In an opinion piece in a Turkish newspaper, Melis Alphan considers the ongoing national debate on the appropriate clothing for women — the veil, for instance, was once imposed on women as a marker to distinguish them from prostitutes and slaves. What’s interesting, in particular, is that she has a view that the West is more liberal than we really are.
Because the West has allowed freedom of clothing, they do not live with the out-datedness we have now. Don’t they have men like we do here? Of course they do. For example, I came across a posting of a priest on a website named, “Christianpost.” One of the female students asked him, “Why are men naked on top, while we swim with t-shirts? Do you think there is no such problem as women looking at men?” The priest worked on this theme in his piece. In other words, in religious circles in the West, such debates are ongoing, but they are not on everyone’s agenda as they are here. They do not take up everybody’s time and create discomfort, because nobody regards the debate as a threat to their own lifestyles.
What happens here?
The religiously-oriented conservative perspective determines the rules of all society.
I hate to break the sad news to Ms Alphan, but there are assumptions in the US that are a threat to some people’s lifestyles. There is a sect in my town in which women are required to dresses and to not cut their hair, which they tie up in a bun on their heads. These women are instantly recognizable. Mission accomplished: we know what religion ‘owns’ them. There is no debate about this; it’s part of their culture, because they are members of this religion they simply accept that this is the way it will be, and no, there are no letters to the editor in the local paper complaining that they need to cut their hair or put on a pair of pants.
Or take a look at our politics: Huffpo has a whole section dedicated to Hillary Clinton’s fashion choices. Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, gets called out for ‘frumpy’ fashion. The Huffpo also has a Michelle Obama style section — she was once caught wearing two different dresses by the same designer in one week!
So I’m sorry to disillusion the Turks, but while the West isn’t trying to dictate that women must wear a veil (although some countries dictate that you may not), so we are definitely more liberal about what women wear, we’ve got the same obsessive scrutiny of what women are wearing going on here…and it can affect professional careers.
Although, to be fair, many Americans tend to have an even more skewed version of Islamic countries that makes them out to be more repressive than they actually are: that all the men wear turbans and the women are all decked out in burqas. They might be shocked to learn, as the article mentions, that Turkish women wear lipstick and sleeveless blouses sometimes.
I did like Alphan’s conclusion:
That is enough, gentlemen! Leave women alone.
What freedom of thought and freedom of expression mean for a democratic society, freedom of clothing mean, too.
Anyone can wear whatever he or she wants. And what is up to you is to shut up.