Monday, 12 October 2015

The Covering Issue, Part 1

“When an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burqa rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. It’s not about the burqa. It’s about the coercion. Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one. "

Arundhati Roy

For once I decided to begin with the short version. A quote that sums it all up and ought to be enough, but it isn't. The reason it isn't is that I've lost count how many times I've seen a similar idea voiced, and then watched as somebody completely dismissed it with the word BUT.

I intend to get into a few dark corners of the Muslim face covering issue, and the larger related issues, and cause an argument, because it has to be done. It won't be short. I'll break it up into parts for ease. If you don't like long-winded things...well, why are you HERE?

I want to state that this is not one single issue, but many. And then I want to contradict myself and tell you that it all comes down to one very basic issue, and you won't like it.

Before I do that, let's not forget that in Canada right now this issue is a diversion by Steven Harper in an election week. That in itself is a dirty trick. To pretend to care about women's rights when all it is is a way of getting people off topics like the economy, the environment, and......well, ACTUAL women's rights.

Still, this issue isn't going to go away, so let's have at it.

Here's a quicky for those of you who don't like head coverings at all. Don't wear one. End of problem. You can if you wish, and if you don't want to, then don't. Ta da. And while we're here let's make sure we all know the correct words.

Various Muslim headcoverings.

Hermes scarf


Various purposes. Some decorative, some protective, some cultural. I stress cultural, because although this is sometimes related to religion, it's not strictly speaking a religious matter. It's an interpretation of religion, which is why it varies so much. I would like to leave that aside for a monent and concentrate on the whole issue of whether or not others have the right to tell a person what they can or cannot wear over their heads or faces.

The first problem, obviously, is when they are used as a disguise, that is to say to deliberately hide the identity of the wearer.

Just how big a problem this is, is one of the great debates going on, and while we can't ignore it, for now the data seems to be that it's not, actually, much of a problem at all. It is an imagined problem, most of the time, not a real one. I have been unable to get any solid data (i.e. not on racist websites) on how many crimes have been committed by people wearing Muslim clothing as a disguise. They are in fact headline news when they do happen, because they are uncommon.

What we do know for sure is that most crimes in North America are committed by people wearing "regular" western clothes. Not so much as a bandana to throw the cops off the trail when checking the videos of the crime. If we assess the percentage of crimes committed by people wearing ANY disguise, then it's rather obvious that doing it bare-faced seems to be the overwhelmingly popular method.

I am not convinced by the disguise excuse for banning any form of clothing (including hoodies), because I don't think the usefulness is demonstrated. In the event that you are attacked on the street by a masked person, or by an unmasked person, the chances of you identifying them are not much different. I know this personally because as a witness to a crime I stood in court feeling a complete idiot unable to identify a man whose face I saw at the time as clear as day, and had already identified once. But everyone told me this happens all the time. Humans are so bad at it that computers are being developed to do it instead.

To conclude, I think this entire aspect of the issue has been blown out of all proportion, and is actually a red herring.

However, the law already requires faces to be uncovered for photo ID (or it's pointless, duh), and when this needs to be checked against what you look like today there is already protocol in place. This applies in Muslim countries too. Broadly speaking it's a non-issue.

So, those who want anything more than a haircovering to be banned must have a better reason to be taken seriously. Often they say it's for women's rights. Most of the time this isn't true.

This is easy to see, simply by who wants it banned.

It's quite bizarre really. The covering itself is, generally speaking, a conservative thing to do. And yet once it becomes a polticial issue, it's not at all uncommon to find conservative minds, those who spend most of their time fighting women's rights, suddenly very interested in them on this one occasion. That makes me suspicious.

It's not easy to define women's rights, but I think the best way is to say that women have the right to make their own informed choices and act accordingly, in all matters wherever a man has the equivalent free choice. That is to say that if it's illegal to make choice X it must be illegal for both parties. That doesn't necessarily make it ethically fair (lawful and ethical are not always the same thing), but if a man is free to vote, drive, own property, or whatever, then a woman must be too. If a man is paid $20 an hour, then a woman doing the same job must be paid the same amount, and have no obstacles to getting said job in the first place that a man does not face. For any example that can be offered, it must be that the freedom to choose is the same for both. No exceptions.

The reality is that women can not always do this. My own personal experiences on inequality have have been thankfully minimal, but sometimes I had to fight for equality just the same. Rather than being bitter for the inequalities I did experience, I'm glad it taught me to count my blessings, and to support others who weren't so lucky.

The key is choice. In any matter concerning rights and ethics, choice is a major part of it all.

It is the choice in what to wear that is the issue here, not the clothing itself. 
Choice is an individual thing. It is influenced to a greater or lesser degree by others who we come in contact with, starting with our families, and reaching as far afield as long-dead writers. It is also affected by our individual personalities. Sometimes upbringing and personality clash. Kids from very traditional homes can be rebellious and want to do things very differently, and horrify their families. Kids from very laid-back progressive homes can turn out surprisingly conservative. A different type of rebellion. Some kids just ape their parents, and never step outside that box at all. All of this is part of how we make our choices, and so is the information available. If you don't know there are other options, you are not going to opt for them.

And this was my experience. I had a broad-minded mother, and plenty of broad-minded schoolteachers. I talked to all sorts of people, I was absolutely not sheltered, and yet some opportunities that I missed (which seem so obvious now) were because I did not know a given thing, and, more importantly, I did not know that I did not know.

I have no regrets, as a matter of fact, but that was sheer luck. My ignorance could have been a disaster, and it often is for many. As it was, it took me a long time to learn things that really every child needs to know early on. Because nobody taught me. Why? Did they try to hide things from me? No, I don't believe that was it at all. I believe they simply didn't know themselves, or just assumed I already did.

And this is why, when the topic of choice crops up, I am quick to say "informed choice" because simple choice is not enough. If you think you have 3 choices, you may indeed choose the best of the 3, if you are careful. But if you are unaware of option 4, which may in fact turn out to be the better one, then your choice was not fully informed.

Happens all the time, believe me. Not just to the young and innocent either.

I have become aware of this through my business. If I offer a design in only one colour, and a potential customer finds it appealing, the chances of them asking for a different colour are very small. Nowhere does it say "available in red only", but nor does it say "you choose colour" either. When I am asked, as I was today, for something quite unique and specific to be done to the design, I'm actually rather pleased. It restores my faith in humanity a bit. People thinking.

However, if I offer, say, six colours, there is a much greater chance that I'll then get an enquiry about a colour option I didn't list. The customer has become aware of the idea of choice, and this encourages them to go even further.

BUT. If I say "available in any colour", I only get as many enquries as if I don't mention it at all.

I ask why a lot, and I still don't know know for sure why this is. Can we be overwhelmed with choices? Is there some need for limits?

If there is (and I think there may be) surely that will apply to some more than others, a matter of personality. There will be some who value endless choices, and some who prefer none at all.

I believe that's part of what fashion is all about. It reigns in the choices a bit.

I believe that's also why creative people are much less bothered by the dictates of fashion - unless they are leading it.

Choice is a complicated thing. It is rarely on a whim, and it can vary over a lifetime due to experience.

If you are actually interested in learning about this issue, rather than just waiting until I've stopped to contradict me, please read this article.

I'll be back with lots more.

1 comment:

  1. I think your own market based research shows that while having choice is great, having too much choice can be overwhelming. I think this is also why we feel we need 'government' to also narrow down those choices that may otherwise overwhelm us and everyone else. This multiple choice seems to trigger much anxiety...maybe as much as fear itself. ~ Blessings! :)