Society cannot get enough of telling women how to display their bodies.
Whether we are being told to cover up or to strip down, to go out with naked faces or to rougez les levres, women are rarely free to choose their own style of dress. Women are often prevented, legally, from dressing as they please; this is particularly the case for Muslim women, whether they reside in the Middle East-North African countries or if they live abroad.
This raises the question: is the right to choose one’s dress a fundamental, human right, given that style of dress is most often a style of speech, which is considered a universal right?
Machallah, hallelujah, hamdoulah, whatever word one prefers: I believe that I have found my master’s thesis. There are strong arguments to be made for both supporters and opponents of the idea that the female body and how it is adorned should be considered a human right. Dressing reflects our personalities, it can signal association, cliques, “members-only;” but it also is, when you strip away all the meaning, is something we have to do to protect our bodies from the elements. Is what we cover ourselves with really so important and essential that it is deemed a human right?
In the context of Muslim women, I would argue the possibility that one could call freedom of dress an inalienable freedom. After all, they are not simply choosing to follow the latest fashion trends (cropped belly tops, low-rise jeans) but are dressing according to how they feel their religion dictates (forget, for a second, my argument that Islam does NOT require hijab–it is likely important, but beyond the scope of my current argument since hijabis do believe it IS required). Freedom of religion is seen in the West as an inalienable right, to worship and practice as one believes. Although demanding a Muslimah to unveil is not denying her her belief, it still invades another right-privacy-and seems almost ludicrous: why should we care what she’s wearing? Is it harming us?
The general argument cropping up around Europe and Canada is: yes-possibly. Security issues are the main reason; you don’t really know who is hiding under the burqa, do you? In 2009, burqa-clad Iranian women were arrested in Indonesia for smuggling in drugs on the assumption that they wouldn’t be stopped because of their assumed piety. But even the less-striking headscarf has come under fire in government offices and schools. I agree that an outfit like the burqa can possibly cause a security issue, but I am confident that there are ways around it so that everyone is happy, safe and satisfied.
How comfortable the woman feels should be the highest priority. If a woman does not like leaving her house showing her hair, than she should not have to remove her hijab to leave the house. Likewise, if a woman finds wearing a hijab or jilbab stifling, than she shouldn’t be forced to wear that, especially if it constrains her from doing certain work. Laws governing Muslim women and their fashion choices, whether they’re in Egypt or England, are infringing not only on one’s control of their own body and comfort but also their freedom of religion and expression.
Muslim women are probably not the only people who get harassed for veiling. After all, extremely orthodox Jews do cover up, some going so far as to wear burqas identical to those of Muslim women (see photo at right). These women of the Haredi sect have also apparently been ragged on for their choice of clothing by their male counterparts! Society seems to forget that Muslims are not the only people to cover their hair, but they are the ultimate scapegoat, it appears, despite the fact that a Muslim woman in a burqa stands out just as much as a Jewish one because, let’s face it, you can’t tell who is who!
The bottom line is: men aren’t told what to wear (generally speaking). So stop telling women what to wear! If we want to be sexy or leave your wandering eyes to their imaginations, who cares! Don’t the governments of the world have something better to do than to worry about what women are putting on their bodies?? If I’m feeling ugly and I want to hide my hair in a scarf, should I be stopped if I try to enter a school in France? If I want to lay out on the beach in Saudi Arabia (haha) and wear a bikini, should I be caned by the Morality Police? Am I really disturbing the peace in either situation? Absolutely not.
Despite the gains world society has made in establishing human rights (yes, I would argue that we have obviously made headway in the past 50 years!) establishing freedom of dress as a human right will likely take some time. After all, women’s battle for dignity and equality is far from over, and our looks are man’s chief concern. The battle for our bodies will not be easy.