when we do find clothes in the stores, they are often so expensive that the average person can barely afford them. In fact, both they and I often have to shop over the internet just to find suitable clothes.

My daughter is very skinny and a lot more curvy than most girls her age. Most of the time, when we go places, people think she is a college student or grown adult. She doesn't wear any make-up nor does she flirt, but she still gets male attention all of the time. Because of this, she tries to dress in a way that will show people that she's still a child, but this is almost impossible now. All of the clothes that fit her proportions are very revealing, because manufacturers assume that any woman with her shape will want to show it off. Well, she doesn't!

She is a book-worm whose favorite place is the library and the bookstore. She likes to play outside in our backyard with her best friend, so she needs clothes that allow her to run around and be active without having to worry about whether her undergarments are going to show.

We live in a sub-tropic zone, so it gets very, very hot here. This makes it extremely uncomfortable for girls to wear all of the layers of clothes that it would take to cover up everything. It's become so frustrating for her, that she's now learning to sew so that she can make her clothes cover her the way she wants and be made from material that isn't too hot to wear in our climate zone.

Every time I turn on the television, I see nothing but women wearing very tight or very short clothes or barely any clothes at all! I support their right to wear whatever they want, but I'm not so naive that I don't understand how they are pressured to wear these kinds of clothes if they want to have a successful career in many fields. Women are expected to look "sexy" no matter what we are doing. Even if we are working outside, we're supposed to look cute doing it.

Sure, we have the freedom to not show our body, but we are often punished in very subtle ways if we refuse to put our body on display for all to see. Some jobs won't even hire you if you won't show your body. Look at the recent cases where Muslim women in the west have lost their jobs because they wore hijaab! And do we even need to get into the cases where Muslim women in the west have been murdered because they wore hijaab?

What some people saying about it being (mostly self-professed Christian) women in the west that fought for the right to dress in the way that many do is correct. However, it is also true about (mostly self-professed Muslims) women in the east . In many countries with mostly Muslim populations, it is the women who have led the fight to wear hijaab if they want to. For example, in Iran, when the Shah tried to outlaw it, women took to the streets to protest it.

"Freedom" is a very subjective concept. It is defined in many different ways and no one's definition is THE definition. Some may think of "freedom" as a woman's right to wear a bikini if she wants. Others may think of "freedom" in terms of a woman's right to be known for her personality and not her body. Just as it is up to women in the west to make their freedom into a negative or a positive thing, women in the east are also free to do the same. I have seen very savvy women in Muslim majority countries use hijaab to gain more representation in politics, business, and academia. These are the same things that women in the west are fighting for without any more success than women in the east are achieving.

Now, can we please find something original to discuss??


Rootietoot said...

I am, for this reason, thankful I don't have daughters. I am also tired of boring denim skirts and polo shirts, and wish there were stylish alternatives. The whole "freedom of choice/expression" concept also means we have the freedom to NOT let it all hang out, if we so choose.


(I've been reading the discussion you're talking about, but have chosen not to participate out of simple chickenheadedness)

Lucie said...

This is a side note: when I lived in Beirut in the early 1960's I dressed far more conservatively than most of my Arab and Iranian friends (... it was Beirut. It was the 60's) but whenever I walked down the street I knew that I would be exposed to lewd insults in several languages and attempted gropings. If hijabs had been popular among the educated at that time I would have worn one just to avoid the constant harassment. Sometimes I wonder if the women who make the choice to wear hijab or even burka are simply tired of dealing with men who don't make the choice to act like civilized human beings.

EM said...

It must add a whole new angle to one's thoughts on the subject, having a daughter come of age and seeing her own struggle to find a comfortable path. Best wishes to you both.

Penny L. Richards said...

I bought my young daughter a sewing machine for a major holiday a few years ago. And she's taken a few classes at a nearby woman-owned quilt shop, just learning the basics (making a drawstring bag, a pair of pajama pants, etc.). She sometimes uses it to make simple clothes for her dolls right now. She sees me use it to alter a costume for her, or mend a tear.

If she has any interest in a few years, she'll be able to use the machine for making her own clothes, in whatever shapes and sizes and colors and fabrics suit *her* --instead of paying store prices and following their trends. And it's a skill that carries over into a lot of other areas of life.

Anyway, that's another option. It's amazing how easy it is to catch the sewing bug, just walking through a fabric store, thumbing through the pattern catalogs, checking out the schedule of classes (some places even have classes just for teens, and rent machine time if buying isn't an option).

Penny L. Richards said...

And now I see that your daughter IS learning to sew! Yeah! So ignore my last comment. GMTA!

Anonymous said...

People always ask me why I wear a fairly large amount of guy clothes still and are even more confused by the idea when they know I'm trans. I just really don't like getting stared at and I don't like feeling exposed. So much clothing for women in the Western world is built that way, so for me, the best option is to shop mostly in the guy section.

It gets pretty ridiculous to see the prescriptivism about as personal of a choice as what to wear.

Katie said...

Bint, your daughter sounds amazing! I just talked about how I should learn to sew one day (over such concerns). I didn't really start practicing it. Tell her wow!