When you’re a writer wanting to lament the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, one of the best ways to get your point across is to gesture towards photos of women in Iran, Afghanistan and Lebanon in the 1970s. They’re all looking hot in miniskirts and fashionable hairdos as they walk to uni or sit in public places laughing together.
Look at them now, you can tut-tut in your article about how badly Muslim men treat their women. Forced to hide their bodies away behind wraps of cloth. Even if you pause a moment to acknowledge the role of countries like America in the rise of the Taliban and ISIS, there’s still the overwhelming urge to make things right. To free these women from the shackles of religion. To make them dress…like our women.
Because obviously these poor burqa- or chador-clad chicks need rescuing from their culture. Let’s see those legs, ladies!
But even if our international coalition of hearts’n’minds reach-out programs, drone strikes and soldiers can’t get rid of burqas in those war-torn nations, Western governments can at least make women conform to our beauty standards on home turf, right? All you have to do is say that covering up your hair or face represents an extremist ideology, and is almost as bad – if not worse – than waving the ISIS flag at a christening.
No burqunis atoll
In France, 26 towns have banned the burqini from their beaches, continuing a long tradition that dates back to the days when they controlled Algeria as a colonial province and tried to get women to remove their veils by telling them they were beautiful and didn’t need to hide their faces (well, actually they said something more like, “What’s the matter – aren’t you pretty?”).
The reason for the ban is, officially, to prevent public disorder – the burqini doesn’t reflect France’s non-religious culture, and apparently the sight of a woman in a piece of modest swimwear could ignite a new Crusade or turn an impressionable child from a sand-castle architect into a suicide bomber. It’s a line of thinking that follows the nation’s prior bans on the burqa itself (since 2010) and religious symbols such as headscarves, yarmulkes and crosses in public schools (since 2004).
Things heated up earlier this week when four armed policemen fined a woman for failure to wear “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism” on a beach in Nice, forcing her to remove the top layer of her outfit. (It’s everything I worried would happen to me as a teenager, wearing a band T-shirt with a swear word on it.) Apparently some of her fellow beachgoers were supportive, while others yelled that she should “go home” – despite her family having lived in France for three generations.
So, you know. There’s your public disorder.
The regional ban on the burqini has now been taken before the French State Council, so we wait to see if it will be upheld, allowing other regions in the nation to follow suit, or if it will be thrown out… which will definitely lead to no backlash from right-wingers who hate Muslims.
Meanwhile, in Hollywood…
So what? you might think. Even if the people pushing this move are doing so because they want to dominate, rather than free, Muslim women – even if their motives are selfish and sexist – those photos from the 1970s in Afghanistan do look objectively better than the ones you see today. Maybe we should be endorsing national legislation that moves us away from religion. Maybe we can keep the Halal Snack Packs and Waleed Aly editorials, and lose the subjugation of women with our more enlightened codes of law.
But it isn’t all about religion, is it? You don’t need to make it all about the Koran to see men getting upset about the things women do. Of course, “getting upset” barely seems to cover the kind of insane thinking that would see the idea of black actress Leslie Jones starring in a remake of a 30-year-old movie as deserving of endless vilification on social media.
This week, while female outfits were being debated in Europe, Jones’ professional website was hacked – again, this is all because she had the arrogance to appear in Ghostbusters – to display her private naked photos (as well as an image of recently killed Cincinnati Zoo gorilla Harambe, in case you were worried there wasn’t enough of a racial component to this).
Closer to home…
Recently a porn ring, operating in Australia, was shut down. It was made up of a bunch of men and boys requesting and trading photos of specific girls from specific schools – photos either taken without their knowledge, or intimate selfies that were obviously not meant to shared. In the wake of this, at least one school gathered all the girls from Year 7-10 together, to tell them they shouldn’t wear short skirts with hems above the knee, shouldn’t post sexy photos of themselves online and shouldn’t send sexual selfies to boyfriends.
According to a Facebook post by one of the students’ mothers,
“A number of girls got together afterwards to document their justifiably outraged reaction to this lecture, stating that their skirt lengths don’t define them and that they don’t dress for the boys, but they were ordered by another teacher to shut it down as she walked into the room.”
Interesting that the kneejerk response to vile behaviour from men is to police the dress code of girls, right?
At heart, all this behaviour is about controlling women, and punishing them when they step out of line. And it’s often connected to physical appearance and sexual behaviour – that’s why these site hackers “punish” Jones by revealing her nudes. It’s why pornography has become steadily more violent towards women since 2007. And it’s why a man can snap, and brutally stab a woman to death over the fact she posed nude for a magazine.
But, you know, we men have our own crosses to bear when it comes to clothes. Sometimes we have to wear ties to work, and they can be really tight around your neck.