We were sitting on the tube the other day, and a couple of kids came and sat opposite. A cute little boy about 3, and his even cuter sister about 4. They had big brown eyes, with a sparkle, and she had the most infectious little smile.
Me and the missus pulled faces and smiled back, as you do, getting her to smile more.
Then I turned to her parents. The guys with their long beards and the women covered head to toe in their burqas – only their eyes occasionally showing if you caught them at the right angle.
And I was filled with such sadness that one day that carefree smile will be covered up.
But then I looked across at 4 older girls nearby. Faces covered in make up, hair bleached blond and curled, short skirts and heels so high they could barely walk when they got off the tube. One of them talking about how best to deal with “guys you’ve fucked“.
I wondered to myself about the masks that they wore.
What choices do either group of women feel they have, to be able break the mold?
I got thinking about the pressure teenage girls feel, once they realise they are more often judged on how they look than their capabilities, and thought that maybe I could understand a teenager wanting to avoid all that, with the easy solution of shutting it all out by wearing a burqa.
After all, Dalia Mogahed points out that “a hijab privitises a womans sexuality“, which makes sense when the message we give is “that a woman is only strong if she’s sexy in public“. This is a very poor measure of worth.
But on the other hand, I detest the imposition of these silly coverings on women, and all the subjugation which comes as part of that culture, particularly in countries like Saudi Arabia. It puts forward the idea that women’s bodies are somehow shameful, and that men are uncontrollable lust-filled sex fiends that will rape at the slightest view of a lady’s skin. This is harmful to both sexes.
Of course there is plenty of evidence that men are also judged on their looks – as a man you’re much more likely to get convicted of a crime, and if you get convicted you’ll have a much longer sentence than a woman.
And if you’re taller, you’re much more likely to be given respect, and to be given a more senior role in your organisation.
However it seems to be more pronounced for the ladies. I remember reading about a German orchestra that realised how biased they were when recruiting new musicians. Not so long ago, it was pretty much accepted that a woman could not match the musical abilities of a man. Even nowadays, with awareness of this unfair view, evidence still shows a strong gender bias. If auditions are run blind – the person being interviewed is playing their instrument behind a screen – then the interviewing orchestra is much more likely to accept a female musician than if they see them when they are playing.
So as a result of all this, you might think that wearing a burqa would mean that such biases would be reduced. Though obviously that would require men to wear them too…
What is “Appropriate”?
The amount of flesh that is considered impolite to reveal is completely dependent on the society you’re in. Take Iran: if you show a bit too much ankle then you’ll get a beating from the religious police. However in the UK, you’d have to get your boobs out in public to get yourself arrested for indecent exposure. It’s all rather arbitrary.
I’ve worked in an office where a girl with large breasts used to wear very low cut tops and a super short skirt. She would come and bend over the desks of the guys, giving us an eyeful, to try to get us to do her job for her. Around half of the guys duly complied – it was embarrassing.
However should a manager see what is going on, and ask the woman to wear more appropriate dress, she could complain that it’s a woman’s right to dress as she pleases, and to wave her fun bags about. However I imagine if I took a similar approach for my rather alluring hairy chest I’d pretty quickly get told to cover myself.
Some brave women use this odd prejudice to fantastic effect. Amina Sboui published a picture of her boobs on Facebook to highlight the horrible treatment of women in Tunisia, pointing out that “My body is mine and not the source of anybody’s honour“.
So what’s my conclusion? I’m not too sure. When it comes to how much skin to show things are not clear; there are no absolute rights and wrongs because cultural perspectives differ. However, regardless of which culture you’re from, it’s rather more clear that we need to work on giving people equal respect, regardless of their sex or how much we fancy them.