The Freedom To Wear What You Want

Posted: August 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

Everyone talks about the freedom to wear what you want to wear. Recently we had the Slut Walk in Delhi where people protested against sexual harassment – and against people who use the woman’s skimpy clothing as an excuse to harass or sexually attack her, as in ‘oh she was dressed like a slut, she deserved it!’ And so no one’s ever really liked the people who put the blame on women’s choice of clothing when they get harassed or the people who oppress women by ordering them to cover up against their will – neither have I.

But do people protest enough against the people who oppress women by saying they should not cover up?

Now this does sound quite odd since it’s not often you hear people whining about it. But honestly, I feel harassed, when someone tells me I shouldn’t cover my head. And in my honest opinion – this type of bullying is equally as bad as traditionalist extremists judging and casting out women who choose to show more skin. They both involve telling a woman what to do.

I was at the Foreign Registration Office yesterday, getting some papers in order since I’m new here in Delhi, and I saw this guy standing in front of me, bohemian-esque tshirt and shorts and long hair tied in a tiny bun on top of his head. He turns around and looks at me and smiles and says in an accent I couldn’t place, You know, I don’t like this whole covering up thing, why do you cover? Beautiful hair is natural, you should show it off!


Now I’m standing there thinking, And I should care about your opinion because…?
I mean, close your eyes and try to imagine it through my point of view – you’re wearing your jeans and your tshirt and minding your own business at, let’s say, the supermarket, buying your groceries and checking them in at the counter. While you’re in the line, the guy in front of you turns around and says, Hey man I disapprove of those clothes you’re wearing, why would you wear something like that? Just thought I’d let you know! kbye!


So I look at him and say, Well, I wear it because I want to wear it, isn’t that enough? You like wearing your tshirt, I like wearing this. 

Yes but your hair is natural, be natural! he says, with this look on his face like what he’s saying is the most obvious thing in the world and a counterargument would be nothing short of ridiculous.

Being naked is natural, doesn’t mean all of us like streaking does it?

He wasn’t convinced. He was quite certain that covering one’s hair was highly uncalled for by any standard or opinion. I’m a muslim too, but I don’t like when people cover… he tells me.

I just end the conversation with a shrug and say, I wear it because I like to, that’s all. That’s my right yeah?

He smiles and turns back to the counter.

I get curiousity, you know? I understand how someone wearing something or looking in a way that is different from the average or ordinary in your environment – can elicit curiousity. And curiousity I can handle and I like explaining to people who want to learn. But I get so sick and tired sometimes of this random disapproval for being openly and visibly religiously inclined. I didn’t think it was necessarily a point of religious freedom – but just plain old human freedom of individuality.

It’s not so much his question that really annoyed me – but his self righteous air, which made it obvious that this silly man thought he was being OH so very ‘open minded’ because he did not approve of people with habits that were religious or traditional! ‘Be natural!’ What is natural? This is natural for me, it comes naturally to dress the way I like. But in his head, he could not possibly comprehend that a woman who covers her head could be happy, open minded and free.

I’m going to digress a little now, because BohemianBoy was just being silly and close minded about his definition of ‘natural’ and ‘beautiful’ and has little to do with the following tirade, though I must say I felt insulted by his little slight and perhaps this tirade was inspired by that.

I get it, the whole media hype about the Middle East and women being oppressed because people are forcing them to wear burqas and cover themselves and the whole Princess book series that depict sad Muslim women being oppressed by an extremist culture and male dominated regime – but that was ten years ago, people, please get over it. Believe it or not, there are women today who choose to cover their head or whatever else as a choice to practice their religious beliefs as they see fit, just like someone chooses to wear a short skirt or chooses to wear a hair-band or chooses to wrap a silk scarf around their head Jackie-Onassis style.

Nowhere in Islam does it say to force religion on anybody, in fact it says not to, and it constantly reminds us that peace and understanding are the foundation of everything a Muslim practices. So, ya know, that kinda rules out the whole ‘oppress woman into wearing clothes she doesn’t wanna wear’ thing. People will by nature twist things and use them to do bad things for power and greed, as with religions, so, shocking as it may seem to some- the Al Qaeda and the Taliban and some of the laws in Saudi are run by complete nutjobs, and are not the poster-kids for Islam.

Anyway back to my point… as someone who has always had women’s rights as one of her greatest interests, I would love to clarify to BohemianBoy and others like him, that it is a woman’s right (in fact, a man’s right too) to wear whatever the hell she wants. Whether it is a teeny weeny polka dot bikini or a burqa or a scarf or a freaking Mickey Mouse costume – if I want to wear it, I’m going to, and you can kindly take your disapproval of it and.. ahem, violently relocate it somewhere unsavory. Thank you.

  1. rebelinpurple says:

    It’s also his right to say whatever he wants. It’s your choice to lend ear to what he is saying or just flip him off.

  2. Gehan says:

    I get it, the whole media hype about the Middle East and women being oppressed because people are forcing them to wear burqas and cover themselves and the whole Princess book series that depict sad Muslim women being oppressed by an extremist culture and male dominated regime – but that was ten years ago, people, please get over it.

    I get what you’re trying to say, but I don’t really agree with this statement. Of course, there has been a shift towards more liberal thinking (if that’s the term) in middle eastern countries of late but I don’t think we can brush it of as ‘so last decade’ like that.

    I guess this is the first time I’m hearing of the word ‘harrassment’ being used in these terms, though I have of course heard about the attempt to ban head scarves in France. However, in your case, I think it’s to be expected, especially if like you said, women are now wearing it purely out of choice; if you are making a choice, then I suppose you should expect people to ask you why you chose to wear it instead of going ‘au natural’.

    Still, very intriguing! As a side note, I’m sure you will meet a lot of cut-surds, they may prove an interesting case study too!

  3. T says:

    Agree with your post, but like Gehan said, it’s not so easy to dismiss oppression in some Middle Eastern and Asian countries as simply last decade. It’s still very real and relevant, and as much as we need to advocate for women being able to wear whatever they want, we need to advocate for women not being forced to wear what they don’t want to either.

    • makuluwo says:

      I just think it’s stupid that some people equate *anybody wearing a head scarf* to *oppressed woman in the Middle East*, they’re not the only Muslim women in the world ya know!

  4. Jack Point says:

    BohemianBoy should not have said that.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I think they are being forced to wear Burqua’s in many countries in the mid East – by law and enforced by a moral police.

    In your case you seem to be quite free to choose what to wear, which is fine, but for some others I think the menfolk in the family (husbands, brothers, fathers) ensure that their womenfolk cover up, whether they want to or not. This is my understanding, is this the case?

    Also the black burqua in SL is a recent phenomenon, first appearing in the mid-late 1980’s; previously it was a case of covering with the trail of the saree or a scarf. School going girls wore the normal white uniform with a pair of long trousers and their heads were uncovered.

    • makuluwo says:

      Yes we all know there are women being oppressed in the Middle East – but my point was they aren’t the ONLY Muslim women in the entire world. I’m like, HELLO look over here, we’re Muslim women too, and in fact the women in the Middle East are a minority compared to the ones out here! So why are people generalizing all of us based on *them*?

      And yeah the number of Muslim women in Sri Lanka who wear abaya and hijab are significantly more than in the 80s. I think it happened with a recent sudden rediscovery and restudy of the religion, when people started actually educating themselves of the Islamic texts and discovering the religion’s significant emphasis on modesty. I would say that’s awesome as far as like in my case the women do it out of their own religious choice. 🙂

      • Jack Point says:

        Fair enough, no one should stereotype and assume that every woman in Hijab is oppressed.

        I abhor religious extremism in all forms (and I am suspicious of all religions in general) and we have far too much of it here, in Buddhism, Islam and Christianity (the various fundamentalist churches that keep mushrooming).

        With Christianity and Islam the fundamentalism has come from overseas, I believe the US and Saudi influence.

        The most troubling thing with Islam is something that Fatima Bhutto said during a discussion, that the fundamentalism was being sponsored by the Saudi government, through the establishment of the Whabi sect. (Governments should never have anything to do with religion).

        My thoughts on religion in general:

  5. deeisat says:

    Women should have the right to wear what they want. People shouldn’t judge while looking through rose tinted glasses. The western media is screwing with our minds and perceptions daily. that is all. 🙂

  6. hello says:

    women have the right to wear whatever they want, whatever makes them feel comfortable and confident. no one has the right to judge others through stereotypes.

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