Or, to cover or not to cover.
I have always been very interested in fashion and fashion-history. I love beautiful elegant clothes, and I love making my own clothes when I have the time. It always irritates me when people think they have the right to tell you what to wear. And don’t think this doesn’t happen in the Netherlands! The Dutch really don’t like it if people don’t look exactely like everybody else. They don’t even like it when you dress up nicely to go to the opera. I know, I have suffered…
And the topic is always so inflammatory! American Bedu has shocked the blog-sphere populace by giving us a spirited account of her anarchistic spree around Riyad wearing a long coat instead of an abaya!!!!! ”I dared to go out without an abaya” And Achelois has beat me to it by posting her views on Uniforming the Muslim women.
Anyway, what is it, why are men so obsessed with women and covering up. Or with seeing them naked? I don’t think it’s actually covering (or not) which is oppressive, I think not giving people (women) the choice is oppressive! Because I see a correlation in both extremes, The total covering of the evil fitnah female’s shape as is fashionable right now in Muslim circles, or the slutty revealing dress codes now fashionable in the west. Believe it, these contrary dress styles are based on the same foundations: a patriarchal society bent on degrading women to be sexualised commodities. Both imply women’s subservience to male lust.
This post is about women, because dress restrictions are far more restrictive and more heavily pressured on women then on men! These two images are the extremes, in reality the crossection of western women dress modestly, and the majority of muslim women dress modestly but do not veil and many do not wear hijab either. Many people want to make women believe hijab is compulsary. For those muslim women from my personal aquaintance who do not wear hijab, it is a serious and well informed decision
There are, as far as I know, no humans who don’t show some individuality and some manner of adorning themselves. Even very basically living tribespeople in hot countries, while they may wear no clothing as such, they will mostly cover their genitals, or at least wear beads, of style their hair, paint their bodies… Humans will always ”wear” something which pleases them, and/or may indicate social status or wealth.
While this Minoan style of dress may seem sexy, and compared to the above creepy photo of professional bimbo Paris Hilton may seem sexually exploitative, it actually was meant as a statement of pride. The minoan priestesses were very important very powerful women, and being a woman was a good thing, they were proud of being women, and so showed off their most prominent female attributes: their breasts.
So, you need to know about a societies culture before you can interpret the dress-codes. And I am now narrowing down to religion, specifically today’s patriarchal monotheistic religions, or I could say ”religion”, because they are basically the same religion, divided in different sects. Yes, the good old Judaïsm, Christianity, and Islam. Patriarchal religions showing a strong interest in controlling women, women’s sexuality, and who’s offspring a woman may bear. This is in contrast with earlier interpretations of religion which left women more freedom. But that is another post (and believe me, it will come soon).
I don’t know why it is, but it is as if a part of the male humans are very scared of the female ones, and feel an uncontrollable urge to suppress them and keep them basically captive. In modern literature this weird pathological mindset is excellently portrayed in ”The Stepford wifes” by Ira levin.
Looking into the past I see a clear correlation between women getting more and more oppressed and being required to cover themselves up more and more. If we move back to the dawn of European and Middle Eastern civilisations, both have been influenced in their very beginning by Egypt, a very early and very sophisticated culture.
In ancient Egypt, women were what we now call ”emancipated”. Of course Egyptian culture has been developing virtually unbroken for many thousands of years, and so the status of women has been fluctuating, but upon the whole women had their own possessions, could file for divorce, worked, and were pretty self-confident. Egypt being a hot country, clothes were fairly minimal. Clothes were like jewels, they showed your status, and were often see-through. Egyptians had no issues with nakedness either, if the work would call for it they would strip with no one getting upset. They also did not suffer the obsession with female virginity so clearly noticable in modern patriarchal religions. Actually, they didn’t have a word for it. While it was not encouraged to bring home a baby before marriage, it would not subject a girl to harsh punishments, social disgrace, or the death penalty. After all, it did prove a girl’s fertility, and the Egyptians did have an obsession with fertility. Fertility was good!
Boys and girls inherited equally, but men and women could also make wills and distribute their wealth as they liked.
Here you see on the left Queen Nefertari, in a typical very chique see-trough linnen dress, held by the hand by the goddess Hathor, in a more archaic dress which left the breasts clear. More like a very high skirt.
This statue, showing an Egyptian couple, shows both husband and wife as equals, of equal hight. The Egyptian manner of emphasising importance in depicting people was to make the important people much larger as the less important people. So depicting the man and the woman as equally large, really means they are of equal status! (As is the deceased queen Nefertari, now she is dead she is of equal status as a goddess)
Right, so, after the Egyptians we get the Etruscans and the Greeks. Now the Etruscan woman also owned property, and were regarded as full members of society. They were also educated and literate, this lady is reading some tablets.
Now the Etruscan women lived in a very different world as the Greek women. While Greek women were kept entirely apart from public life, Etruscan women went to plays and games, like the men, with the men, and had dinner together with men, and there are many Etruscan Sarcophagy with couples lying in each others arms, and/or gazing lovingly into each others eyes. Só sweet! I want to be buried together with my husband like that! The Etruscans loved music! They sang and played music everywhere!
Interestingly, the Greek spoke as demeaningly of the Etruscans and in much the same terms as conservative muslims like to use when they demean western culture.
In ancient times everybody in the known world seems to have collected Grecian pottery, and in Etruria it was the women who owned precious Grecian pottery, moreover, you can see their names written on the bottom of certain pieces. Now this was inconceivable in Greece! In Greece a woman did not own household goods, in Greece a woman was part of the man’s household goods!
On the left you can see an early Kore, it looks very much like an Etruscan carving, and she looks serene and self posessed, standing tall. As the ages pass by Grecian women were not portrayed as such anymore.Women were kept in the house, they basically got out only one day a year, and had to be veiled, as seen on the right.
Some Greek men considered women only good for breeding more (preferable male) children, and so unformed in mind and character that while they may have kept a wife in the house, their real romantic interest lay with a young boy: love was waisted on women.
In Rome, a married woman was considered a priestess of Vesta, and like the priestesses from the temple of Vesta, had to be veiled. At her marriage, a woman was transferred from the custody of her father, to the custody of her husband. Roman married women had to be veiled, and it looks pretty constricting to me.
For Jewish women the Talmud and Midrash created rules for Jewish women to cover their hair as part of religious observation. The Talmud not only regarded women’s hair as beautiful, but as erotic; and for that reason it had to be covered.
Check it out, Marocco, France Tunesia, Uzbekistan.
Later on Jewish women started to wear wigs instead. Which seems a bit hypocritical to me, but even more recently the really orthodox Jewish women have turned to complete covering! There is also emerging a very scary ”morality police” which harasses, abuses and terrorises women who don’t cover enough, or, God beware, commit such atrocities as wearing a red blouse!!!!!!!!!
Jewish ”covered” women.
Ok, let’s go on to the next abrahamic religion: Christianity. Based on Judaism. And as Christianity was highjacked, and adapted, by an extremely agressive Roman sect, founded by Paul, later known as the Roman Catholics, heavily based on Roman culture. Which includes veiling for women, especially married women.
Paul stated in Corinthians:
“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head”
This still holds true in Christian churches: the men take their hats off, the women wear hats, or headscarfs, or don a veil.
“For that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered”
Shaving the head is a age-old tradition to punish women. So to recap, according to Paul, God wants women to be covered. If she doesn’t cover up she is shaming herself, and Jesus. And if she doesn’t want to cover up, she should be punished by having her head shaved. Women, by the way, in midieval Europe, had no rights to speak of, and at some time weren’t even allowed to speak to men unless spoken to.
Women were supposed to be a collection of vices, men were all that was virtuous. In art you will see the vices portrayed by women, and the virtues by men. In medieval society there were three classes, The religious class, the nobility, and the commoners. There were three different prayer books, one for each class. For the men of each class.
Women were so inferior; being born upper class, or being in the religious class as a nun, did not compensate for their inferiority, so there was only one prayerbook for women.
And to make it really scary, there are now also Christian fundamentalist calls to ”Dress for the Lord”, and join the ”Modesty Movement” All this is of course only targeted towards women. Fundamentalist Christians are also against women wearing trousers.
And now we (finally) get to the latest in Abrahamic religions: Islam. Covering, hijab and niqab are major discussion points on any blog visited by muslims. So I wanted to find out about it. As I was looking into covering rules for women I noticed a lot of different views, from modesty in dress is all that is obligatory, up to Islam-QA, who claim niqab is required by Allah. For women. All these restricive dress codes mostly target women, men are also required to dress modestly, but in reality they can wear whatever they like, including swimwear even in Saudi Arabia!
It comes to such a pass that you read women are condemned to hell if they don’t cover. Speeches like: ”Allah requires it of you, you have to suffer it for Allah” It seems that women cannot show their devotion to God by living according to the message but only by covering themselves up.
As I see it this group who insists that not wearing Abaya hijab and niqab, and gloves and stockings will put you on the downwards elevator to hell are equating cloth to religion. They worship the abaya! A bit of fun with the abaya is not allowed! Using an abaya as halloween decoration is sacrilege!!!!
The Holy Abaya has to be devoutly honoured and worshipped like the idols of yore!
I found, to my astonisment, that the Quran doesn’t actually orders women to veil. Veiling was already a practise amongst upper class Jewish women, who veiled themselves, leaving only one eye, because they were too select to be seen by the common people. So they were basically too snotty for words. Slaves and common women were not allowed to veil. So when they converted to Islam they kept their ”upper class cover”.
There is one passage which is aimed at the wives of the prophet: “When ye ask them (i.e. the wives of the Prophet) for any article, ask them from behind a curtain; that is purer for your hearts and for theirs” (33: 53, 55).
An early Arabian historian explains that Muhammad’s wives had been bothered by his opponents in Medina when they left the house at night to ‘relieve themselves’, because they took unveiled women for slaves. “O Prophet! say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over-garments; this will be more proper, that they may be known, and thus they will not be given trouble; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (33.59).’
To me it actually sounds as if they women went out in their undergarments for ease. Why else should they put on their overgarments?
Anyway, Islam qa translates it thus: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way)”
That looks like ”innovation” (absolutely forbidden in Islam) to me.
It does seem that some women in Arabia exposed their breasts and wore see-through dresses, like the Egyptian fashions. The most important quote about women’s dress is this one:
“And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess [slaves], or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful” (24.31).
Ok, to me, not having been imbibed with lots of misogynists scholastic interpetations when I first read this, it looks like this: Cover your private parts, well, yes, I’m all for covering private parts. Don’t show your bosoms/ornaments, I can relate to that one too. And don’t stamp your feet. Why stamp your feet? because it sets your bosoms all wobbling! And we all know that the male brain, when being confronted with bare and/or wobbling bosoms, will immediately shut down all higher brainfunctions for an unspecified time. And there was a new nation to be formed, so I do see the point of that one too. But I don’t see where complete enveloping in black cloth comes in: there is no mention of any need to be covered head to toe.
Here you see some Arab women in traditional dress. As in nice modest dresses. Few niqabs.
Of course there were slightly different dress codes all through Arabia.
I love these pictures of the past. These women look so beautiful, and strong, and intelligent. So, it was by no means the custom through the whole of Arabia to cover up completely. The current unwritten law in Saudi Arabia that all women must wear the abaya, hijab and even niqab was forced onto the populace in living memory. And according to reports many women, and men did not like it, but they were given no choice.
It’s evil to force women to cover one eye as per recent fatwa proclaimed by Sheik Muhammed al-Habadan. Apparently even two eyes is to much for men to resist. It’s against nature. God’s nature. God gave us two eyes for a reason. Who do these men think they are they can ”improve” on God’s creation?
And now they try (and manage) to convince women that being fully veiled ”empowers” them and helps women express their personality.
Sayida Fatimah ruled Hail in 1911 to 1914. Arab women are not weak secondrate shadows to men.
Something has changed, change as in: it didn’t use to be like it is now.
I think ”covering” makes people more erotic. And it doesn’t matter how far you go in covering. In Europe and America when women used to dress from the neck downwards a ladies ankle would set the men all astir. In the middle east a naked finger, or two eyes are enough.
Perhaps we are meant to walk around naked! To me there is nothing more off-putting as a landscape full of naturists butt-naked!
If God wanted us covered at all times, if God would have problems with us jumping around in our birthday suit,
He/She would not have made us to be naked.
If God was so worried about us showing no skin,
He/She would have let us keep our fur.