Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Clothes Don't Always Define You

So an interesting juxtaposition occurred on my social media feed recent.  First a story about Emma Watson and a photo essay in Vanity Fair.   One of the photos, you can see a great deal of the flesh the makes up her breasts.  And if you look very hard and you imagine a little, maybe, just maybe, you will see her nipple.  This has led some to question her feminism, with the idea that the she is flaunting her sexuality for attention and also playing a Disney princess in an upcoming movie.  The next item is that from a right wing writer who shows a picture of a burkha, calls if a hijab, and talks about the oppression of women in Muslim countries and that those women can't come here to US in those outfits which is the point of the meme, to attack Muslim immigration.  

So in the course of two screen inches I see people complaining about how women are dressed and why they are wrong.  Well that of course got me to thinking about what that says about women's bodies.

For Watson the series of photos, very artful and stunning, included one in a business suit complete with pocket square and another in a Victorian neck ruff, among many others.  The copy talked about her successful way of going from child-star, to UN ambassador, to quiet activist.  It starts with her leaving books of poetry around a subway station as she is a huge advocate of reading literature.  To question Watson's feminism seems to cut out one slice of the essay and make it disqualifying.  Why do some feel the feminists can't also be sexual?  Why is it that so many fear strong women who assert a sexual image as well as one of autonomy and choice.  The very nature of feminism is choice and should make room for those who choose the see-through top and those who choose the ruff.  For me feminism always appeared to be the idea that women should be in-charge of their own destiny, be it how they dress, the work they do, or who they share their body with.  The fight of the feminist was against any establishment that tried to stop them in engaging the the choice that suited them  I am a man so maybe I am walking out on thin ice, but I would think, having read the Vanity Fair piece, that anyone critical of Watson's choice doesn't understand the art of the shoot nor the way she was able to transform the character in the story to dovetail with her personal sensibilities and ideals.  The concern about her exposure of anatomy is silly.

As for the burkha poster, well one must consider the source.  But there is something to work with here.  But I have to say if oppression of women is the issue you have with Islamic countries then we are on the same side.  Only I see the problem differently.  Wearing a burkha or hijab by choice is not oppression.  It could be that it is all you ever knew, or it could be that you like the idea of wearing something that is a symbol of piety, modesty and security.  If it is the law that you must than yes that is a form of oppression.  But there are very few places that women are forced to, and it is not simply an Islamic issue.  It is more an Arabic cultural practice.  To paint all Muslims with the broad brush of oppression is bigoted and simply silly.  The Muslim world has elected women to the highest offices in their lands, including Pakistan, a country carved out for a Muslim majority population and Indonesia the largest Muslim country by population.  While it is true that women are treated poorly and as secondary in some more radical versions of Islam, I the vast majority of Muslim women have freedom that we assume we have in the United States.  But when I look at how women in positions of authority in this country, be it government, board rooms or clergy, I think we have a lot to learn.  It you are truly outraged by oppression of women, I know that the National Organization for Women is fighting hard for women's rights every day and they could use your support.  But if your outrage is because you are afraid that a woman who wears a head covering or overly modest clothing  might some how destabilize our Western Democracy well I think you can ask a nun, Mennonite, Amish or Orthodox Jewish woman and see what she says.

As a culture I think we spend way too much time thinking about who owns the bodies of the women we see all the time.  Twitter is ripe with attacks on what female celebrities, even the most minor ones, wear to awards shows, but also to In and Out Burger.  My guess John Legend could wear the same suit to every award show and no one would notice, if Chrissy Teigen did that it would be breaking news.  Secretary Hillary Clinton's new haircut caused a firestorm in some circles.  While President Clinton's ugly ties hardly ever get a mention.  Let's take a breath.  Here is the thing.  Some women like to show off their bodies, some like to take great pleasure in themselves and be public about it.  Some women like being modest and will hide their bodies from all but their intimate  partner's eyes. For some it is a person choice, for others a religious requirement.  Either way it is not for us to say what is right or wrong.

What we can say is that if there is a place where girls and women are:

  • Not given and education so informed choices are impossible 
  • By law seen as property of male relatives or husband
  • By law not afforded the same opportunities as men
  • By law or circumstance force to conceive children or engage in sexual acts against their will
  • Seen as less than fully human. 

then we should stand up for them and fight for their civil rights.  We should all live in a culture where women's rights are seen as human rights and that their existence is seen as the positive it is.  Arguing of what Emma Watson wore in one photo or fearing a culture where women cover their hair or their full body doesn't promote women's rights or dignity.  It is silliness.  (Silliness I apparently chose to write about) It should stop.  Don't get me started on the deluge of articles about what women over 50 shouldn't wear.  Oh and of course I will need someone to explain yoga pants to me some day.

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