Sunday, November 05, 2006

Monthly Rant, otherwise known as Insomniac Detention

Many recent events, twists and turns, have all led me to the writing of this post. The Downtown rabid eid attacks against women, Sheikh El Hilaly’s comments likening unveiled women to naked flesh devoured by wolves (or cats or dogs or something), posts by Forsooth, Amnesiac and Freedom for Egyptians, and my own preliminary meditations are all to be blamed for the bellow rant.

Although it is incredibly misguided of people to characterize and judge others solely based on their attire, it would be equally naïve to completely disregard it. Since the time humans began exercising choice in the design of their clothes, garments began to represent and signify things beyond their initial function of protection. Dress codes were applied to primarily distinguish class and social/ political strata. Eventually, religious notions expounding the sanctity of the body, particularly that of the females', stressed and enforced conservative attire as an exigency of righteous adherence to the faith. Colonialist exploites also strengthened the belief that nakedness resembelled backwardness, the civilized world took pride in their elaborate and exquisite garments for they distinguished them from the savages. Gratuitous display of flesh has thus been for many years, by many cultures, frowned upon; denoting some sacrilegious irreverence to the holiness of the human shrine that is the body.

Thanks to the sexual revolution, liberal movements, and Larry Flynt, these notions have been heavily attacked and in many cases torn down. Yet dress codes still persist, and women, for the most part, whether through personal choice or societal pressure, wear, cover and/ or reveal themselves, to express something of their identities. Nevertheless, regardless of how much time women, or men, spend delineating what to wear and what it may say about them, there will always be room for incongruity between the image they think they’re portraying and what others perceive. The clothing and fashion industries, TV, cinema, religious canon, tradition, upbringing, etc, all play an influential role in manipulating and determining, the parameters of what we perceive as acceptable, in social, cultural and now more than ever, religous terms. Specifically when talking about women's attire, the lines between sexy and slutty, conservative and provocative, etc, are all played on, blurred and continually explored and negotiated, to feed an age old fascination and obsession with the female body as "a thing of beauty"; something to marvel at, covet, seek, reveal, cover, etc… In conservative societies such as ours, class, liberal or religious values are to a great extent reflected in, and hence distinguished by, attire and outward appearance. To consider a woman who dresses provocatively a slut, is a gross misjudgment. To consider that she may be a little more liberal, than say a veiled woman, is a valid assumption.

However, the problem doesn’t specifically lie in the perception and subsequent assumption of a woman’s chaste or immoral nature based on her attire. We can’t hold people accountable for their perceptions and opinions, but we can and will hold them accountable for their actions. The real crisis lies in it somehow becoming acceptable and legitimate to justify violations against women using culturally biased perceptions to draw relative moral judgments on the chastity or immorality of the victim. To hint that a woman shares blame for an attack against her, of any sort, because of her attire, is as preposterous and malicious as blaming a victim of a race related attack for the color of his skin. It is truly disgusting to witness vile actions be tolerated by the assumption of some moral high-ground that under the guise of guiding women to safer living does nothing more than remove the burden of shame from the perpetrator and place it on the victim. The roots of these remarks lie deep in patriarchal misogyny and they ultimately provide further cover to sexual offenders and rapists.

Harassment is not acceptable, rape is not acceptable, any malignant action whatsoever aiming to harm another individual is NOT ACCEPTABLE. And while we’re at it is equally unacceptable to preach with feigned love or chastise with violent indignation a woman for not veiling; infringements on freedom of opinion and expression are NOT ACCEPTABLE. The door to moral equivalency has been wide open for far too long and it is time to seal it shut. Misogyny, intolerance, and the oppression of dissent should all be consciously rejected and actively fought against. We must strive for another world for it is possible.


Amnesiac said...

Nice post Jester, specifically I liked your colour/race attack and dress/victim's 'guilt' analogy.

This downtown business and the discussion it provoked got me thinking about Egyptian society's dress prudishness. I was talking to an aunt, who said that in 1960s Cairo women dressed as they wished - miniskirts, vests anything. I know that most commentators blame current attitudes on Egyptian migrant workers bringing back Wahabi intrepretations of Islam from Saudi, but I was wondering whether this intrepretation is too simplistic. Do you reckon that increased religiosity (as a placebo for economic and social despair)have in fact emerged regardless of any outside factors?

Amnesiac said...

A comment wouldn't be my comment without a mistake. Question should read 'Do you reckon that increased religiosity...WOULD have in fact emerged...' :-s

Jester said...

Egypt has always been a country rich in faith, but while I think the transformation from tolerant, calm, inward spiritualism to intolerant bigoted dogma to a degree to do with wahabi Islam infiltrating Egypt as your aunt says, I think it has much more to do with socio-economic factors like poverty and injustice as you point out. Placebo is a key word here, but not in the way that Marx called religion an opiate administered to maintain status quo, but rather in the sense that it's used to both arouse and placate at the same time either by the individual onto him/her self and by outside forces.

Historical geopolitial factors can't be ignored either, Palestine, Iraq, the interplay between notions like tradition and globalization have all contributed to the rise of a radical, reductionist and reflexive interpretation of Islam (I believe that was a spontaneous outpouring of alliterative prose!).

I personally think that what we're witnessing is not increased piety for I find it difficult to equate this outwardly obsessive self-righteousness with Islam. But this is precisely the point, the kind of Islam people practice has a lot to do with their own values as human beings, and how their culture, education, and own moral choices are then manifested in their practice.

Sand-E Sez said...

Very well written... I must say... there is a whole lot of clicking of the fingers going on over here but u can't see or hear it :_( But I'm sure you're feeling the love none the less ;) keep up the intellectual goodness.. Tiz yummy!

Jester said...

Hey Sandy,

Thank you so much for your words. It means a lot when someone recognizes some sense through the madness. You've made my day!

Jester said...

I was referring to my madness that is!

Lauren Agius said...

I was wondering what your thoughts on the veil itself were?

Lauren Agius said...

Hi Jester,
My name is Lauren Agius and I am a student at the University Of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont. I am doing an online project for my class Women and Gender in the Middle East in which I find two blogs, one from a man and one from a woman and read them all. I really enjoyed reading your blogs. I find them all so real and honest. You write about the things that you care about and affect you. I enjoyed your article posted on Sunday, November 5, 2007 about women and the veil. I was wondering if you could tell me more about your views on the veil in the middle east and what it means to you. I look forward to reading what you have to say.
Thank You,
Lauren Agius

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