Feminism: Veils and Sweat Pants

[Content Note: Oppressive Religions and Cultures]

A few weeks ago, I rode in the car with Husband while we went to pick up pizza. This, in itself, was not noteworthy. What was unusual is that I was wearing my pajama pants.

I rarely wear my pajama pants -- which are basic, no-frills sweat pants -- in public. I know a lot of other girls and women do, because I see them in the stores with pretty pajama patterns or sleek sports logos, but my mother never wore sweat pants as anything other than sleep- and lounge-wear and so somehow I've internalized that sweat pants are for Private Places Only.

This is actually in fact a bit of a conundrum. Because of my back and spine issues, sweat pants are frequently far more comfortable for me than jeans or slacks or khakis or really anything with a defined concept of "waist". So I end up wearing sweat pants a lot around the house, but never outside. Until a few weeks ago when I ordered pizza and then felt guilty for sending Husband to the store by himself and hopped into the car with him. Because of my dithering about whether to stay home or not, I didn't have time to change: it was either "go in sweat pants" or "stay home entirely". And I chose the former.

And I felt uncomfortable the whole time. Even though I didn't even get out of the car, even though I just sat in the passenger seat on the way to the pizza place and back, I felt indescribably uncomfortable. I could feel the sweat pants against my skin -- the same sensation they make at home, and yet totally, horribly wrong. The closest I can come to describing the discomfort is that I felt improper, or naked, but even these terms don't work well for me: I practically pride myself on being Improper and Unladylike and I have zero issues with zipping around stores in a spaghetti strap that shows an eyeful of cleavage. But sweat pants in public felt totally wrong and I couldn't wait to get home. Once I crossed that threshold, I was safe again, no longer improperly-nakedly-sweatpantsed.

I can't justify why I feel so strange and uncomfortable wearing sweat pants in public. I know this feeling is one born out of sheer habit; never did my mother tell me that girls who wear sweat pants in public will go to the fifth level of Hades to be gnawed upon by giant moths. I know that this feeling of mine is not reasonable in a "justify this with scientific evidence" sort of way. I know that a good many people -- probably most people -- do not share my feelings.

Yet my feelings are there. If someone forced me to go about in public in sweat pants, or to go to work or school in them, or to attend legal proceedings with them on, I would be uncomfortably driven to distraction. I would feel like my right to dress myself in a manner that I felt was acceptable for my needs of decency and modesty was being infringed upon.

Which is why I find it noteworthy that so many people are trying to legislate how women may dress in courtrooms and schools

Now, I've never worn a veil. I rarely cover my hair -- scarfs, hats, and shawls make me feel restricted and are usually pushed aside by my unruly curly hair. I've never gone about in public with my face covered, unless you count really blustery winter days when the alternative to a face scarf was having my lips freeze shut. I've certainly never lived or grown up in a culture where veil-wearing was commonplace, customary, expected, or mandatory.

And I don't agree with religions or cultures that pressure women to adhere to dress choices against their will. As a child, I attended schools where wearing skirts was mandatory. I hate skirts, and I hated being forced to wear clothing I didn't want to wear. I still hate that I was forced to wear skirts to school; at no point in my life have I felt that particular mandatory dress code was appropriate in any way. I will never, ever attend a function where a dress or a skirt is mandatory; I'll wear the blingyest slacks you like to a formal function, but I won't wear a skirt. That's my choice. Mine. And any culture or religion that says I must wear a skirt is as wrong in my opinion as a culture or religion that says I must wear sweat pants in public.

Yet some women -- because of factors that are personal to them and their right to make -- choose to wear skirts. Some choose to wear sweat pants in public. And some choose to wear veils.

I don't know if my acquired reticence to wear sweat pants in public is in any way similar to some women's choice to wear veils in public. I think I felt a moment of recognition, a slight insight into the way a childhood environment can influence feelings and sensations in ways that other people might not recognize as logical. I like to hope that maybe pushing my own boundaries, even accidentally, can help me to understand that those boundaries can exist for other people, and in different locations.

A very great deal of feminism is about Trusting Women. Trusting them to make their own reproductive choices. Trusting them to cast their vote in the way that seems most beneficial to them. Trusting them to choose their own careers, their own husbands, their family planning. And -- I like to think -- trusting them to dress in ways that make them most comfortable, both in public and in private.

For what it's worth, I abhor cultures who force women to dress in ways that make some of them uncomfortable.

I just don't think the best way to counter those cultures is to force women to dress in ways that make some of them uncomfortable.


Dragoness Eclectic said...

*salutes you*

The freedom to do something is also the freedom not to do something. If you don't have the one, you don't have the other.

Yamikuronue said...

I know exactly what you mean about the sweat pants thing. I can barely bring myself to go through a drive-through in the passenger seat in pajamas. It feels like being naked. Even a hoodie over a bra - knowing I have no shirt means I feel exposed.

Except Christmas. Then I dress in new Christmas jammies and drive around looking at christmas lights :D it's like being six all over again!

Heqit said...

[TW: Class prejudice and snobbery, esp. American Southern]

YES. Oh Ana, I feel EXACTLY the same way about sweatpants. I wear sweats and pajamas all the time around the house, but I cannot bring myself to wear them out in public. My mother never mentioned it either, nor did any other woman I knew growing up, but somehow it's branded in my mind as Not Done. I think there's an element of unexamined and probably quite ugly classism in my mental hangup about this (NOTE: speaking ONLY of my own attitudes towards wearing sweats in public here, NOT about Ana's, Yamikuronue's, or anyone else's) - when I stop to think about it, the first place my mind goes is "It's just trashy." And a feeling that I have to mark publicly that I'm "put-together" and...adult, somehow - not lazy, not sloppy, not unprepared, not one of Them. What's even weirder is that when I see women out and about in sweats, I don't automatically think that they're lazy, sloppy, or trashy - they're just people out and about wearing clothes. I have friends who wear sweats out of the house all of the time, and I go with them, and don't even notice it. And yet I would be shocked if my mother or my sister ever did (and really, the mind boggles. My mother would live her entire life in jeans if she could, but sweats? Never.), and the one time I wore sweats through the drivethrough I felt damn near unclean. What the HELL - clearly I need to unpack this and my own internalized snobbery a bit more. Darn you, Ana, for being so thought provoking!

[End TW]

But even though I have never liked efforts to force women to stop veiling (or to start, for that matter), I never connected my discomfort with going out in public in a "wrong" type of clothing with what women who are forced to veil or unveil might be feeling. As you say, it's an inexact comparison at best, and doesn't even get into the way in which religious (and possibly ethnic) identity and expression are a part of this issue, but it's an illuminating perspective nonetheless.

And the best part is your perfect and concise summation at the end: the solution to the problem of women being forced to dress in a way they object to is NOT forcing women to dress in a way that they object to. (Also: women - not monolithic! Even women of a particular religion, nationality, or other group! Still not all the same. Amazing!) That really strips away the cloying layer of condescension that coats these laws - that We, the Modern Westerners, are Saving the Poor, Downtrodden Women of the Other from their Savage Men/Religion and showing them the [White] Light of Civilization. Ugh. White Man's Burden all over again, and not even really disguised. But stated logically even that justification disappears, and efforts to ban the veil are revealed for exactly the combination of sexism and racism that they are. It fits perfectly into the classic tactics of a war of extermination: kill (or imprison, or otherwise remove and/or emasculate) the men, control the women (especially their bodies and fertility), forbid any expressions of former identity and unity (religion, art, music, dress, language) and hey presto! You have obliterated your enemy while retaining (and assimilating) their population. It's not about freedom: it's about control.

Camelliagirl101 said...

I never, ever wear sweatpants. And I rarely wear pants. What's funny is that my mother did wear pants and rarely wore skirts until I was a teenager. The thing was, my waist and hips developed alarmingly at an early age, and any pants I tried on except for ugly, baggy, unflattering Levi 501's were dismissed because "you look like a hooker." So I wore ugly pants for a couple of years, and then decided skirts were the way to go--it's so comparatively easy for me to find skirts that I like. So after several years of basically only wearing skirts, I feel really really uncomfortable in pants physically, beyond the psychological "OMG I look either ugly or like a hooker" thing.

I feel comfortable in pretty damn short skirts, though. And tight ones--I'm wearing a pencil skirt right now that's bootylicious.

I have never ever had another feminist tell me I shouldn't wear skirts, but I've had non-feminists ask me how I can be feminist in them.

Jen said...

I agree about the "forcing women NOT to dress is as limiting as forcing them TO dress a certain way".

And yet. Specific to *courtrooms*, and courtrooms only - or maybe I should say, while testifying... Is it acceptable that a woman gets up and testifies while hidden behind a veil, so neither the judge nor jury can see the facial expressions they'd normally use to assist in judging if someone is truthful? I suppose the flip side is whether the woman's discomfort at being unveiled (naked, if you will) would cause an issue anyway. But if I were a party in court, I would expect to be able to see the faces of the people on the other side of the case.

I just see the testimony issue as being at least someone separated from the rest of the "we don't like seeing veiled women in public, so we'll ban veils" movement.

One where I'm completely uncertain is drivers licenses or other forms of Photo ID... Why make the woman take off her veil, if the cop who checks her license will be looking at a veil? But if there's not a picture you can match to a face, how does this "photo ID" actually ID anybody?

Ana Mardoll said...

Re: Courtrooms

Humans are notoriously bad at judging truthfulness from facial expressions. Almost everyone thinks they're good at it; almost no one is. Making a woman MORE nervous, when nervousness throws false positives for lying even with MACHINES, is hugely problematic, imho.

It's a particularly interesting conundrum that people cling to the "I can sense liars" myth, because fraud should therefore be impossible, and yet, funnily enough, it isn't.

Random thought: I would actually probably be in favor of jurors not SEEING any of the parties in a case, since jurors cannot leave their prejudices at the door when they enter. Human sight hutts justice more than it helps it, I think.

Will Wildman said...

It wouldn't actually occur to me to think that 'judging witness truthfulness by attitude/expression' was supposed to be part of the juror's job. There are pretty severe penalties for perjury, and a trial is supposed to be about presenting evidence and arguments - I would have thought that "Witness X said this thing that isn't contradicted by any evidence, but I find them suspicious because of Reasons, so I will disregard them" was not preferred juroring technique. I mean, it's impossible to stop that from happening if the juror is determined to do it, obviously, but trying to maintain or enable it doesn't seem like a great goal.

The drivers' licence thing is trickier; I would imagine that people who wear veils regularly would be the best source for suggested solutions, unless the solution to 'fewer cues for facial recognition' consists only of 'get bettr at recognising people with a much smaller range of cues'.

Brin Bellway said...

Will: unless the solution to 'fewer cues for facial recognition' consists only of 'get bettr at recognising people with a much smaller range of cues'.

That's what writings on how to cope with prosopagnosia recommend. (And accepting that no matter how well you implement the coping mechanisms, you're always going to be sub-normal at recognising people.) I doubt the barrier being on the side of the recognisee instead of the recogniser would make much difference in this respect.

Ana: unless you count really blustery winter days when the alternative to a face scarf was having my lips freeze shut.

So out of curiosity, what pants do you wear on such days? Because in my own clothing categorisation, sweatpants are cold-weather clothing. The cold-weather clothing, not counting snow pants (used only for sledding and the like, and even then there'll be sweatpants underneath). If it's cold enough that my lips are in danger of freezing shut (hyperbolically or otherwise), nothing else will do.

Vardulon said...

``For what it's worth, I abhor cultures who force women to dress in ways that make some of them uncomfortable.

I just don't think the best way to counter those cultures is to force women to dress in ways that make some of them uncomfortable."

Of course, part of the problem is that these codes of dress don't just make women 'uncomfortable' in those cultures, in many of them the dress codes are tools of oppression, and part of the way women are stripped of their rights. It's not like you were been raised in a society where you could be beaten, jailed, or shunned for wearing sweatpants.

While I don't like anti-veil laws, I accept that they're coming from a place of trying to prevent the importation of oppression - and in a country with as terrible a record on women's rights as America has, every little bit helps.

Nina said...

See, I don't buy that that's really what the laws are about. I mean, yeah, some people might say that, but realistically, how is banning women from wearing certain things going to prevent importation of oppression? It is an outward symbol. If a woman is really being oppressed at home, how is telling her she can't wear x, y, or z in public going to change that? Thing is, veils aren't in themselves oppressive. Women being forced to wear them is oppressive. It's the requirement, not the article of clothing that is oppressive. Thus, requiring women NOT to wear them doesn't solve the problem, it perpetuates it - women are still having their clothing choices dictated to them by law.

The United States has a terrible track record with women's rights, but let's not forget that it also has a terrible track record with race and immigration issues. These laws have less to do with freeing women from oppression than they do with American discomfort with people of color and immigrants bringing in practices from their previous homes.

(It occurs to me that I'm making it sound as though women who wear veils must all be immigrants. Obviously, that's not true. I don't even know what the statistics are on veil-wearing and immigration vs. natural born citizen. And of course not all women who wear veils are women of color, either. But I would hazard a guess that the people who are invested in passing these laws assume that veil-wearing women, women of color, and immigrants are significantly overlapping categories, hence my argument about motivation.)

Ana Mardoll said...

I *believe* that some people think anti-veil laws to help women. But I also believe that this attitude is patronizing and harmful. Women who have been raised in clothing-oppressive atmospheres rarely feel liberated being forced to wear different clothing -- and it's likely that they (or those who oppress them) will simply keep them out of those places entirely. And in America, it's very very easy to pull a girl from school or keep a woman out of court, and that is not a good outcome at all.

The best way to liberate women is to foster free environments where they can legally wear what they feel comfortable in, NOT to shun, oppress, or force them into feeling uncomfortable or like they will be punished when they get home. This puts them in a rock and a hard place. A free environment provides women the ability to be comfortable while being exposed to other women -- and as friendships are formed, an oppressed woman can reach out to a free one for help.

^^ And this is all pretty much straight from several memoirs I've read written by women who have left oppressive polygamy cults in the U.S. and who were wearing distinctive clothing *other* than veils.


Let's also remember that "veil" and "no veil" are not shorthand for "oppressed" and "not oppressed". Many women in sweat pants are oppressed by men in their lives; many women who choose to wear veils are free. Assuming otherwise is highly problematic -- and any law written with that assumption is not a law I agree with.

Pamela Merritt said...

If a woman grew up wearing a veil; she will be very uncomfortable NOT wearing it. It makes as much sense to dictate that men must wear tutus in court.

Though, just as with children and the emotionally damaged or the physically unavailable, I see no reason why such a woman cannot testify on videotape, with more privacy; best of both worlds, maybe?

As someone who loathed pants from birth, I still understand those who wear skirts. I remember arguments with my mother, who claimed skirts and dresses were more modest; and I could understand how something that could reveal my underwear in a strong breeze, much less climbing trees, was considered more modest. Now I know that we can pretend "I don't have a crotch" in a dress.

But really, feminism is about not telling women what to do. period.

Ana Mardoll said...

(Brin, I wear jeans in the cold. With tights underneath if absolutely necessary. And I have a calf-length coat. But I also live in Texas, and not Canada, so there's that. :))

chris the cynic said...

I wear jeans in the cold. On a good day my standard walk (from school, over the bridge*, to home) takes an hour or so, on a day when I'm trudging through snow it'll take longer, but jeans tend to work for it.

The only problem is when they get wet, which they will, but if you're only exposed to the elements for an hour or two its something you can cope with. Provided the wetness isn't from something like rain. Snow is fine, rain is like some kind of divine judgement or infernal attack. It should not rain when it is cold. Rain needs to be reserved for warm times only.

Anyway, jeans work for me.


More on topic, I don't think that anti-[type of clothing] laws exist to help women. I know that that's the argument, but I just don't buy it. It's like the misandry with results indistinguishable from misogyny. If the result in either case is, "And so we must oppress women," then I'm not buying that the two are as different as their proponents would claim.

I mean, just look at it:
Other cultures are mean to women, so they force them to wear certain things.
We are not mean to women, and so we force them to wear certain things.

I don't follow. Or rather, I disbelieve. I don't think that laws outlawing certain clothing that seems strange and foreign to our sensibilities has anything to do with trying to lift people out of oppression. I think it has to do with trying to force people to conform to our standards. I think it has to do with forcing them to do what we think is right. And I think that if we want to stop people from being oppressed a good first step is to try to make it so that no one, ourselves included, is making their decisions for them.

Or, to look at it in an entirely different way, consider us. Specifically those of us in the USA and how we think about what women should keep covered.

It is entirely possible, even likely, that there exists a culture that thinks our insistence that women not walk around topless is a form of misogynistic oppression that must be opposed. Breasts are no more a sexual organ than noses. If you're going to oppose one arbitrary requirement that women cover themselves in the name of modesty by making it illegal for them to cover themselves in that way, why not another?

Of course there probably are those who would be perfectly happy to legislate that women have to be entirely naked in schools, courtrooms and elsewhere, but something tells me that most of us wouldn't give them credit for trying to work against the oppression of women.

If a country decided that, in the name of preventing oppression, they were making it illegal for women to cover their chests, I would not think that was a step against oppression. I feel the same way about making it illegal for women to cover their faces.

In general, if someone's solution to, "Those people shouldn't force women to do X," is, "So instead I'll force women to do Y," I don't think that someone is fighting against oppression, I think they're fighting for a different flavor of it. Left out of the consideration is the solution, "So women should be able to chose for themselves."


* The sidewalk on my bridge is closed.** This is not good. It seems to be taking me twice as long to go around to the other bridge and get home that way. (I'm pretty sure it should only take an hour an a half, but I seem to have slowed down or something.) It's still open to cars even though a detour in a car is much shorter than one on foot.

** They're building a new bridge which will have a better sidewalk when finished, but that's in the future. Right now they've just taken away my primary route home.

Amarie said...

Hey there, Ana and everyone!! :D

Perhaps this is self-promotion disguised, but I thought I'd give a link to one of my blog posts concerning this issue:


Fluffy_goddess said...

I found the same thing on pants vs. skirts! Albeit for different reasons (I have no ass. I have wide hips, a bit of a potbelly, and I'm slim through the back, but I have no ass. I have not owned jeans that fit since I was twelve.)

At this stage, I mostly give the but-you-look-so-domestic-and-housewifey crowd a blank look and say quietly, "I'm sorry, I must have misheard: I thought you just decided what my personality, political afiliation and social habits were based on a look at the single outfit I happen to be wearing today. Would you like to repeat what you actually said?"

hapax said...

And once you start saying that, you have to start deciding which things you're going to fight. Sharia law? Not something you want to let people use, even if they've got cultural and religious reasons to do so and your own laws aren't what you'd like them to be.

Not to pick on you in particular, but this "sharia law" condemnation is something I see a lot in anti-Muslim tirades, and it has the pitch of a dogwhistle to my ears.

What do you mean by "Sharia law"? Which of the five major traditional schools, not to mention dozens of sub-schools, as well as modern re-interpretations, do you categorically reject? What aspects of Sharia? Do you mean that people are not allowed to use their religion to guide their practice of diet, hygiene, sexual behavior, celebration of festivals? Do you also plan to forbid people following the laws of kashrut, the Roman Catholic canons, the Wiccan Principle of Threefold Return?

More specifically:

Veils are also very visible symbols. They aren't just something you wear because you like it, they're something you wear because it means something to you, and to the people who see you, and also to the people in your life. If we, as a society, want to stand against what those veils represent -- oppression, false feeling of safety and control, religiously mandated patriarchy, etcetera

Well, that's what the veil may represent to YOU. I know several women who chose to wear the veil, and it definitely means something to them, but it isn't anything like "oppression, false feeling of safety and control, religiously mandated patriarchy"; to them it represents pride in their heritage, respect for their God, and a celebration of their womanhood. I think it would be rather patronizing of me to tell them that they are wrong, that I know better than they the significance of THEIR religious symbol.

Besides, I haven't heard serious proposals to ban Orthodox Jewish women from wearing wigs; or Jewish men from yamulkas, or Sikh men from wearing turbans, either. I freely choose never to wear visible symbols of my faith (or politics either) when I am at work, because as a librarian, I want to make myself as approachable to all as possible. I would be royally annoyed, however, if I were legally forbidden from wearing them -- especially if I was told that the reasoning was that those symbols "represent superstition, bigotry, imperialistic oppression, etcetera".

depizan said...

it represents pride in their heritage, respect for their God, and a celebration of their womanhood

I don't know anyone who wears a veil, but I do work with a woman who wears a headscarf and you've pretty much nailed what it means to her there. Just putting out that bit of anecdata.

Loquat said...

How exactly are people using Sharia law in western countries that you feel shouldn't be permitted? Obviously anyone who's living in the US or Canada is subject to US or Canadian criminal law, civil statutes, etc, rather than the Sharia equivalents. Generally the only application of Sharia law you'll actually see over here is in contractual agreements - business partnerships or prenups where the parties agree to have any disputes settled according to Sharia principles, or arbitrated by a Muslim authority. And while you could theoretically ban the explicit mention of Sharia law in such contracts, it'd be wholly unsupported by US legal precedent and could be worked around without too much trouble - naming specific arbitrators who can be relied on to apply Sharia principles, for example. And if you wanted to prevent that, you'd pretty much have to ban all arbitration by Muslims, which in the US would be so blatantly unconstitutional it'd get laughed out of court.

EdinburghEye said...

A few years ago Labour Minister started a controversy because he said that when a veiled woman constituent comes to see him, he asks her to please remove her face-covering while they talk, to help him understand her better. (What he didn't say in the article, which I think he should have because it would have clarified things a lot, was that he has partial hearing loss: from my own experience, people with hearing loss in one or both ears find it way easier to understand if they can see the other person's face/mouth when they're talking. So what was probably a polite accommodation by constituents turned into a statement of principle and got a lot of people upset.)

Meeting someone who has their entire face covered, or all but their eyes, makes me feel uncomfortable. I would say a woman with an Islamic face-covering probably makes me feel least uncomfortable of any of the faceless options, since I can assume her motivations for covering her face are personal/religious only... which I don't assume for other kinds of face-covering. (For example, on a demo, I try to avoid people who are concealing their faces, because (some of) the people who do that are doing so because they intend to engage in acts of politically-motivated vandalism which I do not support. I could be wrong - they might just be breaking a suspended sentence by being at a peaceful demo and therefore not want to be photographed - but I don't feel I'm doing them any harm by marching somewhere else.) I acknowledge my personal discomfort with not being able to see a person's face, without feeling I have any right whatsoever to inflict my discomfort on others.

I have a personal, visceral, and political objection to anyone who tries to make a woman feel uncomfortable with what she chooses to wear. Even if I don't agree with it. I've read some Islamic women's discussions on why they wear a face veil, and found mostly I didn't agree with them - but felt they had a perfect right to dress/veil any way they wanted and no one should try and stop them. (The big exception was a Muslim woman after September 11 who said she started veiling because she wanted to be openly identifiable as an American Muslim.) I've also disagreed with t-shirt messages, high-heeled shoes, tight skirts, shades of pink, and a certain "baby-doll" style that I think looks perfectly absurd on anyone over the age of six, but ... wanting women to feel comfortable to dress exactly how we choose, is not identical with liking / approving of whatever every woman chooses to wear. I don't want to wear what makes me feel uncomfortable, and no other woman should have to either.

A bit muddled maybe.

Will Wildman said...

The Canadian sitcom Little Mosque On The Prairie had plenty of episodes related to modesty and coverage and scarves and (presumably, although examples aren't leaping to mind) veils. The critical line that stuck in my head was in an episode in which an engaged couple were having a disagreement about her hair (which he had never seen, which got played up in a style kind of like 'we're getting married next month yet we've never slept together, soooooooooo...?'). The woman eventually closed the whole matter by saying 'The hijab is about my faith and my relationship to my god. This isn't about the part of me that it covers up; it's about the part of me that it shows.'

Not that complex issues can or should be boiled down to cheesy one-liners, but if we were going to, I think that's the finest cheese right there.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

Sharia law? Not something you want to let people use, even if they've got cultural and religious reasons to do so and your own laws aren't what you'd like them to be.

Seconding hapax that "Oh noes, Sharia law!" reads as a dogwhistle to anti-Muslim right-wing bigotry to me. Do you also go around saying you wouldn't want anyone to keep Kosher, or follow the rules of their religion?

Veils are also very visible symbols. They aren't just something you wear because you like it, they're something you wear because it means something to you, and to the people who see you, and also to the people in your life. If we, as a society, want to stand against what those veils represent -- oppression, false feeling of safety and control, religiously mandated patriarchy, etcetera -- then it seems vaguely hypocritical to then turn around and say, "but we don't care about the symbol." We do care about symbols. We have to care about symbols, the same way we care about figureheads, and the same way we care what tone information is presented in instead of simply whether that information is presented. In the long term, symbols matter. In the short term, symbols really matter.

Again, this reads as "If I don't like what I think something stands for, it should be banned. Don't worry about that freedom of speech thing, my opinion on symbols is more important!"

I care about my right, your right, everyone's right to express themselves using the symbols of their choice. If a veil "means something" to the wearer, what right do you have to say that they must not wear one? What you seem to be in favor of is the very definition of censorship and oppression. Yeah, no. It may be an argument, but it's a bad old one that should finally die.

Ana Mardoll said...

I can't seem to "reply" to the latest post, so seeming non-sequiter with this reply:

Symbols are funny things. I know some people who feel like wedding rings are symbols that a man owns a woman, or that a couple owns each other, and they choose not to wear those symbols. Yet I choose to wear a wedding ring because to me it symbolizes a relationship that brings me great joy, and I enjoy looking at my ring.

I think, ultimately, that whatever we think and feel about specific symbols, there is a great danger in trying to legislate their use. "I don't like wedding rings and choose not to wear them" is fine enough without force of law, I think.

Anton_Mates said...

@ Ana,

Making a woman MORE nervous, when nervousness throws false positives for lying even with MACHINES, is hugely problematic, imho.

Yeah, but it's probably still less problematic than covering the woman's face. Westerners, at least, react very poorly to gaze avoidance, especially in women. Even if ethnic distrust could be subtracted from the equation (which of course it can't), I suspect that even a very nervous but bare-faced witness will still be trusted more readily than a witness who voluntarily hides their face from the judge and jury.

Random thought: I would actually probably be in favor of jurors not SEEING any of the parties in a case, since jurors cannot leave their prejudices at the door when they enter. Human sight hutts justice more than it helps it, I think.

Weellll....from a practical point of view such a policy would probably not be feasible, since the physical appearance of various parties may be quite relevant to the facts of the case. (Is the defendant actually the person on this security cam footage? If the defendant is 5'1" and 90 pounds, could they actually have beaten four bikers unconscious?) Jurors are going to form visual impressions of the parties no matter what; if you keep them from directly seeing the parties, the result might just be that the attorneys have greater freedom to manipulate those impressions.

And from a legal point of view, it's pretty much unthinkable. The right of a defendant to confront their accusers in the courtroom is foundational to Western law, and in US courts this is almost invariably understood to mean face-to-face contact between witnesses and judge, jury and defendant. Some state constitutions make the "face to face" requirement explicit. Even witnesses with very compelling reasons to hide their faces, like actively undercover police officers or children testifying about sex abuse, are usually not allowed to do so. (Children are sometimes permitted to testify via closed-circuit TV and such, but they still have to show their faces.)

Mind you, I totally agree that increasing the double-blind factor would lead to more accurate judgments. But that would probably need to be done with the expert witnesses, rather than the jury itself.

Of course, if accuracy was really the point of the whole thing we wouldn't have a jury at all; we'd just have a team of certified forensic experts with some sort of external peer-review system. At present, twelve people are chosen mostly because a) they claim to know and care nothing about the relevant issues and b) they seem just the right degree of gullible, and then two teams of professional actors attempt to capture their trust in the courtroom. This is not a great recipe for truth-finding.

@ Will,

There are pretty severe penalties for perjury, and a trial is supposed to be about presenting evidence and arguments - I would have thought that "Witness X said this thing that isn't contradicted by any evidence, but I find them suspicious because of Reasons, so I will disregard them" was not preferred juroring technique.

You might think, but all the way up to the Supreme Court you'll find it strongly defended as proper technique. Assessing the "demeanor" of the witness under questioning is supposed to be a critical part of the judge/jury's job. Even if, as per Ana, there's no reason to believe that the judge/jury is usually any good at it.

Mime_Paradox said...

Veils are also very visible symbols. They aren't just something you wear because you like it, they're something you wear because it means something to you, and to the people who see you, and also to the people in your life. If we, as a society, want to stand against what those veils represent -- oppression, false feeling of safety and control, religiously mandated patriarchy, etcetera -- then it seems vaguely hypocritical to then turn around and say, "but we don't care about the symbol."

Except veils don't inherently represent "oppresion, false feeling of safety", etc. For some, it's just merely a public affirmation of their faith. For some, it very much is something they wear because they like it. And if we wish to respect people's freedom, then it's essential to trust them to be able to decide what a particular symbol means to them.

To illustrate, the main character in my would-be novel is a not-terribly devout Muslim, who despite not really believing that Muslim women need to dress modestly--she herself favors cheerleader miniskirts--decides to wear a hijab in order to openly tell the world "I'm Muslim; deal with it" (it helps that she has a fair amount of class privilege to fall back on). During the course of the novel, she strikes a friendship with a classmate, also Muslim, who's rather more devout about her faith; while the symbolism she initially ascribed to her manner of dressing was that of her parents (what that is, I haven't decided yet) she eventually came to decide that the reason she dressed modestly--which includes wearing a headscarf--is because it forces people to focus on her face and therefore encourages them to see her as an individual instead of an object. Would you say that's harmful symbolism? Would either girl be helped by a policy prohibiting them from wearing their hijabs?

(As an aside, part of the novel deals with how much an institution requiring uniforms (specifically, a school's cheerleading team) can control the wearing of headscarves (the story stars a cheerleader who decides to wear hijabs after deciding to be open about her faith). While nobody disagrees with the idea that prohibiting full-body coverings doesn't infringe on religious freedom--everybody is required to wear the uniform, after all--headscarves are a much murkier arena. I'm...not exactly sure how it'll end. #talking to myself)

Amaryllis said...

I don't know how much this is relevant to your plot, but I can say that my daughter attended a Catholic high school where the uniform code prohibited any kind of head-covering worn to class. However, exceptions were made for the handful of Muslim girls who wore plain headscarves with their uniforms.

Don't know how that would have worked out for the cheerleading squad-- as far as I know, the question never came up-- or if someone had wanted to wear full hijab.

Mime_Paradox said...

Thanks for the imput. :) The situations aren't quite analogous--I've decided that whatever dress code my character's public high school was, it has no issue with headscarves--but I'll keep that in mind.

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Izzy said...

This, all of it--including the sweatpants thing. Although I *can* pinpoint it, myself: for me, sweatpants don't seem improper, but they do seem frumpy, and I dread the creeping approach of frump like few other things in life. So I don't wear them in public if I can help it, unless I'm on vacation--or, in college, when I had class before ten AM. (Class before ten was quietly deemed to be a particularly hostile Act of God, and you could dress however you wanted without any judgment, much as you could if your dorm had caught fire in the middle of the night.)

I do not like what I know of the philosophy behind veils and headscarves, any more than I like what I know of the philosophy behind Western modest dress; that particular interpretation of "modesty", frankly, bugs me and strikes me as a fairly negative thing. But it's not my life and I don't have to approve. It's certainly not a matter for the law to decide.

Although this point I remember one friend in highschool talking about how she hated getting a new pair of glasses because she was raised to wear a headscarf, and if she kept it on she couldn't get the frames of her new glasses fitted properly -- for her, having an excuse like "the law says" would have meant she could tell her parents "it's not that I'm disrespecting you and where you come from, it's that society here is different and I must live the way it demands." is an interesting one.

I think the law shouldn't force people who are comfortable to dress a certain way for the purpose of providing an out to those who aren't. But might well be good to give teenagers an excuse to break away from their parents' customs, at times. I just can't think of a way to make it work.

Izzy said...

Addendum: I also wear a lot of skirts. I'm short-waisted and I have hips, and with a few exceptions, pants these days tend to either be low-cut and thus both unflattering and uncomfortable, or really high cut and thus, well, frumpy. So: skirts, unless it's really cold.

Lonespark said...

I've recently been finding skirts to be warm in very cold weather. That's because I only wear long ones, like ankle-length, and they seem to trap a canopy of warm air, even when I'm running around on the waterfront on one of those "too cold to rain, too mean to snow" Boston days. I don't find my particular skirts to be frumpy, but YMMV.

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