Hate hijabis? Maybe you need to check your hypocrisy
The minute you cross the line between debate to dogmatism, I have a problem with you
“Madelaine Lucie Hanson, pull your skirt down!” was probably one of the most oft-repeated, and humiliating, lines of my tweenhood.
I always wondered, as a twelve year old, what it was about my knees that inspired such anger in forty year old teachers. What was it, about my bipedal joints, that created such moral outrage? The boys had knees. No one complained that they were ‘making female teachers uncomfortable’ playing football in their shorts. But for some reason, the sight of my pale, teenage knees was enough to get me a detention. I’d pull my skirt down hastily and get back to more acceptable forms of civil disobedience.
They actually told me that, by the way. I was making ‘male members of the teaching staff uncomfortable’. I find this sort of creepy, as a 21 year old tutor myself, because if I felt any sexual discomfort around a twelve year old I’d resign from any teaching employment and seek professional help. Like, ew.
I know the answer, you don’t need to explain. Schoolgirls are sexy. Our uniform appears in pornography, public sexuality and sex shops. And this is all fine, because culture says so. Google ‘schoolgirl’. Now google ‘schoolboy’. Do I really need to tell your our own culture around prepubescent females isn’t creepy af?
ANYWAY, as you dear little readers probably know, another culture oft criticised as sexually perverse by the aformentioned society is that of Arabic/South Asian/Islamic culture. (I use those three terms because they intertwine so much I’d be an idiot not to.) Modesty, female virginity and more modesty are all strictly part of an ethical code in some way or another. Obviously this is changing in some places, and of course the diaspora of the ummah is extremely diverse, but by and large most of these groups have some form of modesty issue attached to female dresscode.
I personally have many issues with this logic, but I also recognise that what we wear is highly personal and if someone chooses (shut up and bear with me) to wear either modest or very showy clothing, I’m a bit of a jerk for demanding otherwise. Yes, I know, amazingly for someone working with 4 Islamic organisations and studying no less than 4 Islam-related modules at UCL, that there are issues surrounding whether this is a ‘choice’.
But you know what would definitely NOT make it a choice? Enforcing bans on what women were allowed to wear. It pissed me off at school, and it pisses me off now.
It’s never the men, is it? We never tell a man he can’t wear a thobe because it means he is oppressed by modesty culture. We never say that serwals stop men from intergrating fully into western culture. I’d personally hiss at you if you said kippahs should be banned because they show faith. No, you only ever want legislation against what women wear.
Your skirt is too short.
Your cleavage is too much.
Your hijab is too provocative.
Your tischel upsets me.
You have to cover your legs.
You have to cover your hair.
Your heels make me feel uncomfortable.
I was reading Persepolis (bloody great read by the way, go grab a copy) and I realised the same frustration I had over not being able to dress freely without criticism as Marjane had over having to wear a hijab in Iran. It is the same hypocrisy. When you force us to cover (or uncover) what you are really saying is that you judge a woman by how she appears, and how sexual you imagine her to be. We are, in that sense, clotheshorses for a male-ordered regime. It is never really about ‘protecting us’- be it from rapists, unwanted attention, oppression or immorality- it is about making women represent a social moral compass and political message. Just stop. Please.
I have always believed- Okay, I’m Jewish, not Muslim- that faith was between an individual and God. Whatever a book, commandment, rabbi or scholar said, ultimately I had to answer to my conscience as an individual. You know that ‘mhm, maybe I shouldn’t steal my sister’s eyeshadow and eat all the ice cream in the fridge’ feeling? That’s my moral compass. And for me, that’s the God I listen to. If you are an atheist, whatever, that’s just my personal opinion, jolly good.
And from that, I believe that what we choose to wear should also be between us and God. Not us and the state*. Or us and our imans/rabbis/youtube idols. By all means look for guidance from them, but ultimately, anyone who says you HAVE to wear what they say should be ignored. Because you aren’t a dummy in a shop to be dressed as your faith, country or regime states. You are a damn cute, funny, loved and unique little human who should be more than a dresscode.
So please, whether you are Iranian, Saudi or English: quit legislating about female dress codes or calling us terrorists or sluts if we don’t wear what you like. Do what I do when I see someone wearing crocs and shoes:
Take a deep breath, accept that person is free to dress abismally, as you are, and go and write a peaceful but staunchly frustrated tweet about it. There. Deep breaths.
*AUTHORS NOTE: This article is predominantly about hijabs. Obviously, I would advise that laws stopping people wearing ski masks/full burkas/rollerskates into banks or otherwise insuitable environments should be upheld as reasonable.