Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

News Flash: Modest Dress Doesn’t Stop Sexual Harrassment – But It May Well Encourage It

Posted by Phoenix Woman on August 21, 2008

Ziska did a post on the inverse relationship between dressing modestly and sexual harrassment (and the degree of control that men have over their bodily impulses) that’s caused much comment. Here’s a taste from the Bitch PhD link that was the cornerstone of Zuska’s post:

Remember that study showing that something like 80% of Egyptian women reported having been sexually harassed? The Washington Post has something of an update to the story. Apparently, some anonymous group has been sending emails telling women that they should wear the veil, because “A veil to protect, or eyes will molest.” I’m sure the slogan is much catchier in Arabic–I’d wager it probably rhymes. But either way, it’s full of bullshit. The WaPo article talks to some women who say they actually experienced more harassment when they were wearing hijab, and though I can’t speak from personal experience, I wouldn’t doubt at all that that could be true.

I can’t say whether any individual woman would suffer more harassment from one day to the next if she were wearing the veil, although if I lived there, I’d try it as an experiment. But I think this theory is spot-on:

Mona Eltahawy, a 41-year-old Egyptian social commentator who now lives, unveiled, in the United States, said that as a Muslim woman who wore hijab for nine years and was harassed “countless times” in Egypt, she has concluded that the increase in veiling has somehow contributed to the increase in harassment.

“The more women veil the less men learn to behave as decent and civilized members of society,”

This puts the blame for harassement squarely on social conventions, rather than on individual women. Because the fact is, there is no rhyme or reason as to who gets harassed and who doesn’t, and what kind of behavior/clothing/location/makeup/companionship you have when you get harassed is totally not determinative. And this doesn’t just apply to Egypt, either–it applies everywhere.

I’m on record acknowledging the complexity of the hijab issue, and I would never dream of judging any individual woman’s decision to take up the hijab. But I’d be failing if I didn’t acknowledge that the aggregate effect of hijab-wearing being the norm is negative.

I also suggest looking at Mormon Fundamentalist treatment of women, which follows similar lines: You don’t see Mormon Fundy women running around in bikinis and short-shorts. You do see prepubescent girls becoming the unwilling plural wives of men old enough to be their grandfathers.

Now, we learn the following from this:

1) Persons interested in controlling women claim that women, not men, are responsible for men’s sexual responses, and so insist that women dress modestly.

2) Dressing for modesty doesn’t stop mistreatment of women — in fact, the evidence is that it escalates it, as it gives men a reason not to see women as fellow humans deserving of treatment as humans. (Also, there is evidence that a submission response both triggers and rewards dominance impulses in the aggressor.)

3) Men, contrary to what is often believed, can and do rein in crass behavior: They are not the helpless prisoners of their genitals.

Granted, what is crass and what isn’t is, to a large degree, fuzzy at times. Here’s a good rule to use to determine what you should do: How would you feel if somebody was directing the behavior at you? (And another rule, that I follow: Most people mean well, so cutting folks slack is generally a good idea.)

See, it’s really not that difficult.

5 Responses to “News Flash: Modest Dress Doesn’t Stop Sexual Harrassment – But It May Well Encourage It”

  1. MEC said

    It’s easy to follow the trail: women who dress according to the dictates of male authority are perceived by men who are all about male authority as passive and submissive and therefore as easy targets for hostility. That reasoning works for me.

  2. Eggszacktly.

  3. Stormcrow said

    In other words, submission to bullying makes that bullying worse.

    Fairly basic stuff.

  4. Zuska said

    Thanks for the link, and thanks for leaving the comment over on my post. I hope it helps clear up things for some of the confused souls over there…hope springs eternal and all that.

  5. Redveg993 said

    I am a western woman who is a feminist and an atheist who has covered up her body for more than 25 years.

    My reasons for covering up from neck to toe are clear. My body and my sexuality belong irretrievably to me. There is absolutely nothing submissive about my stance. I deplore the trend in western societies towards the normalisation of pornography and prostitution and will not buy into these.

    I agree that men who rape and sexually assault women are themselves wholly reponsible for their crimes and penalties should reflect this. However, my decision to cover up comes from my determination to define myself as a woman and a human being free from patriarchal dictates.

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