Tuesday, November 04, 2008

WHAT’S IN A DRESS CODE ? Bare or burkha?

Baring it all or covering up,- is that the question for women of the world today?

I recently read a newspaper article by an Australian journalist who after traveling for a couple of weeks through Morocco where she wore loose clothing masking her body shape to conform with the local customs where women were totally covered up,- she then returned to Italy to find herself being taken aback by the open sexuality which is normal in that country. The contrast suddenly made her feel almost prudish and she wondered whether to return to wearing her usual figure-hugging jeans!

Questioning the Islamic way of covering up their women,- from just the hair, to almost totally as in Afghanistan,- whether it is a liberating experience or a form of enslavement for the women, the journalist was trying to justify those burkha-clad women who claimed that they prefer their dress code to the Western one. This is where we start to go from one extreme to the other. Head coverings,- whether with wigs or scarves or saris,- are common in many cultures. Observant orthodox Jewish women, moderate Moslem women, as well as many religious sects in many countries, will traditionally cover their hair in some fashion, while also dressing modestly to cover-up most of their figures. These women will often claim to make a “statement” through this form of dress,- i.e. they openly declare their faith or culture to the world at large. But if someone doesn't like this form of dress, they should be able to declare their dislike without being labelled "anti-Semitic" or just "racist".We all have freedom of choice in a democracy, including the likes and dislikes of other people's form of dress, particularly in public places of employment.

The rest of women’s attire should also reflect the traditions of the country in which they live, not the one from which they or their previous generations may have originated. For example, covering up of women in Sharia-Islamic countries seems to be not a matter of choice but of strict official control. Where there is no freedom of choice it is obviously a form of subservience for the women at the behest of their patriarchal and theocratic societies. The men must become totally lascivious as a result of not seeing any other female forms except their own families in their own homes’ - unless they travel to the West (or frequent brothels, which probably abound aplenty in those countries)! With polygamy allowed and practiced under Sharia law in many Islamic countries, not to mention child-brides and so called “honour killings” if any female even dares to question her fate, it is no wonder those men want to maintain their hegemony over their womenfolk.

One reads of frequent rapes in such countries which on top of it, are then blamed on the poor female victims because “she must have asked for it”! There is in addition, still the barbaric slave trade where young girls are sold by their poverty-stricken families in many third-world countries, while the trafficking of women and girls is a growing menace in most parts of the world. Most of these archaic trades in human lives are happening in countries where women are kept covered up from head to toe, in public.


Such covering-up of females in Western societies is totally uncalled-for and should be also unacceptable for those who immigrate from other cultures.. This does not mean that some amount of self-control should not be exercised even in our cultures in the democratic West, by choosing the appropriate form of dress to suit the climate, the environment in which one finds oneself and respect for the effect one’s attire has on others. Flaunting one’s bodily assets in public by the very young, is not a sign of freedom of expression in appearance but an attention-seeker, while a more mature approach requires a modicum of common sense. The former may attract perhaps some unwanted attention, while the latter should command respect

As they say “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”,- unless a woman wants to draw attention to herself. Then she must ask herself,- what is the kind of attention that she seeks.By avoiding the extremes, no one will question her,- but the wrong dress on the wrong person in the wrong place may have unpleasant consequences! Women, particularly the young don’t have to go the extreme of baring it all, nor covering up in burkhas in our Western democracies. Our men have to learn self-control and our women, independent self-respect.


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