Recently, I was talking to a friend about feminism when she said something that made me feel sad. We were talking about clothes and make-up and she mentioned how the tension surrounding these subjects is probably not going to go away any time soon. I forget what my reply was, if any, but I did feel more optimistic about the subject at the time.
Just to spite me, I suppose, the universe then went out of its way to punish me for my optimism.
As I’ve mentioned on this blog already, I recently took a trip to the Dead Sea. On this trip, pictures were taken. A few of those pictures I ended up sending to some people back in the States – a few friends from Duke, a few friends from Charlotte, and a couple of people I know off blogs and websites, several of whom I haven’t spoken to in a while. All of the people I sent the pictures to aren’t on Facebook, which is why I sent them in the first place. Oh, and there is also the fact that I’m a little sick of certain friends back in the States assuming that I spend my time in Jordan wrapped up in a burkha, dodging grenades and amorous camels.
Big mistake trying to dispel that notion.
One of the ladies I got to know via Jezebel and a few other assorted sites (I’m not mentioning her name here, at the risk of prolonging what has already turned into a silly and frustrating argument, but she’s more than welcome to come forward in the comments section), wrote back with a pithy comment:
“lol… And I was just thinking that one of the benefits of being in a Muslim coutnry [sic] must be getting rid of the pressure to dress like a Paris Hilton.”
Thinking that this was a joke, I wrote back with a comment about how I couldn’t look like Paris Hilton if I sold both kidneys to finance multiple plastic surgeries (and it’s true). But apparently, the Paris Hilton comment was not made in jest. Because I really look like “the nerdy version of her” here. Oh, and my decision to wear a short cotton dress over a bathing suit in 40-degree Celsius weather is “problematic” because “observant Muslim women do just fine” on the beach in their abayas and headscarves, so there “was no need” for me to dress like Slutty McSlut while enjoying a mini-break on the beach.
Anyone who has ever been to a Dead Sea resort on the Jordanian side would have noted that some women do, in fact, wear conservative clothing there. The majority, however, do not. I was no more out of place at the Dead Sea than Paris Hilton was in a Dubai resort (for all the criticism against Paris for that particular picture, and for all of my general distaste of Paris Hilton’s celebrity persona, her choice of dress was about as extraordinary as it would have been on a beach in Florida). And generalizing about “observant Muslim women” is already a big no-no, in my book. When you do that, you completely erase the diversity of dress and behaviour one encounters in Jordan and elsewhere.
I wrote back to explain that I was feeling a bit confused and hurt and got an avalanche of “revealing clothes are problematic for someone who has decided to call herself a feminist” and “strong women can take strong criticism” and so on.
Cue round 35,4634,3534 of the same conversation that has been going on for decades – mainly that, as women, we are free to choose whatever we want… as long as we make the “right” choices, of course.
I can’t begin to convey how sick I am of the shaming and harassment that gets passed off as friendly fashion advice in feminist circles. Trying to guilt someone into dressing like a roadie for Lilith Fair isn’t much different from drunkenly demanding that a woman “show her tits for the lads” at a public gathering. Because, and I’ll never stop saying this no matter how many well-intentioned “liberators” come along to tell me otherwise, you do NOT get to intrude upon someone’s bodily autonomy like that.
While at the Dead Sea, I coincidentally observed something that may have made my (former?) friend’s head explode from confusion: a fairly large Arab family lounging by a pool. The matriarch was reclining in a floor-length light cloak and pinned hijab. Her daughter was next to her, in two-piece bathing suit that showed off iron abs (Sienna Miller-style), and the two were sharing a hookah with the man I can only presume to be the daughter’s husband. This wasn’t the case of “young girl hasn’t put on hijab yet because she is not ready,” this was a family unit whose members were in radically diverse dress (I suppose I should mention the fact that the patriarch was also dressed conservatively in long shorts and loose t-shirt, while the guys in the group were all in tight swimming trunks, displaying bodies that would not have been out of place in the Greek Parthenon). What’s the moral here? Decide for yourself.