The subject of Islamic dress has cropped up again, and as uusual I found myself in two minds. Now, you all know my stance on clothing in general: people should be allowed to wear whatever they want. Hence Lyn and I have two tutus hanging on the wardrobe door in our bedroom!
But what about the burka or hijab? Naturally, if some people choose to wear them, Muslim or otherwise, it’s their choice. The only reservation I have is a practical one: in places where one’s face needs to be seen for identification, I think people should be obliged to take the head covers off. I guess this should also apply to things like hockey masks and zentai suits. Mind you, it also occurred to me that such clothing might be useful if one intended to break the law. But this is no reason to ban the things. In Japan and other places, people are increasingly going out in public in zentai suits where they are seen as figures of curiosity and fun; in a way it’s a form of performance art, something like having a life-sized plasticine figure walking down the street. If I have no objection to that, how could I possibly object to people wearing the veil?
In other words, while I can see the disadvantages to veils on the practical level, my urge to tolerate and celebrate diversity must win out: people should be able to wear what they want. But now we get to the really problematic bit: is it really a choice? In my more facetious moments, I sometimes think that, if it’s just about covering up, why don’t women wear zentai suits instead of veils? But that would defeat the point of trying to desexualise women’s bodies; I guess the point of veils is in part to prevent men from seeing women as sexual objects. But I sometimes think veils – especially the big black ones – objectify women in other ways. It denotes gender, making it impossible to see the person inside. You can’t see that person as an individual, but just as ‘a woman’, in a way, especially if there is a group of women in such veils. I sometimes see women wearing such things when I’m out with Lyn; having only just moved to London, I must admit to still feeling a little scared by the sight. On the other hand, you can say exactly the same about zentai suits: they can be said to turn people into objects, removing their identity; and some people are indeed scared by them.
Yet, as an atheist, I also worry that women are forced to wear veils and denied the freedom to wear what they want. Problem is, how can you tell whther they are given a choice – many Muslim women argue they chose to wear the veil to show their religious identity, in which case it is prescribed to them and, paradoxically not a choice. If this is so, then the difference between the full veil and the zentai suit is that one connotes fun and freedom, the other is repressive. The whole debate rests on whether it is a choice.
I fear I might be rambling here: I’m talking about things I might not fully understand, so I’ll leave it there.