Self-Expression through clothing
Last week in Cannes, France, the mayor banned burkinis, claiming they are a symbol of Islamic extremism. A burkini is a swimsuit that covers a woman head to toe, allowing her to swim while maintaining her modesty. France also banned the burka and the niqab in 2011. Earlier this week, a photo about a so-called culture clash at the Rio Olympics made the rounds (I cannot include the photo due to licensing) which showed a woman from Egypt wearing a hijab while playing volleyball against a woman from Germany wearing a bikini. Up until 2012, the Olympics required all women’s volleyball players to wear a bikini, which prevented many otherwise qualified women from competing, or forced them to wear something that would make them uncomfortable or go against their religious and cultural values. Since 2012, the Olympic committee has allowed women to wear shorts, t-shirts or long sleeved shirts, or full body coverings. That does not mean all countries allow the same freedom; however, as Germany, for example, still requires its women’s volleyball teams to wear bikinis.
These two events, occurring so close together, are the most recent in an ongoing debate about a women’s right to choose what she wears. When it’s phrased like that, the answer seems obvious – should a woman be allowed to choose what she wears? Yes. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.
Many women cover up because of religious and cultural reasons, and in some cases, they aren’t given the choice if they want to wear something less restrictive or more revealing. People claim Islam is oppressive towards women because of this, among other reasons. But then there are places such as France, which outright forbid a woman to wear something that covers her up, even if she wants to. This is just as oppressive on the other end of the scale. The Olympic volleyball match of Egypt vs Germany perfectly highlights this controversy. On the one hand you have the Egyptian player who is wearing a hijab, a symbol to many of Islamic oppression; HOWEVER, she was allowed the choice to wear the hijab or not (her partner chose not to wear the hijab, and played bareheaded). On the other hand you have the German player who is wearing a bikini, again, a symbol to many of women’s freedom of expression; HOWEVER, she was required to wear the bikini. Things aren’t always as they appear.
My personal opinion is that anyone should be allowed to wear what they want, as long as they aren’t showing off any genitalia. This includes all range of being covered up or being revealed. My opinion might be a little extreme as well, as I believe anywhere a man can be shirtless, a woman should be allowed to be shirtless as well. ESPECIALLY if she’s wearing a bra, but even if she’s not. If she’s wearing a bikini top or a crop top that barely covers her boobs, she’s fine, but a bra, she’s not? That doesn’t make any sense to me. But I also believe a woman’s breast tissue is the same as a man’s breast tissue, and shouldn’t be stigmatized. But again, it should be a WOMAN’S CHOICE to make the decision whether or not she wants to be shirtless. Going to a group of woman who wear a hijab or burka for religious reasons and crying they’re all oppressed and should be wandering around shirtless to be free is not a woman’s choice. It’s all based in context. The context also includes location, for example, a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule would still apply, but it would apply equally to everybody.
My opinion also extends to boys in skirts. A man should be allowed to wear a skirt or a dress and not be ridiculed, belittled, or harassed for it. He especially shouldn’t be beaten up or hurt for it. Anybody should be allowed to wear a dress if they want to whether they are exploring their gender identity, gender presentation, or they simply want to wear a skirt. I’m not going to get into the trans rights issues that this brings up right now because that’s a whole other discussion, suffice it to say, trans people should be allowed to wear what they want too, and not worry about being harassed, ostracized, or murdered because of it.
In many ways, the issue of clothing is a human rights issue – the idea that some people have the right to choice and some people do not. It’s not the most pressing human rights issue there is right now, but it leads into bigger problems. If self-expression through clothing was our only problem, we’d be in a lot better shape right now.