Ditching the hijab in Iran

Let’s first review the various types of clothing worn by Muslim women, often under state edict. What we’re talking about today is the hijab, the covering of the head and chest (upper left in picture below) that is a mandatory garment in Iran

Hijab-Veil-types

Now defenders of these kinds of garments often say that they’re worn voluntarily by Muslim women—and sometimes they are. But it’s hard to disentangle “truly voluntary” from “I’m used to wearing them because I was forced to since childhood” or “voluntary because I’ll be arrested/vilified if I don’t wear them.” When I was in Turkey, in a university that banned headscarves, many Muslim women told me they favored the ban, for it it were legal, some Muslim students would wear them and shame the others for “not being good Muslims.” They didn’t want that kind of pressure to dress in a certain way.  A woman from the BBC link cited below says likewise:

“My problem is not having to wear the headscarf. My problem is not having a choice,” writes one woman on the Facebook page. “Stealthy freedom means, just for a few seconds, I will be what I want to be,” writes another.

But the true sign that these garments are worn under coercion is what happens when the national and social bans are lifted. Do women then doff them?

In Iran, they’re doffing hijabs illegally, a real sign of how women are chafing at having to be covered, presumably because the sight of their naked heads and necks might incite uncontrollable lust in Muslim men. As reported by both the BBC and the Guardian, there’s now a Facebook page where Iranian women can post pictures of themselves unveiled. What these women are doing is illegal, but heartening. As the Guardian reports:

Thousands of Iranian women are taking off their veils and publishing pictures of themselves online, igniting a debate about the freedom to wear or not wear the hijab.

A Facebook page set up by London-based Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad 10 days ago has attracted more than 130,000 likes, with women across Iran sending unveiled pictures taken in parks, at the seaside and in the streets.

Go have a look at the page called “Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women”. Most of the captions written by the women are in the local language, Farsi, but a few are translated into English by the Guardian. Here are some (indented captions from the Guardian).

“My stealthy freedom while driving in the streets of Tehran,” wrote Maryam alongside an image showing her behind the wheel. “I like to feel the wind blowing on my face.”

10250109_862580193756076_9072109188463029728_n

Another post showed a mother with her daughter. “The beautiful seaside in Kish [Island],” the younger woman wrote. “We strolled on the rocks and experienced the cool breeze flowing through our hair. Is this a big request?”

10151753_862329717114457_7683719641905281395_n

 A young woman from the city of Fuman, in the northern province of Gilan, sent a picture of her in the woods. “I took this picture stealthily in the spring,” she wrote. “It makes me feel happy.”

This is what freedom looks like:

10264740_861715827175846_6515432343594381634_n

A few others I’ve selected, with captions in both Arabic and English:

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 7.44.57 AM 10311966_865950983418997_2036431101986312672_n

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 7.47.18 AM 10341857_865727640107998_7859862912141093535_n

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 7.49.07 AM 10313047_865167416830687_8882521974027524082_n

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 7.50.47 AM 10277896_865135280167234_8795949942156132519_n

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 7.53.01 AM 10300778_865034020177360_1559560623394183523_n

There are hundreds of these photos on the Facebook page—they’re pouring in from Iran as if from an uncorked bottle. Go look at them! And the bravery of these women, and their plaintive and simple desire to dress as they please, makes me tear up.  But it also makes me feel great to see them defying the misogyny and repression of Islam.

h/t: Steve

 

 

95 Comments

  1. Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on HAPLOGROUP – bit that makes us human. and commented:
    Women & Islam

  2. dunnfjfrancis
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    //

  3. Chris Slaby
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Minor note: the captions are mostly in Farsi/Persian/Iranian, not Arabic.

    • Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      Fixed it, thanks.

      • Ashley Moore
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        If I am not mistaken, Farsi, Persian & Iranian are three English names for the same language, rather than three separate languages as the updated text implies.

        • Posted May 13, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

          Okay, I’ll fix this once more, and then it stays!

        • Chris Slaby
          Posted May 13, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

          For the most part, yes, but it can get complicated. Farsi is the Farsi name/word for the language. Persian is the historical English name for the same language. Iranian adds the nationalist perspective. The real complication, though, is which language we’re talking about. People in Afghanistan and Tajikistan speak a language that is basically a dialect of Farsi/Persian, however there are separate names for these languages/dialects (Dari for Afghanistan and Tajik for Tajikistan). Not being a speaker of any of these languages, nor a linguist specializing in Iranian languages, I can’t comment much further on differentiating the terms beyond the simple fact that when we’re talking about Iranians/Persians it makes sense to refer to the language they speak as Farsi or Persian, when we talk about Afghans Dari, and Tajiks Tajik. One further complication is the historical language of Persian, which was used all over Asia. It’s basically the same thing as modern spoken Persian, but tends to reflect historical circumstances (e.g., being the court language in what is now India, where very few people currently speak Persian and the dominant language of Muslims is Urdu).

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

            Wow that IS complex. The only thing I learned from an Iranian friend was that he wasn’t Persian because that’s what everyone else called Iranians. To them they’ve always been Iranian. I told him it’s not my fault – the Ancient Greeks started it. :)

  4. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    You forgot to label this post NSFW.
    (joking)

    • eric
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      NSFI? ;)

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      Not
      Safe
      For
      Women
      ?

  5. Trophy
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Huge huge likes for this post!

    BTW, the Iranian government has been pushing “Chador*” as the superior “Hijab” for years. In some institutions, wearing the normal head scarf is not going to do it. And in some governmental agencies, some asshole can refuse to help you for not wearing it. For example, my cousin was refused to be given her passport because she was only wearing the head scarf and not the chador.

    * Chador is basically like a black bed sheet and so it entirely veils the wearer’s body and hides all the curves.

    • Dominic
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      Yet from what my friends tell me, Iran is far more liberal in terms of how most people think/behave, it is just governing elites who lay down absurd rules & bully in that way…? Is that so?

    • Trophy
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      While Iran is still a conservative society, it is relatively more liberal than most of its neighbors, at least in bigger cities.

      The backward laws exist because the government is a theocracy.

      At the beginning of the revolution, the idea of an Islamic government had a lot of support. It is true that the 1979 referendum had terrible wording (it only asked “Islamic Republic, Yes or no?”) so it is difficult to judge how many people actually supported the idea but it is undeniable that the influence of religion has gone down teremendously in the three decades after the revolution. I think one reason is that people witnessed the breakdown of religious and they realized how the ‘holy men’ easily cheat, lie, kill, and lust for power. It is common for Iranians to laugh at Afghani or Turkish people for wanting an Islamic government; the Islamic leaders will bullshit their ways in any way possible to sieze power and crush anyone who opposes them.

  6. Dominic
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Good for them – heard the report on BBC Radio 4. I always thought they were called yashmaks – but I see that is Turkish –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yashmak

    My Iranian atheist friend just came back – I have to ask him about this. He brought me chocolate covered Gaz – best sweet ever!
    Worth making Iranian friends just for that alone! ;)

  7. Posted May 13, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I’d like to refer the scores of journalists who admonished FIFA for “discriminating against Muslim women” when they banned the hijab in 2007, only to bow to misguided political pressure and lift the ban earlier this year.

  8. Daoud
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I, uh, I can’t help but say it, I’ve always found Persian women to be among the most beautiful in the world… :D

    • darrelle
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      That seems to be a very old trend. Even Alexander III of Macedon (The Great) was struck by the beauty of Persian women. In particular with a woman named Roxana, a Bactrian princess (present day Afghanistan). He killed her father and then married her, being the charmer that he was. By some accounts he was struck by her beauty, and though he was not known for opposite sex relations the one well confirmed son that he had was with Roxana.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Alex the G — now there’s a guy who knew how to cut through the Gordian Knot of meddlesome in-laws.

    • Kevin
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Agreed. Although, skin color, eyes, facial features, and hair play a major part of the properties of attraction, these are not necessarily exclusively Persian. Though Persian women, on average, do seem to possess above average qualities for each of these features.

  9. Harrison
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I wonder what the police line-up or wanted posters would look like for the crime of baring one’s face.

  10. Achrachno
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Thick welders goggles (or similar) could be a simpler solution. To be worn everywhere by sensitive religious leaders for whom the sight of women is a problem.

    These might interfere with reading “holy” books, but that would be added value IMO.

  11. Georges Melki
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Hey Jerry,

    Nice post, and very helpful indeed!
    However, did you know that all this hijab stuff was inherited by Muslims from Christians and Jews? When I was young, women in our parish were forbidden by priests from entering church without headscarf. The reason for this is to be found in one of St Paul’s Epistles, 1 Corinthians 11. It explains why a man should uncover his head while praying or prophesying, whereas a woman should cover her head, `’because of the angels”(yes!the angels might be tempted!)
    On the other hand, those captions you are displaying as written in Arabic are in fact written in Farsi, with the Arabic script.

    • Posted May 13, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      I fixed the Farsi thing over an hour ago.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Actually several Middle East & Mediterranean cultures used head coverings long before the Abrahamic religions existed. Many Muslim nations – and Iran was one of them – had discarded hijabs by the mid 20th century. It is only relatively recently that harsh repressive regimes have decided to dictate how women may dress in public.

    • Jeffrey
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      When I was a child in Wales, my mother used to tell me of the time she was thrown out of her church for not covering her head with a hat or scarf. It was some sort of Welsh Independent non-conformist church. They wouldn’t even have a cross or statue, icon or painting in the church as that was considered idolatrous. Do the Catholic women still wear mantillas to church?

  12. Posted May 13, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Thesis: Islamic clothing in Islamic countries is like regular clothing in non-Islamic countries. There is a difference of degree, not of kind. In other words, someone removing Islamic clothing in an Islamic country would experience more or less the same reaction as someone removing normal clothing in a non-Islamic country. If you don’t believe me, walk around in public with normal, western clothing in an Islamic country and walk around nude in a non-Islamic country. If you survive, compare and contrast the reactions.

    The reasons Islamic politicians cite in favour of Islamic clothing are essentially identical to the reasons non-Islamic politicians cite in favour of normal clothing.

    Discuss.

    Note: My intent is not to say that Islamic clothing and the pressure to wear it is OK, but rather to say that in non-Islamic countries there is also pressure with regard to clothing and that, morally, this is just as bad, though as I said there is a difference of degree, if not of kind.

    It is also not the case that men can wear anything they want in Islamic countries. Yes, the situation is better than for women, but again it is a difference of degree, not kind. Bermuda shorts are not acceptable male attire in Saudi Arabia.

    Yes, most people in non-Islamic countries “voluntarily” wear clothing (even if there were no penalty for not doing soÜ), but here also one can ask the question whether this is completely voluntary or if they are influenced by culture, are afraid of being mocked by people who wear clothing etc. It’s hard to disentangle “truly voluntary” from “I’m used to wearing them because I was forced to since childhood” or “voluntary because I’ll be arrested/vilified if I don’t wear them.” Does the previous sentence sound familiar?

    As such, the women from Islamic countries who published the nude calendar are not stopping halfway.

    • Posted May 13, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      “Note: My intent is not to say that Islamic clothing and the pressure to wear it is OK, but rather to say that in non-Islamic countries there is also pressure with regard to clothing and that, morally, this is just as bad, though as I said there is a difference of degree, if not of kind.”

      There is no LAW that you have to dress in a certain style in Western countries. If you want to wear shorts, you won’t get pressured, not beaten by the religious police.

      Your intent appears to draw some kind of moral equality between the restrictive clothing laws of some Islamic nations and the “social pressure” of other states. That won’t wash here. We’re not talking about nudity, but about different styles of clothing. If a woman wants to wear a scarf over her head in the U.S. or shorts, nothing happens to her. Try that in Iran.

      “Morally just as bad in non-Mulsim countries”? Really? Do we beat women in the U.S., Canada, or Europe for wearing shorts. I don’t think so.

      You’re ocmpletely wrong here, and I find this immensely irritating. The only discussion worth having is how you lost your moral compass.

      • Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        I think Phillip has something of a point here.

        How many victims of rape have been blamed for the crimes perpetrated against them because of the way they dressed? And why should we have laws requiring that certain parts of the body be covered?

        The difference is one of degree, not type. The degree of difference is quite substantial, which more than merits the criticism of the Islamic oppression. But, at the same time, the fact that they’re so much worse than us doesn’t excuse our own (nowhere near as bad) sins of a similar type.

        The proper approach, I think, is to encourage reform in Islamic countries, and to also encourage reform here at home.

        I personally would argue that the only reasonable legal restrictions on attire here or anywhere else are for health and safety. It’s perfectly fine for OSHA to mandate hard hats, safety-toe boots, and complementary attire between the two for construction sites, or for the USDA to require something suitable for food handlers between the hairnet and the gloves. Similar examples are trivial to come up with.

        But the only justification that I’m aware of for requiring at least a bikini at the beach or anywhere else in public is the exact same one Islamists offer for the burka: the sight of a particular part of human anatomy will cause people to be overwhelmed by lust — and that justification is simply inexcusable, regardless of the body part in question. It reduces some (mostly women) to sex objects and others (mostly men) to lumbering sacks of hormones.

        It’s understandable to not want to let criticism of Islamic sins get overshadowed by introspection, but we also shouldn’t shy from introspection on the basis that we’re not as bad as they are.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          Your whole comment has the tenor of drawing an equality between Iran and the US because people can’t go nude in public. Do you really think that’s comparable? If so, read this comment, if you haven’t already.

          The fact is that we’re not as bad as they are, and you know it. Your remedy is to “encourage reform in Iran” (yeah, good luck with that) and “encourage reform at home”). The problem is that dress codes in Muslim countries have a much more severe and repressive effect on women than dress codes in the US, such as they are. What surprises me is that so few readers won’t admit that. To me, it’s a double standard applied to Islamic countries. It’s just what I was decrying yesterday: excusing malfeasance on the grounds of multiculturalism.

          • Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

            I tried to make clear that it’s a difference of degree, with the degree being far worse in the Muslim world.

            But let’s also not kid ourselves about how bad it is here. No, a woman who went naked on the beach wouldn’t be stoned to death, but she may well be arrested and not only face prison and fines, but even be classified as a sex offender, especially if there were children (including teenagers) present — and that particular scarlet letter is really nasty in our society. If that woman is in education, her entire career is toast. She’s likely to wind up homeless first because the “safe zones” around schools are drawn such that they often overlap and include all affordable housing…and second because she’ll be required to go door-to-door to tell all her new neighbors that she’s a registered sex offender. Plus, there’ll be all the men thinking that, since she’s a sex offender, she must be “easy” and / or deserves whatever they want to do to her. And if she winds up in prison…do you have any idea what kind of hell she’s in for from inmates with the tacit encouragement of the staff?

            Is that as bad as death by stoning for showing your face? Of course not.

            But can you really not understand how appalling it is that we should treat people in such a manner merely for failing to cover up certain parts of their bodies? Or see at least see the parallel with the way that other cultures treat people for failing to cover up certain other parts of their bodies?

            Lest you accuse me of hyperbole…I know a guy with an autistic teenaged son. An anonymous girl at school accused the boy of “touching himself” — and we don’t know if he actually did anything lewd, or if he was just tucking his shirt into his pants, or if she just made it up, or what. He’s got no clue that he did anything he wasn’t supposed to, no idea that he somehow harmed anybody. It’s not even clear that he remembers the incident. Yet he’s being dragged through the courts and psychiatric evaluations and the whole works, with a threat of prison time and a sex offense on his permanent criminal record. This young man, already burdened with autism, may well have his life ruined before it really starts, and is already being put through unconscionable trauma simply because of the mere accusation that — horror of horrors — a girl saw something that’s normally kept covered.

            Yes, at least we’re not stoning to death the girl for having the temerity to let some of her hair slip free of her scarf. But does that excuse what we’re doing to this boy, or to the drunken revelers relieving themselves behind a bush and thus convicted of indecent sexual exposure, or to the parents who take bathtub photos of their toddlers to the drugstore to be developed? Or even of teenagers “sexting” pictures of themselves to their heartthrobs?

            Just because it’s worse in the Islamic world doesn’t mean that it’s not really bad here.

            b&

            • Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

              There are still people who go somewhere to get their photos developed?

              • Posted May 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

                Yes, actually. Many of the same one-hour photo places and drug store photo shops and the like are still in business, except making digital prints from people dropping off memory cards rather than wet prints from people dropping off film canisters. Other new services exist where you upload your pictures and they send you prints through the mail. And, unless you’re a control freak or do a lot of printing at home, it’s much cheaper to have the lab do it, plus they’re generally (but not always, of course!) going to be very high quality.

                Yeah, lots of people never print their photos, but many of those are the types who wouldn’t have taken pictures in the past with a film camera. The percentage of photos that get printed is certainly at an all-time low, but the percentage of the population with cameras is equally certainly at an all-time high, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the printing business is as healthy as it’s ever been.

                So…what’s a young couple to do if they want to put bathtub pictures of their kids in a family photo album alongside the birthday pictures? Buy a printer just for the bathtub pictures? Hope a friend with a printer will let them make some prints? Hope nobody at the photo lab will call the cops? Just delete those pictures, or not even reach for the camera at all? And do they have to lock the album in a sealed vault? What happens if they email the pictures to Grandma?

                It’s insane — pure insanity.

                b&

            • eric
              Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

              I agree with you in general about the over-expansion of our sex offender laws, and that they are capturing relatively harmless teen goofiness that they were never intended to be applied to.

              But no, I do not really see that issues as analogous in either degree or quality to mideast dress codes. You agree with me about degree, so we’ll set that aside. Now to destroy your claim that they are alike in quality.

              Despite all jokes about male eye focus, boobs are not faces. As a species, facial recognition and processing is critically important for how we recognize emotion, how we detect intent, and how we communicate our own emotions and intentions to the outside world. Huge amonuts of brain activity are detected when we view faces as compared to other body parts. We are literally biologically attuned to read each others’ faces. Rules that require one sex to cover their face are literally, biologically, dehumanizing in a way that a rule against showing ankle or showing boob is not, because it reduces our ability to perceive the speaker as a human. It reduces our ability to empathize with them. Rules preventing women from showing their faces are therefore qualitatively different from various cultural mores that may focus on boobs, or the back of ones’ head, or whatever.

              Its a terrible thing that we massively, (IMO) excessively punish sexualized display in public. But it is not the same problem as using forced coverage of ones’ face to dehumanize women.

              • Posted May 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

                Eric, if you’ve gotten the impression that I’m trying to defend the Islamist position on this one, there’s been a spectacular failure of communication on one end or the other or both. There’s simply no defending the Islamist position; it is reprehensible and unjustifiable. I thought I had repeatedly made that clear, but perhaps not.

                The point I’m trying to make is that, though not to as insane a degree as in the Islamic world, the Western world suffers from a bad case of the same degree. Certain body parts, certain forms of clothing, are considered so taboo that we’ll imprison and generally ruin the lives of people who violate those taboos. A woman in an Islamic country whose hijab slips is in for a world of hurt…but the same is true for a man in the States who’s in the shower when the Girl Scouts ring the doorbell to sell cookies and his towel slips as he tries to shoo them away.

                We should help Islamist women reform their societies so they can enjoy at least the same level of freedom we do here in the West, but we should also work at the same time to cure ourselves of our not-quite-as-bad case of the same illness.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • eric
                Posted May 14, 2014 at 4:48 am | Permalink

                I completely understood your point, and your point is wrong. Every culture has dress taboos, and yes, they are comparable in terms of being somewhat arbitrary ‘tribal’ markers. But general dress taboos are qualitatively different from what we’re talking about here, which is an attempt to functionally shut down an important form of interpersonal communication that we are biologically attuned to and dehumanize women through dress choice. As I said before, faces are not boobs. Faces are not ankles, or wrists, or backs or stomaches or feet or whatever, and if you think that a restriction on showing ones’ face is qualitatively the same (just a difference of degree) as a restriction on showing ones’ boobs, you’re just plain wrong. The former is negatively socially impacting the victim in ways the latter is not.

            • Trophy
              Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

              Sure, if women go nude in US they’ll get arrested. Do men get a free pass? Nope. If public nudity is illegal then it’s illegal for both sexes. So what? Stop making ridiculous comparisions and illogical arguments that make no sense.

              None of the examples that you have showed apply exlusively to women which shows how much you have missed the crux of the argument: Islamic laws are targetted to hurt women. They treat women as inferior beings and these laws take away even the most basic types of freedom available legally to all *men*. That is the whole point. So stop saying “well but in US I just can’t let it hang out.”

              • Posted May 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

                None of the examples that you have showed apply exlusively to women which shows how much you have missed the crux of the argument: Islamic laws are targetted to hurt women.

                I can — and have — walked to the mailbox out front just wearing shorts, no shirt. A woman who did that could be arrested.

                How is that law not targeted to hurt women?

                A woman who’s raped while wearing a “wife-beater” shirt in public might not even be able to get the police to take a report in some parts of the country, especially if she’s not “too badly” bruised; if she does get the police to pay attention to her, she faces an uphill battle getting the prosecutor, the judge, and the jury to take her case seriously. A man wearing the exact same shirt doesn’t even draw any attention in the first place.

                How is that not violence and social injustice overwhelmingly disproportionately targeted towards women?

                Again, we’re obviously not as fucked up as the Islamic world.

                But I hope you’ll pardon me if I’m a bit nonplussed, to say the least, at the suggestion that our attitudes and laws towards dress aren’t every bit as hyper-sexualized and gender-specific as in the Islamic world. We’ve just drawn different lines on the dressmaker’s mannequin, is all, and applied parallel penalties. Punishment in the Islamic world is over the top, but we both take so-called “indecent exposure” as very serious crimes and social violations and punish accordingly, within the overall scale of punishment.

                Look, I’m still agreeing that there’s a big, huge problem in the Islamic world. I have from the start, and will continue to do so.

                I’m just trying to point out that we’ve got the same problem here at home, and that, though not as bad, it’s still awfully serious, and it needs to be addressed.

                Not instead of, not before, not exclusively. Both problems need to be dealt with. Ours and theirs, theirs and ours. And playing games of who’s worse and by how much does nothing but distract from the problems that need to be fixed.

                When it comes right down to it, we’re not doing anybody any favors anywhere when we merely haggle over which punishments are appropriate to mete out for which parts of which bodies which people expose. Telling Islamic men that they should let women show their wrists but it’s okay if they don’t let them show their elbows because we throw them in jail for showing their nipples doesn’t make sense in the first place and reeks of hypocrisy.

                Instead, we need a uniform message: the human body is not indecent, and the only sexual organ that matters is the mind. Nobody ever invites any type of assault, and it’s always the fault of the person performing the assault, regardless of the “temptation” he (or she) was unable to resist. Health and safety often dictate certain specific apparel standards (including, for example, a prohibition on loose fabric in certain situations); however, when such standards don’t apply, it’s nobody’s business but the individual’s what to wear or not wear.

                Or is that somehow not what you’d say to Islamists? Are you insisting that they remove the requirement for head covering but willing to grant them the “right” to demand that women don’t bare their arms or legs?

                And, if it is what you’d say to Islamists, how can you not apply the same standards to our own culture?

                Or are you just happy with the lines on the mannequin that our society has settled upon, and woe be unto those who would draw the lines anywhere else?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Trophy
                Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

                Ben, women not being able to uncover their breasts is an injustice but it does not belong in a conversation that discusses the violation of women’s rights under Islamic fundamentalist governments.

                The intensity of the injustice makes a difference. It matters. The human right violations in Saudi Arabia are fundamentally different things than those happening in US.

                I’m just trying to point out that we’ve got the same problem here at home, and that, though not as bad, it’s still awfully serious, and it needs to be addressed.

                The argument that all injustices are the same and they only differ on intensity is a big fallacy. No, you don’t have the “same” problem here in US. Yes, it needs to be addressed and you have my support in doing so but calling it the “same” problem would be missing the point.

                This point is entirely obvious unless you want to force yourself to miss the point. The reason we have different words to describe the “same” injustices of varying intensity is because we all understand the severeity of a crime can make it a fundamentally different crime.

          • Diane G.
            Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

            whyevolutionistrue

            Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

            Your whole comment has the tenor of drawing an equality between Iran and the US because people can’t go nude in public. Do you really think that’s comparable? If so, read this comment, if you haven’t already.

            The fact is that we’re not as bad as they are, and you know it. Your remedy is to “encourage reform in Iran” (yeah, good luck with that) and “encourage reform at home”). The problem is that dress codes in Muslim countries have a much more severe and repressive effect on women than dress codes in the US, such as they are. What surprises me is that so few readers won’t admit that. To me, it’s a double standard applied to Islamic countries. It’s just what I was decrying yesterday: excusing malfeasance on the grounds of multiculturalism.

            Precisely. I couldn’t agree more!

        • eric
          Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          I would suggest that there is a huge difference between a rule that consists of ‘cover your genitalia, regardless of sex, or we will fine you’ and a rule that consists of ‘you women must cover any body part we tell you to cover or get beaten.’

          we also shouldn’t shy from introspection on the basis that we’re not as bad as they are.

          Please introspect on what you think would happen to the cleanliness of public seating if there was no rule about wearing some form of covering over your butt. There’s a perfectly valid reason for putting cloth between my potential seat and your outlet of feces and urine, and I bet you will figure it out if you introspect enough.

          Now look, yes its true that modern western clothing mores are not just based on hygiene. I’m not trying to imply that that’s the sole reason for our cultural notions of appropriate dress. But we have basically gotten rid of criminal penalties for just about everything but genitalia covering in public. You make get tsked or tutted or laughed at, but a woman is not going to get arrested or assaulted for her counterculture clothing choice. And that is an enormous difference between our society and, say for example, Iran.

          • Scote
            Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

            “I would suggest that there is a huge difference between a rule that consists of ‘cover your genitalia, regardless of sex, or we will fine you’ and a rule that consists of ‘you women must cover any body part we tell you to cover or get beaten.’”

            I agree that it is a huge difference, but as Ben points out it is one of degrees, not of completely different paradigms. Just look at our equivocation over breasts. Men can show theirs in public, but in many areas women can be cited or arrested for baring theirs in public, even though both men and women have nipples and aureola. Heck, in Seattle a woman cancer survivor with a double mastectomy had to fight for the right to go topless at a pool in spite of having no breasts. The principle in the US and Islam is at it’s root much the same: women’s bodies are a special case and must be covered in a way that men’s bodies do not.

            That being said, I try to be consistent. I’m against the appealing dehumanization of women in Islam by covering them, often with just their eyes showing, in shapeless layers of cloth. And I’m against sexiest rules about naked breasts here in the US. I don’t think the latter is as big an issue as Islamic head coverings at all, but I do recognize that they are related, and I refuse to let my recognition of the dangers and misogyny of Islam cover up the fact that we have sexiest dress codes in the US, even if to a much, much, much smaller degree.

            • eric
              Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

              I do not think it’s the same; see my more recent reply to Ben (directly above the post you just responded to) for why.

            • papalinton
              Posted May 13, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

              I think a little hair-splitting might be in play here, “The difference is one of degree, not type.” and “it is one of degrees, not of completely different paradigms.” To my mind what might constitute a paradigmatic shift is simply the ends of ‘the question of degree’ continuum.

              It’s more about the reasons or rationale underlying such prohibition that is at question here. Are the reasons based on cultural dictats or on health/safety grounds?

              • Scote
                Posted May 13, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

                ” Are the reasons based on cultural dictats or on health/safety grounds?”

                I’m not getting where you are going with this. In the US the dichotomy where men can go topless and women can’t is not a health or safety issue given that many men have much larger breasts than many women.

                And we certainly can say that in terms of Islam, being draped all over in loose clothing is often contrary to workplace safety, especially in places with heavy machinery that can catch on loose clothing. And in the UK Muslim nursing students demanded to forgo scrubbing in properly by exposing and washing their hands and forearms, claiming that exposing their forearms violated their religious principles.

                So, can you be more specific?

            • Scote
              Posted May 13, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

              Errata: “appealing dehumanization” should read “appalling dehumanization.”

              And a note: I think Islam is an especially pernicious region, one that is inimical to equality and human rights at its core, especially given that it is tied into the idea that religion and government should be one in the same, making any criticism of *government* religious blasphemy, and punishable by death. And I think it is possible to legitimately criticize Islam regardless of whether our own government is perfect, or whether women in the US have to cover their breasts. Even if it is a matter of degrees, **degrees matter**. especially when they are so far apart.

          • Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

            I would suggest that there is a huge difference between a rule that consists of ‘cover your genitalia, regardless of sex, or we will fine you’ and a rule that consists of ‘you women must cover any body part we tell you to cover or get beaten.’

            So you oppose the current common regulations requiring women to cover their breasts?

            Please introspect on what you think would happen to the cleanliness of public seating if there was no rule about wearing some form of covering over your butt.

            I already indicated that regulations for health and safety are perfectly fine, and specifically gave the example of food handlers. However, I also invite you to consider the cleanliness of outdoor public seating, often favored by pigeons and other not-so-wild forms of wildlife for perching and associated activities.

            You make get tsked or tutted or laughed at, but a woman is not going to getarrested or assaulted for her counterculture clothing choice

            First, it’s exactly that same form of social condemnation that the women in Jerry’s article cite for wanting the hijab banned. Second…well, many women are raped ostensibly because “they were asking for it” based on their dress, and far too many in the criminal justice system agree with the rapists on that point. And we’re not talking about bare chests or bottoms, merely night-on-the-town party clothes with a neckline or hemline an inch or so more revealing than whatever the prevailing standard is — or maybe not even that, but simply something somewhat more form-fitting.

            Again, I’m not trying to excuse Islamists — far from it. They’re undoubtedly worse, much worse, and we need to support Islamic women in their efforts to reform their own societies. But we’re in petty bad shape, ourselves, on this issue, and have an awful lot of work to do here at home as well.

            b&

            • eric
              Posted May 14, 2014 at 5:01 am | Permalink

              The hijab is comparable to requiring shirts because women still get raped in the west? Is that your argument? It’s a complete nonsequitur! Rape occurs the world over. Dress taboos are different from culture to culture. A little more introspection on those two facts should lead you to the obvious conclusion that our specific dress taboos cannot be an actual cause of rape. You’re not just leaping from correlation to causation here my friend, your’re leaping from no-correlation to causation.

              But we’re in petty bad shape, ourselves, on this issue, and have an awful lot of work to do here at home as well.

              I think that’s melodramatic bullflop. We certainly have room for improvement and even one rape a year in the US would be one rape too many. But at the same time, we must recognize Pinker’s point of Better Angels, which is that modern western societies have lowered the rates of rape, murder, and other such crimes two to three orders of magnitude compared to other and earlier civilizations (or our own earlier western civilizations). The sky is not falling, we are not monsters, and the only possible way anyone could ever come to the conclusion that we are in “bad shape” would be if that person (a) completely ignored history, or (b) held us to some standard of a perfect, ideal society that has never existed and likely never will. Which are you doing here, Ben, (a) or (b)?

              • Posted May 14, 2014 at 5:30 am | Permalink

                I think Mr. Goren is trying to make a virtue of necessity here. I and others found his comparison invidious, and so he has assumed the guise of a white knight who wants to protect women everywhere.

    • swbarnes2
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      I think there are two rather crucial difference between the Western code and the Islamic code we are talking about here. In the Western code the standard is not that different between men and women. Both men and women can usually display hands, arms, shoulders, ankles, knees, legs, and very importantly, hair and face. Neither is allowed to display genitals. The most significant difference is that in the West, men can go topless in a few situations where women can’t. The Islalmic code we are discussing, men have far more freedom than women have, and most importantly, aren’t encouraged to hide their identity and individuality by hiding their face, while women are.

      I think the impetus behind dress codes is to say “sexual displays of the body are not appropriate in most venues”. We differ on what parts of the body we deem sexual displays. In some cultures, breasts are not considered a sexual display, and those cultures think Western men are babies for making women cover up. But the drastically conservative code we are discussing is harmful because it is basically telling women, and only women, that they are NOTHING but sexual display. That they can’t go to the grocery store, or school, or just for a walk without being a sexual beacon that has to be smothered.

    • eric
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      “Discuss”

      False analogy. The true analogy would be walking around the west in non-western clothing, which is generally acceptable. Saris, robes, even the hijab, very few people will bat an eye about it in the US. I bet a full-on geisha costume would turn a few heads, but only because of the novelty, not out of any social opprobrium or offense it caused.

      Another problem with your analysis is that islamic political systems do not simply “cite in favor” of the hijab, they make it a legal requirement to wear it. Nobody in the US is insisting that women wear a dress or go to jail. Nobody in the US is throwing acid on a woman because they decided to wear a t-shirt. If women in the mideast were free of both legal and social-but-extralegal violence when it came to choosing not to wear a headcovering, then you might have a case to make that their social pressure on people to conform to dress standards was not much different than ours. But midseat women do face the threat of legal and extra-legal violence over showing their faces, so the comparison is invalid.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Islam is a religion, not a race or a universal culture.

      What you will actually find is that Muslims tended to wear the sort of clothing that is culturally appropriate to the country or community in which they lived.

      Bosnian Muslim women

      And if you go back about 45 years you will find that Muslim women wore whatever they wanted to:

      Afghan women in 1970s

      And more pertinent to this article:

      Iranian women in the 1970s

      When fundamentalist elements came to power all of sudden that changed. The women of Iran tried to protest the new laws that
      insisted that they wear Hijab.
      The demonstrators were violently attacked. This was in 1980, not 1580.

      If you want a first person account of those years, you should get hold of the graphic novel Persepolis by Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi.

      So: what women wear in Iran is as voluntary as every act you’ve performed with a whip or stick brandished at you.

      This stuff is not in a secret dossier, it’s widely available at your public library and on the internet. I can’t believe that instead of trying to actually look the facts up; you just decided to loftily pronounce on why women to be forced to wear garments that they vehemently oppose is really just the same as women not walking around topless in Washington or London or Berlin.

      • eric
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Persepolis was also made into a movie. It wasn’t great, IMO, but not bad either.

      • Rory
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        +1 for Persepolis, a really great book.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

        Those photos always give me chills. It’s so sad.

    • Trophy
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      @Phillip Helbig:

      It gets me a bit pissed off to read comments like yours. The reasoning that “Well in Western countries women can’t walk naked in the streets” is *exactly* the excuse Islamist assholes provide for upholding laws that violate the basic freedom of women. And by *exactly* I mean really the exact same phase in my own language; the exact same phrase and the exact same excuse comes many times over from various authority figures, Islamists, and fundamentalists. According to them, if women (and let’s not forget men) can’t walk naked in Western countries (again, public nudity is not illegal in some countries), then they get to forcefully dress women in fully-covering black attire under the summer sun of Tehran in temperatures of over 40 degrees (over 104 F). I hope it sickens you to realize that your line of arumentation is *exactly* the same as those who seem to morally live in the 9th century.

      • Scote
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        “I hope it sickens you to realize that your line of arumentation is *exactly* the same as those who seem to morally live in the 9th century.”

        I’d really like to see issues like this one discussed civilly and without the invective like the above which is designed to make the arguments personal. There are other websites where invective shoutdowns of opposing arguments are the norm. I’m rather fond of the fact that WEIT isn’t like them.

  13. jay
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    In the US, and other parts of the west, women can be arrested for being shirtless where men are not under the same circumstances. A difference in degree more than concept. (My wife would love to have that option)

    • eric
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      So, how about bringing the mideast difference down to our degree level first, then implying that the two systems are comparable?

    • Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      I doubt that there’s any difference between this in the US and Iran. But, at any rate, ask your wife whether she’d rather live under the dress codes of Iran or the dress conventions of the U.S. If she says Iran, I’ll be surprised.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        That’s actually a good point and I think because it brings out something we haven’t touched on explicitly, namely the conformity of it all. Yes, it’s wretched to be forced to wear something you don’t want to & even more wretched to wear something as insidious as a body bag of cloth but, on top of it all, it just strips you of your identity. You are a non-person in a very visual sense as you blend in with all the other amorphous beings. Sure, if you are wearing merely a headscarf your sense of personal identity will not be as affected as if you were wearing a burqa but this is the true matter of degree – it’s all identity effacing.

      • Posted May 13, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know if that’s such a good point. Would you rather be stoned to death for doing drugs in Saudi Arabia or sentenced to ten years in jail for doing drugs in the US? Of course we’d all rather go to jail, but that doesn’t mean we can’t criticize our own drug laws while also criticizing theirs. Yes, one is much, mcuch worse than the other, but it doesn’t nullify the argument against one by also arguing against the other.

    • Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      “A difference in degree more than concept.”

      I think there’s more to it than that. No, I can’t do yard work or take a walk with no shirt on. But in the U.S., the definition of “shirt” is so broad that I can wear a man’s work shirt, a low-cut lacy blouse, the blanket off my bed, or a thong bikini top with tassels and still be considered adequately covered. Wearing a shirt doesn’t interfere with my daily life and physical activity, obscure my vision and hearing, or hide my identity. It need not make me uncomfortable or severely limit my self-expression.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      I think it is NY or maybe just NY City where based on a court case, women are legally allowed to be topless.

      Your wife might still find that the reactions of others, especially men with cameras, meant that legally free isn’t sufficient to make it comfortable enough to enjoy.

      Religion poisons everything.

      • Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Closer to home, JohnnieCanuck, it’s legal in Canada to go topless; being topless is neither a sexual act nor indecent so therefore not an offense.

  14. Kevin
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Global Gender Gap is worth a look:

    http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2013.pdf

    US ranks 23, behind Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweeden, UK, etc.,…no surprises there. The bottom 115-136 are, no surprise, predominantly Muslim countries.

    Women tend to have as good health and education, but less economic status and almost no political power.

    How does not being able to wear shorts or swim in a public pool with a bathing suit fit into this? Among other reasons, it is an overt recognition that people can be irrationally insecure about sex. An insecurity furnished exclusively by fictitious religious belief.

  15. Ben
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Of all of religion’s goofy beliefs, this has to be one of the goofiest: that the being that created a universe from scratch cares deeply about what you wear on your head.

  16. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    “the sight of their naked heads and necks might incite uncontrollable lust in Muslim men.”

    Jerry, I wonder if that wasn’t a conscious reference to your “philosophical confrère”.

    Available on t-shirts, mugs and more.

  17. gmaduck
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how many Muslim women wearing burkas are stark naked underneath in a silent protest.

  18. Jonathan Dore
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    The picture of the mother and daughter is particularly poignant. The mother will have spent the first half of her life (until 1979) *never* wearing a hijab (they had been banned in Iran since the 1930s). Then, in middle age, she would have been forced to start wearing one for the first time in her life. Now she is reliving a simple freedom from her youth in a brief, precious moment.

  19. VL
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I think it really is a shame that a discussion of the brave acts of these Iranian women is hijacked by criticising dresscodes in the US. While I understand the posters who have raised these concerns are not in support of oppressive Iranian dress codes, these sorts of comments simply distract everyone from the real issue and end up almost excusing or at least ignoring the problems with such an oppressive regime. Unhappiness with dress codes in the US shouldn’t even be an issue when it comes to discussing basic freedoms which are restricted for women across the Muslim world. A few people have mentioned the dehumanising effects of covering women in this way. Things like the chador also restrict women’s mobility, as they have to be physically held closed so women can do very little when out. I have even seen some garments which have to be held closed in the woman’s mouth, which is even more degrading and restrictive. These garments also adversely affect women’s health, particularly in the West by depriving women of much needed Vitamin D. It is in fact such a problem in Britain at least, that there are a number of education programs ongoing with the Muslim community to promote the importance of skin exposure to sunlight (as it can be exceptionally limited here!).

    To compare these issues with not being able to go nude is absurd. They are not even close and while people should most certainly be able to debate the issues of clothing, treatment of women etc. In the US and Britain, these issues should not be conflated with those raised in the above post. There are other more suitable places for those discussions.

    One final point, I guess to add my two cents into the discussion in the above comments. In the UK, I can freely breastfeed in public. I do not use a nursing cover or a special top or cover my baby. I happily pull out my breasts so they can do what they were designed for. Not only have I never had a single comment about this but this is legally protected. Both my child and I benefit from this greatly. This is not the case in Muslim countries.

    • VL
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Oops! ” what they were designed for ” is simply a figure of speech! No ID here! Evolution all the way!

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      Unhappiness with dress codes in the US shouldn’t even be an issue when it comes to discussing basic freedoms which are restricted for women across the Muslim world.

      Hear, hear!

      How is bringing up the “it’s only a matter of degree” argument here any different than those who insist on bringing up male circumcision whenever female genital mutilation is discussed?

      • Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        What I don’t get is the urge to compartmentalization and exclusion, and especially in a way specifically expressed as obstructive to needed reforms.

        If we’re agreed that the sexualization and objectification of people is bad, that fear of inappropriate male response in reaction to seeing taboo portions of female bodies is no excuse for controls placed on women or violence directed towards them, and that it’s simply inexcusable for any of this to be codified into law…

        …why should an hearty, “Hear, hear!” be condemned when the person agreeing with all that wishes to see it extended to his own culture, and not merely futilely ranted against in cultures on the other side of the globe?

        Yes, women in Islamic countries have it bad, and we should do what we can to help them.

        But people here in the West suffer many of the same indignities, if not to the same degree still to an often-horrific and always unacceptable degree, and one of the best ways we can help the situation in the Islamic world is by addressing the same problems here at home. If nothing else, it moves the Overton Window in our favor and reduces our exposure to claims of hypocrisy. And shouldn’t we strive to be the best model of liberal freedom and equality and sanity we possibly can be?

        Why should this in any way be objectionable? Why is there even a complaint in the first place?

        b&

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

          “How is bringing up the “it’s only a matter of degree” argument here any different than those who insist on bringing up male circumcision whenever female genital mutilation is discussed?”

          • Posted May 13, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

            I’d actually toss that back over the net to you.

            If we’re agreed that taking sharp objects for no medically valid reason to the genitals of children too young to offer informed consent is a very, very, very bad thing to do, what’s the problem with making it a genderless proposition such as I just did?

            Maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t get why agreeing that we should stop sexual mutilation of children somehow becomes problematic as soon as somebody wants to stop sexual mutilation of all children rather than one subset that happens to suffer disproportionately from an insufferable situation. Same thing in the case of dress codes. We should stop sexualizing and objectifying and directing violence towards women based on their dress, and it shouldn’t make a damned bit of difference where the women live. Would you have objected to civil liberties for Latinos back in the ’60s because they hadn’t suffered as badly as Blacks?

            Is there a fear that this is somehow a zero-sum game? That if we in the West work towards reducing the objectification of Western women then somehow Islamic women will be even more objectified? Or is this some variation on the tribalism theme, us-versus-them?

            The only other option that even comes close to making psychological sense, but I can’t imagine applying here, is that there’s a desire to preserve the current degrees of [insert injustice], and it’s only [the other injustice] that people care about.

            We should all be happy to fight all injustice, and be happy to link arms with those who focus their efforts towards similar injustices on other fronts than our own. United we stand, and all that jazz.

            Think how much more powerful a message it is to say that not only do Islamic women deserve the freedom to ditch the veil, but that all women everywhere, as well as all men, Islamic and Western and everywhere else, deserve the freedom to wear whatever they damned well please, and nobody has the right to tell them otherwise. And how can somebody argue with an opponent of female genital mutilation if she also wants the similar practice stopped in males as well? What’s left for the supporters of the status quo to argue against?

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

              I have to agree with Ben. In new York women may legally go topless anywhere men can. I’ve seen topless women on the subway, in the park, walking down Broadway, etc. There are nude beaches where it is legal to be naked. Why there but not in the park? It seems a bit arbitrary and based in puritanical morality codes. Children must not see naked bodies or they will be damaged somehow. I think Ben is right on the money this time. It doesn’t take anything away from the criticism to point out that we have room for improvement as well. No one is saying the two situations are equivalent here.

            • Posted May 14, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

              I am reminded also of a comment my friend Raven used to make – something like “so I enflame your lust, do I? Good! Enjoy!” She pointed out to me that the (supposed) motivation for the clothing requirements are actually a sort of second-order prohibition. And in this case, what’s being prohibited should not be regarded (in general) as a bad thing! (Acting on it in some ways can be, but that’s another concern.)

  20. Diane G.
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Great post!

    Thanks Jerry and hat/tip-Steve.

  21. Posted May 13, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    There’s a strategic and tactical element to the debate raging here I don’t understand.

    I’ll bet almost every woman reading these words has, at least once, had to fend off overly-pushy sexual attention “because” she decided to wear nice clothes.

    And, just based on rough guesses about numbers and statistics, I’ll also bet that there are triple digits of numbers of women reading these very words who have been raped, and that many of their attackers “justified” the violence because the woman “asked for it” based on how she was dressed.

    Granted, those women reading these words don’t have to worry about being stoned to death, but every one of them has at least some direct personal experience of a milder form of what Islamic women endure daily.

    We can either brush aside these readers and their experiences because they haven’t suffered as much as their Islamic sisters, or we can join with them in the struggle to end all violence and discrimination against all women, and motivate them to do so precisely because of their own personal experiences. “You think you’ve got it bad? Well, yeah, you do, but these Islamic women have it even worse, so let’s work together to help everybody.

    I’m utterly at a loss to think of any possible hypothetical advantage of the former approach over the latter.

    b&

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      First, it’s disrespectful to the Iranian women who are the subject of this post to change the focus of this discussion to one about the much more minor problems of American women.

      Secondly, it’s not our social clothing norms that are causing rape. And going topless isn’t going to improve matters. You (all) have a mish-mash of arguments going here in an effort to appear to have the unimpeachable position.

      (The one constant in both situations–Iranian & U.S.–is male lust, however.)

      • Posted May 13, 2014 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

        I think Ben went a little sideways there, but Philip’s original point was just that he thinks it is interesting that the proponents of “Islamic dress” codes use the same reasoning as Westerners do against public nudity – namely 1) morality based on religion and 2) women’s safety due to some men’s inability to control themselves. You may or may not agree and you may or may not think it is interesting, but I don’t think it’s out of bounds for discussion. Some of the reactions here sound a little like, “how dare you compare Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s Anschluss in 1938? You think Putin is as bad as Hitler? You think what is happening in Ukraine is comparable to the Holocaust? The two cannot even be mentioned in the same sentence!”

        And yes, I went Godwin on purpose.

        • Posted May 14, 2014 at 3:12 am | Permalink

          Yes, isn’t that “interesting”? I have let the discussion stand but I agree with Diane above that the changing of the focus of discussion to banning public nudity in the U.S. is “disrespectful to the Iranian women who were the subject of this post.” It appears as an attempt to draw moral equivalencies to situations that are not at all comparable, and I still don’t understand the mindset that would WANT to discuss public nudity in the US on a thread like this.

          When U.S. women get beaten and jailed for taking their tops off, then MAYBE it would be worth discussing. In the meantime, I was disappointed about the derailing of the discussion into a First World Problem.

          • Posted May 14, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

            When U.S. women get beaten and jailed for taking their tops off, then MAYBE it would be worth discussing.

            But that’s exactly the point, Jerry!

            Save in a few jurisdictions — New York has been mentioned — American women are jailed for taking their tops off. Shirley, you must know this! And in many cases, they’re then labeled as sex offenders and thus turned into unemployable pariahs for the rest of their lives. And even the ones not jailed are described as classless hyper-sexual libertines, only not in such clinical language.

            Western women who dress “excessively provocatively” are targeted for rape, and then often ignored or dismissed by the justice system “because she was asking for it” or “because she should have known better.” If we’re going to play your game of “What’s worse?” then what’s worse: being beaten for showing too much skin, or being raped for showing too much skin? (Of course, I’m sure Islamic women are also raped for showing too much skin — but that’s my point: the problem is barbarity against women for perceptions of sexual liberty.)

            Yes, the square-inches-of-skin standards and official punishments are worse in Islam — but everything in Islam is more extreme. There, they’ll flay the flesh from your back for smoking a joint. Does that mean we have no right in America to object to criminalization of non-violent drug offenders because at least we don’t give them fifty lashes? Should we not object to American executions because, hey, at least we use drugs to kill them instead of stoning like in Islam?

            If you reported on an Islamic country that just stoned an apostate, would you be similarly upset at commenters expressing outrage at American executions?

            The point is that we here in the West objectify women in the same ways and with the same inexcusable excuses, even if the results of the objectification aren’t as over-the-top.

            And please don’t pretend that it’s not systemic, not pervasive, not cultural. Islamic women are kept uneducated; Western women are kept underpaid. Islamic women’s testimony in court is meaningless; Western women’s opinions are dismissed as worthless hysterical twitterings. Islamic women’s sexuality is controlled by their fathers and husbands; Western women are increasingly unable to access basic reproductive health services.

            So, yes. What Islamists do to women is horrific and inexcusable. What Westerners do to women is bad and inexcusable. Islamists are worse than Westerners in this manner, but that does not excuse the parallel injustices in Western society. And insisting that we should be silent about Western injustices because women in Islam are even worse off than women in the West doesn’t do anybody any favors.

            b&

            P.S. To those — not you, Jerry, but others — who insist that this is only about the covering of faces, have another look at those photos. The women haven’t just uncovered their heads; they’ve also rolled up their sleeves. And that’s every bit as scandalous as removing the scarf. b&

      • Scote
        Posted May 14, 2014 at 4:38 am | Permalink

        “First, it’s disrespectful to the Iranian women who are the subject of this post to change the focus of this discussion to one about the much more minor problems of American women.”

        I have to disagree. Bringing up our own sexism isn’t about making the issue about Americans or disrespecting brave Iranian protesters. For me it is about trying to come up with consistent moral principles.

        I find Islamic coverings a moral challenge. I’m viscerally opposed to the full coverings that I see as the tools of the religious, patriarchal repression of women, taking them out of society and transforming them from people into sacks of cloth. It is the “othering” of women. But what is the answer to these religious coverings? We can’t control what happens in Islamic countries, though we can object to it. What should we do in Western nations? Should we ban religious coverings for women? Which ones? Ban scarfs? Head and neck coverings? Full face veils? I want to say “yes,” but I also think people should be allowed to wear what they want (and many do want to be covered, even if that desire may a form of cultural Stockholm syndrome in some). How do we balance an individual’s right to choose, versus a civil society’s obligation to prevent the marginalization of women?

        In order to look at the issue consistently I have to look at a broader picture. What is it that bothers me about the Islamic coverings? Is it the submission implied? I see people in the fairly liberal area where I live sometimes wearing collars, a public proclamation of a submissive sexual lifestyle. But this is not common, and there is much more of a voluntary air to it, that the collars are a proud choice. So, it isn’t submission that really offends me, it is the lack of choice, the wholesale cultural and religious coercion involved

        Next up, is it the full face covering I object to? I’m ok with people wearing N95 masks in public, so, strictly speaking, no. But I’m very much against the full face coverings of Islam. Again, the separation from society, the imposition and control of women by a patriarchal religion, etc. makes the difference.

        The things that trigger me are not the submission, or the face coverings in and of themselves, but the idea that they are *imposed* on women and not a real choice.

        As part of forming a consistent moral principle on the issue I look introspectively at our own society to see if we have sexist dress codes to see if I’m consistent on the issue of dress codes for women. And, has been pointed out, we do, and they are imposed on women. And I try to be consistent. I’m against sexist dress codes for women, be it toplessness taboos in the US, or hair, neck, forearm, face taboos in the Islam – not that I think they are equivalent in degrees.

        But, what can we do here? Should we ban Islamic coverings as a response? It is an easy answer, and I don’t trust easy answers. How do we balance women’s right to wear what they want with our desire to keep women from being oppressed by men and religion? If telling women what to wear is oppression, can’t telling them what not to wear be oppression in the name of opposing oppression? I’m left asking how can I help? How can I avoid being a bigot about the issue? How can we advance the cause of women’s rights in this area without taking away women’s rights in the process? I’m still seeking answers, and looking for the right questions to ask. And looking at our own society’s rules and taboos is a critical part of the process to insure that we are *consistent* in our moral principles.

  22. Posted May 13, 2014 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/essay-01.html

    A historical perspective on Islamic women’s dress.

  23. Steve Gerrard
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    The important thing is that there is a Facebook page where “thousands of Iranian women are taking off their veils and publishing pictures of themselves online.” It is pretty clear that they don’t want to wear them, at least not all the time.

    If there were a Facebook page with thousands of American women going topless for the stealthy freedom of it, well then there would be a parallel, but I don’t think that is happening. Men theorizing about it on a web site is not the same thing.

    It is not for us to say what others should be protesting, but rather to decide how to respond when their protest becomes apparent. I for one enjoy seeing the faces and heads and smiles in the photos.

  24. Posted May 14, 2014 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    What an interesting post. I’d never even considered what it must feel like to be briefly free from a hijab. Reading the women’s comments about their momentary freedom serves as a good reminder of how it’s often the little pleasures in life that we take for granted, like feeling the wind in your hair.

  25. Posted May 14, 2014 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    This short-form podcast announcement (from Seth @ The Thinking Atheist) contains a brief interview with an Iranian woman founding a project called “Bread And Roses,” which aims to broadcast secular content into oppressed Islamic regions. This audience has the opportunity…

    video/audio available at link http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/

    Summation of the Bread and Roses mission statement:

    Attempt to eliminate negative outcomes from societal prohibition of free (critical, Enlightenmment model) thinking by changing the thinking paradigm norm imposed on the Iranian population by the present neo-medieval Muslim theocracy. Undercut the totalitarian regime, in other words.

    The organizations goal is to accomplish societal transformation through dissemination of critical thinking tools they are convinced a significant segment of Iranian society will eagerly embrace. They are undertaking wise, brave, and high personal risk action.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted May 14, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing that. An excellent project well worth supporting.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted May 14, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

      Bread and Roses have a powerful video on nude protest, relevant to discussion on this thread.
      Women from Islamic societies casting off more than just their headscarves.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted May 14, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        I thought that only the address for the link was going to come up. My apologies.

  26. nilou ataie
    Posted May 14, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Covering a women’s head is all about power and property. The Koran dictates it and it helps men control women and maintain their property. Islam is the ultimate religion for the misogynist, and many people are too stupid to see this. many women will spend their only life covered, eyes averted, with men telling them what they want and need. An only life wasted on misogyny disguised as piety. guess what mutha fuckas? Fuck your religion of pieces!

  27. Posted May 14, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    freedom from Islamic restrictions is one essential human right.

  28. Leigh Jackson
    Posted May 14, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Presumably, women who would freely choose to wear a headscarf at Moslem universities don’t like their freedom being curtailed. How much pressure the absence of a ban would place on those who choose not to wear a headscarf I do not know. But being forced to wear or not to wear clothes of one’s own choosing at university is a pernicious interference with personal liberty. There ought to be no legally enforceable coercion one way or the other. Individuals should stand up to pressure to dress otherwise than in accordance with their personal wishes – and universities ought to have effective policies to deter such pressure. The same general principle, of course, ought to apply outside universities in wider Moslem society. Whilst that may be too much to hope for, for some time to come, it would be good if universities were to set an example.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] REALLY HELPFUL UPDATE 5/13/2014.  Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True just published a great blessing for me, and anybody else who gets muddled over the variety of coverings Muslims demand women to wear in public. (I barely know the difference between a chador and a burkha.) Here it is: not only the names of the awful garments, but pictures of them, as well: Ditching the hijab in Iran « Why Evolution Is True. […]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29,478 other followers

%d bloggers like this: