Thursday, November 16, 2006


I've been meaning to post about this story, which I first read about several days ago, and which is worth reading in full. The part that particularly interested me was this:
Because of her sympathy for Arabs and Muslims, Donna, an American woman, decided to wear an abaya in an attempt to see how it felt and how it influenced her behavior. She wanted to show sympathy to women wearing abayas, especially after various incidents against Muslims in the post-9/11 world. She wore an abaya and walked along one of the busiest streets in a major American city. She tried to be as normal as possible, talking to people, laughing and behaving as usual. She said that she never felt the abaya was restricting her or limiting her movements or her freedom.

"Among those who observed Donna, however, were some Muslims, Arabs, and even some Saudis. The Saudis were upset by what they saw and told Donna so. When she asked why, they explained that she was using the abaya in an invalid way. She then became curious to find out what they considered a valid way to use it. They explained to her that she must walk slowly, must look down when walking and keep her eyes more or less in front of her - no glancing from side to side, in other words. She must not talk to anyone or laugh loudly and certainly must not address any remarks to anyone lest they misunderstand her purpose in doing so.

"To say the least, Donna was astounded by their remarks and realized that they were not simply talking about a garment to be worn but about their perceptions of what an abaya symbolized. They seemed determined to deny that a normal human being was under the black material. The truth is that those Saudi men articulated something that the Saudi lifestyle and customs have created. The abaya indeed covers a typically weak and frightened character (a woman of course), who views herself as a sexual entity confined in a well-defined space she can never escape from. This is why the whole culture of the abaya imposes so many restraints upon women

This is an extremely illuminating story, and it shows the difference between the reality and the fantasy underlying the gratuitous support that women--both Muslim and non-Muslim--give to the increasingly involuntary dress code of Islam for women.

Binding the feet of women in the Orient was also a cultural practice that undoubtedly had its proponents among females, but by any objective standard, it was both physically abusive and psychologically repressive; and severely limited the role of women in that society.

The only response to women who enable their own oppression under Islam or elsewhere is that, how they live and under what conditions, is clearly their own choice. But as long as there are other women in their society who do not choose to live that way; who are forced to wear certain clothing; prevented from driving or acting independently and freely of their own choosing---then the protestations of happiness and contentment have no validity whatsoever and cannot possibly be binding on anyone else.

They are only exhibiting the same symptoms of "identification with the oppressor", denial, and reaction formation that almost all battered women display --even toward those who would help them.

When women (and men for that matter) are free to choose or not to choose Islam; free to discard the restrictive clothing; free to move about independently and without fear of reprisals for their choice; free to achieve their own individual dreams and aspirations--then it will not be any of my concern that some women appear to enjoy subjugation and humiliation; or that some express sympathy for that oppression.

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