Why can’t women freely choose how to dress and look, without their bodies being sexualized and judged based on prejudice?.
The Woman Post | Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra
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There are laws and policies around the world that disrespect females’ personal choices on what to wear. These are some examples of how society keeps sexualizing, stereotyping, or shaming women, both for deciding to wear fewer clothes as well as for deciding to be more covered up.
At least 80 female students at Bartram Trail High School in Florida had their chests and shoulders digitally altered in their yearbook. The clumsy alterations affected many students. Together with teachers and parents, they demanded an apology. “The school did a horrible job of protecting our children’s mental health by body-shaming,” Ms. Bartlett said. “It’s making our kids feel like they should cover up their bodies, they should be ashamed of them, and it was humiliating for many of them,” the teacher said to The New York Times.
Many girls approached teachers to tell them the edits had made them feel sexualized and exposed. In addition, none of the male students, including those in the swimming team had their photos altered. The school's conduct code says “Shirts must be modest and not revealing or distracting”. This already shows a vague policy based on prejudice and interpretation, that affects girls disproportionately. As it was shown in March when administrators at the high school called out dozens of girls or took them out of class for violating the dress code.
However, younger generations are bringing change. After the events, some boys protested in solidarity with the girls by wearing dresses and skirts. A similar situation to what happened in this school was replicated on a beach in Necochea, Argentina. Three women were topless on the beach calmly tanning until about 20 police officers came to demand them to cover themselves.
As the discussion escalated an agent told them “it is exhibitionism you have to be a little more polite" reminding them that there are other places where they can undress. The women called what was happening ‘machismo’ and assured that they were not committing any crime. Despite several people agreeing that the police presence was exaggerated, there was a man that shouted they should be removed from the beach. After several minutes of discussion, the women finally withdrew from the beach. Before leaving, one of them shouted: "To the joy of the people with boob-phobia, we are leaving," as reported by El Clarin.
Even if it was illegal in a conduct code or a law, what if those rules are structurally sexist and based on the sexualization of the female body? Why can men freely be topless while women are called vulgar, indecent, or disrespectful for doing the same thing? Why are female breasts indecent?
Women worldwide are not only being shamed for “being exhibitionists” but also for covering themselves. Some women who practice religions like Islam and Judaism chose to cover their bodies and heads. However, multiple countries seem to have declared a war on religious freedoms and symbols, the hijab is an example of this.
France recently passed a bill that bans mothers from wearing hijabs (headscarves) while accompanying their children on school trips, as well as coverup burkinis (full-body swimwear) in public pools, and minor girls from covering their face or wearing religious symbols in the public space. Many French women protested through the "don't touch my hijab" movement on social media. Duygu Akin, who lead the movement with other French Muslim women, spoke with Anadolu Agency.
“In France, choosing and practicing a religion is a fundamental freedom and our right. These bans are completely against our freedoms. We, citizens of France who wear hijabs, demand our freedoms, which are our rights,” said Akin. The attitudes of the French government have been called Islamophobic and could be based on a biased view of Islam as a danger. An image promulgated by how media represents Muslims, specifically women, as dangerous, submissive, and oppressed.
Akin said that France has tried to encourage women to take off hijabs and “get their freedom” since the colonial periods in North Africa. About the growing Islamophobia, she says "In some regions where there are no Muslims, the French are very prejudiced against Muslims. This is only because they learn about Islam from the media”.
The main idea behind the ‘don’t touch my hijab’ movement is to say ‘don’t touch my freedom and my decisions.’ The most frequent argument against hijab use is that women are forced to wear them. I believe this is a whole different issue that has to be tackled separately and banning hijabs will have the opposite effect on freedom, it will further remove these women from the public spaces. As Akin said "we make our contributions to this society, we have roles in social life. We don't just want to be used in the media when there’s a problem. I really feel very sad because we’re French citizens who were brought up in France, and it’s very sad that the state ignores us and alienates us.”
The hashtag #HandsOffMyHijab became viral. Somali-Norwegian model Rawdah Mohamed, who used the phrase has been supported by U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. Time Magazine quoted in a conversation with Mohamed “How can you have a discussion about my identity, and not include me? I don’t think politicians are the ones who are supposed to define what it means to be a Muslim woman.”
Whether rules and laws are forcing women to cover up or uncover, there should be a change in who determines what is “inappropriate” or “too religious,” and the power of decision should be given back to us. No law should coarse women’s free will. Notions like, that what I wear is affecting others should be reevaluated, as they're constantly based on stereotypes and over-involvement in one's personal life. No one should demand a woman to use more clothes or to uncover, only in that way we can live in a society that sees those who identify as women less as objects for others consumption and more as individuals that dress for their own fulfillment and happiness.