Muslim swimwear

So, we were having a nice family time at the pool on Sunday, when into the pool came a little girl, no more than 10, dressed like this:

I’ve got to say, it really bothered both me and Kim.  Especially because her little brother was in a totally ordinary swimsuit showing plenty of skin.  I honestly think this over-modesty think is horribly offensive to both women and men (though, at least men are not expected to be covered head to toe on sunny 95 degree days). It suggests that not only should a woman, or even little girl, be allowed to show any skin at all, but that somehow men cannot be trusted to not fall prey to lust should we see a woman’s shins, knees, or elbows.  This is not about religion, but culture, and I truly resent a culture which places the oppression of women so front and center.

I brought this up in class today, and we had a really good decision.  Of course, a lot of this discussion was about the degree to which it is a woman’s choice to dress like this (clearly not, in the case of a 10 year old). Today’s Dear Prudence in Slate, actually gets right to this issue:

Q. To Wear or Not To Wear: I am a young woman in my early 20s, and I am Muslim. For over 10 years, I chose to wear a scarf on my head, but the problem is I don’t want to wear it anymore. I started wearing it on my own because I believed in it, but for several years now I have been reconsidering. I wish I could just take it off, but I have several problems: One, my family is very religious and would freak out if I did. (I tried to bring up the subject once with them and they reacted very badly.)…Two, should I take it off, I live in a small, tight-knit Muslim community, which would talk endlessly about it, and it would “ruin” my family’s reputation, as it were. At the moment they are held in high regard in the community, and particularly my dad, who is seen somewhat as a religious leader. I don’t want to shame my family in this way, nor alienate myself from them, which I know would happen if I took it off, because I am very close with them. What should I do?

Clearly, it is really not this young woman’s free choice to be wearing the head scarf right now.  I love Prudie’s response:

A: Thank you for this fascinating insight into one woman’s struggle. Non-Muslims are constantly hearing that wearing the hijab is a matter of choice and covering or not covering should be up to the individual woman. But in your case, it’s not really a choice, is it, if uncovering will mean shame to your family and your being ostracized from them? [emphasis mine]

I certainly don’t think it is the place of the government to outlaw it, as in France, but I sure don’t have to like it.  I see people dressed like this and I see the oppression of women.  Period.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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