Menon: Freedom to choose

Ari Menon, Columnist

My attention was first brought to this issue roughly a month or so ago, when France passed the burkini ban, permanently barring women from wearing more modest swimwear. This ban is sort of an addition to the already existing ban on the burqa, which was passed in 2011. Prior to this, in 2004, any “conspicuous religious symbols” were also disbarred from French schools.

These laws fall into the existent notion regarding the repressiveness of forcing women to wear these clothes in countries that require them to do so. This was initially not what I wanted to write about—IT usually tend to stick to lighter, more humorous topics, but this morning I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw an article that served as a follow-up to a previous article regarding American chess champion Nazi Paikidze refusing to attend the championship in Tehran because she would be required to wear a hijab.

In response, Iranian chess champions Mitra Hejazipour and Sara Khademalsharieh argued that the hijab was not a form of oppression, and that they were used to wearing it in order to adhere to Iran’s laws. These are probably just two of many events occurring worldwide that contribute to this debate, but they are the ones I chose because they perfectly highlight both sides of the debate surrounding veiling.

Often, in other regions veiling is looked down upon as a synonym to misogyny, and a way to control women by certain regions or religions; this may be true in certain situations, but when one examines veiling from that extremely narrow minded viewpoint, we ignore that there is a large factor that needs to be considered in these situations: choice.

Freedom in the true sense of the word means different things to different people. Telling a woman who wants to veil that she can’t is not true freedom, because society is still trying to dictate what she does with her body, and taking away her free will. In our restless fight to give women the freedom to do what they want, we still end up telling her what to be. We tell them to be happy with their bodies by making fun of thin girls, we constantly pressure them to look a certain way and then shame them for getting plastic surgery and wearing “too much” makeup, we don’t take the happy ones seriously and we tell the serious ones that “they’d be so pretty if they’d just smile”.

Samantha Bee best explained the last one in context of the media’s advice to Hillary Clinton for her first debate: “So be perfect but not too perfect. Save us from fascism, but, like, don’t be a bitch about it.” Women everywhere criticized about at least one of those points at some point or the other. And let me tell you, we are sick and tired of it. If a woman wants to wear a hijab to feel closer to her culture or just because she’s having a bad hair day, she can. Because it’s her choice to do so, and if she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t have to.
Arundhati Menon is a second-year student studying Economics and Computer Science.