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February 2018
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Back February 2nd, 2018 Forward
A Minor Reflection

Inspired by: Free Muslim Women… To Wear Whatever Caroline Overington Says They Should by Rawand Al-Hinti, on New Matilda; further comment from As Australian Muslim women we don't have to be told what we can wear by Lydia Shelly, at the Grauniad.

It's intriguing the way women who wear modest clothing and follow the rules of their religion are automatically marked down as "oppressed". It's equally intriguing none of the concern for such women extends to the women who are members of fundamentalist Christian sects, or even to women in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities - two groups where the oppressive and overtly misogynist and controlling nature of such dress codes are pretty clearly reinforced by scriptural interpretations which point to the intended nature of such things. (If you've never heard a Fundamentalist Christian preacher holding forth on some of the more openly anti-women parts of the letters of Paul... well, firstly I'm sure there's an example of same somewhere on YouTube; and secondly, you've missed one of the clearer statements of anti-woman hatred in popular religious discourse). For the Fundamentalist Christians and the ultra-Orthodox Jews, it's clear the subjection and limitation of women and women's agency through these dress codes is a feature, rather than a bug.

By contrast, as far as I can tell, mainstream Islam[1] is fairly egalitarian in practice, even though it comes (in the same way that Christianity and Judaism do) from a set of guidelines formulated aimed at tribal groups in the Middle East. Certainly there's been a lot of work done by Islamic people (and with Islamic people) in creating sporting gear, swimming gear, fashion-wear, personal protective equipment, uniforms and so on which both comply with the requirements of modesty codes (which makes such clothing suitable not only for Islamic women, but also for women in Fundamentalist Christian groups, and for ultra-Orthodox Jewish women; as well as for secular women who feel self-conscious, in this age of constant scrutiny over personal defects, about putting their bodies on public display), and which allow freedom of movement and action, as well as participation in the wider mainstream of society. The "modest fashion" movement is, in effect, about breaking down the current divide between clothing which allows one's body to remain a private thing (as opposed to clothing which requires one make one's body into a public spectacle), and fashionable clothing. To my mind, this can only be a good thing.

I should note, as a fat woman, and a woman on the autism spectrum, I'm in favour of all women (regardless of their religious identity or lack thereof) wearing whatever it is they feel most comfortable in. If this means wearing clothes which you feel are functional and practical - you do you. If it means wearing clothes which make you feel feminine and attractive (however you define this), then, again, you do you. If it means wearing clothing which covers your arms and legs, and wearing a covering of some kind over your head (whether that be a baseball cap, a fancy hat, a kerchief held in place with hair clips, or a full scarf) then you do you. To my mind, "liberation" comes from being able to do what you want to do and need to do, without having to worry about whether or not your clothing is going to cause a hazard or a scandal while you're doing it.

[1] This is not necessarily the Wahaabi Islam preached, practised, imposed as a state religion in Saudi Arabia by the Saudi royal family, and actively evangelised elsewhere by Saudi oil money (a code followed by, at most, 5% of the people of a small region world-wide is not really representative of the whole of Islam, any more than the Jehovah's Witnesses are representative of the whole of Christianity).

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