On the basis of her experience when visiting Morocco, Gabriella Coslovich wonders if there might not be a liberating aspect to modes of dress in which women's bodies are more covered than they sometimes are in the West. She quotes Muslim feminist Rachel Woodlock...
...a sixth-generation Anglo-Australian who converted to Islam in her 20s. For Woodlock the hijab "can become a means of empowerment through reclaiming the female body from the public gaze, from determining what may be observed. In this vision, the hijab is for women's benefit, not men's." Woodlock says: "To stand and say I don't want you to see me is quite a rebellious act."
It took two weeks of self-enforced wearing of more modest garb than I usually would to appreciate that there might be truth in this. Why do some Westerners find this so difficult an idea to grapple with?
Well, I may or may not be a typical Westerner, but for me the idea is in fact very easy to grapple with, or even - by change of metaphor - to digest, that a woman should be able to wear whatever she feels best in, and if that involves more covering of the body rather than less, so be it. It's her choice. The same goes for men. What I do find difficult to grapple with, on the other hand, is that Coslovich can discuss the subject without considering how far this is a choice for women in Muslim countries and how far it is imposed on them. That must surely be relevant to the issue. She is certainly sensitive to pressures that, as she sees it, compromise the freedom of Western women in matters of dress. Referring to some of the standard imagery in advertising, she writes:
These advertisements seemed to me a certain form of propaganda, of brainwashing. Living constantly among them, we become inured to their subtle form of mind control, to the pressure they exert, pushing us towards ways of being and thinking that are intrinsically dissatisfying, distracting us from issues, concerns and activities more rewarding and deserving of attention.
The claim involved in speaking of 'mind control' is disputable, but let's leave it be. If the restriction of women's choices through such means is to be noticed and regretted, then the restriction of their choices through other means - legal means, disparities of power between women and men - would seem to be equally worthy of consideration. Not a word about it, however, from Gabriella Coslovich.