What does the right to dress slutty have to do with the right to wear hijab?
(No, this is not a trick question.)
Answer: they’re two aspects of the same thing — women’s right to assert themselves in whatever manner they choose. And that is a feminist issue. A political issue, that is.
Because sluts and veils are about the same thing — choice.
That’s why I insist equally on a woman’s right to wear hijab and on her right to dress as sexily as she likes. And it’s why I’ll be in downtown Seattle at noon on June 19 for SlutWalkSeattle.
The first SlutWalk was in Toronto last month after a police officer told a college safety forum (at a law school, no less) that women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized. No prize for guessing that he’d never heard of Susan Brownmiller’s classic analysis “Against Our Will,” which made it horribly clear that rape has nothing to do with sexual attraction and everything to do with power and aggression, whether the victim is five years old or ninety-five.
Thousands of women demonstrated in Toronto, and now there’s a whole wave of SlutWalks coming up, because as the Seattle site puts it: “From an 11-year-old in Texas being blamed for being gang-raped to a teenager in Seattle not being able to file rape charges because witnesses portrayed the act as consensual,” that police officer’s line of thought pervades our culture.
That is, men commit crimes against women, and women are made to take the blame.
Does this never end? It’s 2011 and women are still expected to modify their appearance, behavior, speech, even ideas in order to placate men? It’s bad enough what this says about what men think of women. But even worse is what it says about what men think about themselves. Are they really so hopeless that a flash of bare female flesh can turn them into instant criminals?
Which is where the veil comes in. Specifically, the hijab (which is actually a headscarf, not a veil, but reason prevails no more on nomenclature than it does on anything else to do with this issue). Because the veil too is a matter of choice: the woman’s choice, officer, not yours.
This isn’t about whether to cover up or to reveal. It’s about every woman’s right to choose. Whether you want to be slutty or modest, bare lots of flesh or none, that’s your decision, and nobody — not policemen, not clerics, not judges, not fundamentalists, not juries, not extremists, not husbands or boyfriends or fathers or brothers or sons — has the right to tell you otherwise. Or to force you to do otherwise.
For me, this is a rock-bottom matter of principle, not practice. Slutty was never my thing (except perhaps for a fancy-dress party), and the closest I’ve ever come to a hijab or full-face niqab was a keffiya wrapped around my head against a sandstorm in the northern Sinai. But if someone wants to hide her beauty, that’s her right. Just as if she wants to show it off, that’s also her right.
So you want to dress slutty on a Saturday night? Go ahead. You want to cover your head for prayer but not the rest of the time? Go ahead. How women dress can be a matter of political or cultural or religious identity or it can simply be playful fantasy; it can be utterly serious or slyly subversive. But because it’s still a question in the conventionally ‘male’ mind, it remains political — a fact well expressed in an excellent recent NPR report (“Lifting the Veil: Muslim Women Explain Their Choice”) on the personal politics of when and where Muslim women choose to veil.
I know the chances are slim, but really, I’d love to see hijab-wearing Muslim women among the Seattle SlutWalk participants on June 19. As the open invitation puts it,
People of all orientations, gender identities, races, ages, abilities, walks of life, and levels of sluttiness are invited to join us. All we ask is that you stand with us for what is right. We’re sick of being shamed for our sex choices and being told that survivors of sexual assault brought it on themselves. If you’re sick of it too, come walk with us!
I’ll be there of course, wearing my “Ride the SLUT’ tee-shirt (the SLUT in question being the one-and-a-half-mile-long boondoggle originally dubbed the South Lake Union Trolley until some official belatedly realized what the acronym was and ungraciously changed Trolley to Streetcar). And I think I’ll wear the teeshirt with some kind of veil over my face. Maybe an antique hat with a lacy scrim over the eyes, or a keffiyah, or a Halloween mask, or one of those costume-party eye masks with ostrich feathers. Or maybe, even, a niqab…