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Five things women better not to wear, or else

By Pieta Woolley

August 2016 will go down in history as the most political month in women’s fashion ever. From Pretoria to Outremont, the way women present themselves in public is under scrutiny. And it’s making headlines, with racism, fear, patriarchy, control and blame behind much of the activity. So what should women wear? “Whatever they want to wear!” is the rallying cry of most of the progressive left. But is it really that simple and obvious?

Here are five things not to wear, or else. 

1. Burkini

What not to wear: a neck-to-ankle swim suit with head covering offering Muslim women (or anyone, really) a modest option for the beach and pool

Where to not wear it: Beaches in France, including Cannes

What’s the problem? This August, a bunch of French beach towns banned the burkini and handed out fines to modestly dressed women on beaches. While one ban was suspended by the Council of State, most mayors are standing by the action. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the burkini “stands for a political project, for the creation of a counter-society that is based on the subjugation of women."

Here's what five burkini-wearers have to say.

2. Black hairstyles

What not to wear: Afros, plus too-thick cornrows, dreadlocks and braids

Where not to wear it: The Pretoria High School for Girls, a formerly all-white private school in the South African capital city

What’s the problem? The school hasn’t commented, so we can only guess what the administrators were thinking in August — 22 years after Apartheid formally ended. Students reported teachers have harassed them about their hair, stopped them from speaking African languages at the school and directly suggested that they don’t belong at the school. Failing to tame their hair to the school’s code of conduct standards is the problem: “all styles should be conservative, neat and in keeping with school uniform.”

Here's what one senior student has to say.

3. First Nations-inspired feather headdresses

What not to wear: Sacred First Nations cultural attire if you are not ethnically First Nations

Where not to wear it: Ecole Lajoie, Outremont, Montreal

What’s the problem? Wait, what? Why is this on the list? It’s CLEARLY wrong, right? Two female Grade 3 teachers wore paper, tape and bright feather headdresses on the first day of school in August. They then handed smaller ones out to their students to indicate that their classes would start the year studying Quebec First Nations. It became a news story when a non-indigenous parent complained, telling the Montreal Gazette: “a lot of children aren’t necessarily taught cultural sensitivity or have much awareness about indigenous cultures. But in our family, we have many indigenous friends, so it’s a conversation we’ve had many times.” Ugh. Don’t you just hate how she lords her social awareness privilege over the other less-enlightened mommies & daddies? Even if she’s right?

The teachers have not issued a rebuttal, but here is an essay by a Metis educator living in Montreal, explaining the problem in detail.

4. Skirts

What not to wear: Short skirts and dresses if you are visiting India

What’s the problem? When India’s culture minister offered this advice to travellers in August, it sparked accusations of victim-blaming at home and internationally. Several tourists have reported rape recently and thousands of Indian women report the same each year. Mahesh Sharma later backtracked, saying that he meant that women should not wear short skirts when visiting temples and other religious places, out of respect.

Here's what an Indian journalist, who chooses to wear shorts and miniskirts, has to say

5. Burqa, Niqab

What not to wear: Face-covering attire in Germany

What’s the problem? For the past several years, German schools, banks and other institutions have been engaging in one-off conflicts with women in veils. In August, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière suggested a ban. “It doesn’t fit in with our open society,” he said. “To show one’s face is crucial for communicating, for living together in our society and keeping it together. In the areas where it serves a function to show one’s face, we want to make it a rule . . . and this means whoever breaks it must feel the consequences." German Chancellor Angela Merkel also acknowledged that she is against the Burqa, saying it is incompatible with integration.

Here is an editorial in Der Spiegel arguing against the ban.

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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