By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
At BBC “trending” there is a story about “Canada debates women in ‘religious headgear’ buying lingerie.” It’s the latest article to make us suffer through allegations that if women don’t wear large black billowing clothing clothing and cover their hair and even face, that they are being “immodest.” The latest story revolves around a reporter named Michael Kane who tweeted that he “saw two modestly-dressed women with religious headgear come out of Victoria’s Secret store in the Eaton Centre”.
The term “modest” in relation to clothing is part of a new fashion police that has decided that in deference to new religious demands that women who cover themselves up and cover their supposedly “offensive” hair, are dressing “modestly.” It’s a conscious choice by media to adopt the language that serves the interests of those who demand this “modesty,” which is religious zealots connected to Islamist agenda that are attempting to force one manner of dress on humanity.
Consider the case of , Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, attending a meeting in Tehran. She dressed “modestly,” which means she wore what she never wears normally to keep in line with Iran’s fascist laws. That means a bulky coat to cover what religious bigots and fascists think is an “offensive” body, and a headscarf. The same thing happened with the miserable Swedish women’s politician delegation to Iran earlier this year, where the women dutifully put their hands on their hearts rather than shake hands, because that would “offend” the men.
In 2016 Italy covered up artwork that showed nudity lest it “offend” Iran. it made the art “modest” by covering it with boxes, like burkas. Then there is the story of the “scandal” of the Iranian TV presenter filmed “without her hijab” in Switzerland. You almost get the feeling reading western media that it has totally embraced the Saudi-Iran model, naming and shaming women who don’t dress “modestly.” What is it to be “modest” though? Remember the Qatif rape case where a woman was gang-raped and the rapists filmed her being raped and Saudi Arabia sentenced her to be whipped 200 times for the “crime” of having been raped. That is what is called “modesty.”
Read the accounts of ISIS mass system of rape as a way of life and tell us about this “modesty.” Is it modest when ISIS members say they “raped four virgins.” Is it modest when women are sold to seven men and raped by them daily? What is modest about all this? Isn’t it more “modest” for men not to rape and for women to dress how they want? Which is more immodest, women dressing in jeans and a T-shirt, or mean grabbing a woman in public and sexually harassing her for dressing in jeans and a T-shirt? Isn’t the man more immodest?
Yet the new imperialism of modesty jihad has tried to warp our minds so that we are told women should cover up to be “modest” and that puts the burden on women for being “immodest.” The word poisons our minds by turning perfectly normal ways of dress into “immodesty” which then provides men the right to attack women for being “immodest.” Except women dressing as they want isn’t “immodest,” it is just normal. It is particularly normal in the West where women have been dressing like this in some forms for 100 years. So why, all of a sudden, because a few people decided to wear large black sheets, or because some male religious leader has decided he is “offended” by seeing a woman’s bare arms, are we all supposed to say “oh, ok, so your way is ‘modest’ and we are not.”
Isn’t the real immodesty, the Iranian regime and Saudi, where people are hung and beaten? Isn’t hanging immodest? Isn’t beheading people immodest. Isn’t blood flowing on the streets from a beheading more immodest than a woman wearing shorts? Yet we are told again and again that, no, we are the immodest ones. A Muslim woman who photographed another Muslim woman wearing all-covering black outfit and holding a bra was told her photo was “offensive” and it was taken down in Canada. No “freedom of expression” apparently. “Sooraya Graham produced the image and presented it earlier this year for a class assignment as part of her fine arts degree at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops….Since the incident was made public, an education centre in Kamloops funded by the Saudi Arabian Embassy has gone public with its opposition as well, Graham said.”
Slowly the views of Saudi Arabia and Tehran are becoming those that dictate to us what is “modest”, when the reality is that women in Japan, Argentina, Uganda, France and Moscow all dress in a similar way and they are perfectly modest. Why is it that the small minority in Iran and Saudi have been allowed to dictate the norms of “modesty”? Maybe it’s time to keep their regimes modest and not let their ideology penetrate our norms. Why is it that simply because some religious men have decided that women should be kept in a permanent prison of clothing, unseen and hidden away, that this is “modesty.” Perhaps it is immodest to have that? Perhaps it is more modest to have equality? Perhaps it is more modest to be open minded? Perhaps it is more modest to not try to push one’s religious views on others?
The modesty crusade has become a form of fascism. Newspapers should never use the term “modesty” or “modestly dressed” or “modest” in terms of women’s clothing. It isn’t clear that wearing a scarf makes one modest. Hair isn’t necessarily immodest. Hair is natural, and covering it doesn’t make one “modest.” It’s arbitrary. By using the term “modesty” we accept the concept that only one religion and its dictates will determine what is “modest” and it had decided that most of the rest of the world is immodest and decided that many of the women within its own religion are not properly “modest.” Huge resources go into policing how women dress, advertising campaigns for instance in the Middle East showing Muslim women in headscarves and jeans and saying it is “immodest”. Well, that’s fine, just like the Catholic Church can choose to have nuns wear what they want, but don’t tell us nuns dress “modestly.” They dress a certain way, it isn’t more “modest” than what I wear necessarily. Was the inquisition “modest” and is banning contraception “modest”?
Don’t confuse religious extremism and its dictators over how to dress with modesty. The very nature of policing what women wear is a form of immodesty and fascism.