Africa

Plunging Valleys or Mist Shrouded Peaks? The great cleavage debate

Fulla is a Hijab-clad doll similar to the Western Barbie. Photo courtesy of http://adamite.wordpress.com.

 

When watching television recently with my husband, he remarked upon how distracting he found a certain female’s cleavage-revealing attire to be, meaning, or so I assumed, that he would have preferred her to dress more conservatively so he could focus on what she was saying rather than on her partially exposed breasts. When she next appeared on television in a far less revealing outfit, I reassured him that this time he would be able to watch the programme without the unwelcome distraction of her cleavage, but rather than looking relieved as I had hoped he would, he was instead sorely disappointed!

 

So what of the cleavage debate, to expose or not to expose; is this nothing more than a lighthearted discusssion for us girls to ponder, or is there a more serious side to it all?

 

Living in a traditional Moroccan village where the Muslim faith is paramount, for a woman on the street to expose much more than her eyes, hands and ankles is a rarity, and knowing this has encouraged me to try and have a much greater understanding and respect for the term ‘Hijab’, which is often used to encompass all modest Muslim styles of dress.

 

It’s a philosophy guided by The Qu’aran, which asks of its male and female Muslim followers that both should dress in a dignified manner and behave respectfully towards each other:

 

‘And tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them…And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw a veil over their bosoms…’

 

Men in a Muslim society are encouraged to show their respect for women, and engaging in activities that demean or objectify them is condemned in The Qu’aran. In turn, women are expected to have respect for themselves as dignified beings, by not changing the way they behave in the presence of men, i.e. dressing seductively or acting flirtatiously.

 

It is strongly argued by Muslims that Hijab is not a reflection of the inferiority of women, neither is it something that is imposed upon them by the opposite sex. They see it in very simple terms; when men and women observe modest dress, they are enabling themselves to be seen as individuals, distinguishable only by their non-physical characteristics, like integrity and intellect. Just as my husband paid more attention to the womanly attributes of a female actress than he did to the words that came out of her mouth.

 

Hijab is said to have helped the Muslim people to build a society that doesn’t condone crimes against women such as rape or molestation, and since the potential stimulus for those crimes has been removed by those who observe Hijab, they are far less likely to occur in the first place.

 

Fulla is a Hijab-clad doll similar to the Western Barbie. Photo courtesy of http://adamite.wordpress.com.

This naturally allows for the assumption that those Muslims not heeding the philosophy of Hijab are undignified, but can the same be said of those women in society who do not conform to a religion, and sometimes choose to dress less modestly?

 

In order to gauge how some of those women might feel about the issue, I carried out a small survey of my female friends and family, and although it was a survey conducted via email and consisting of just six questions, the nature of the topic appears to have induced a sense of defiance that could easily be detected in some of their answers.

 

It would appear that many of these women are fiercely proud of their attributes and their right to display them as and when they wish, yet a strong percentage of those asked were unsure as to whether a woman dressed less modestly could still be taken seriously. As detailed by several of those surveyed, it would perhaps depend on the circumstances that the woman found herself in. A female senior executive of a company might not get the attention she rightly deserves if she sits at the head of the board meeting wearing a top with a plunging neckline. However, nobody questioned appeared to be able to offer an example of when it might be appropriate to wear such an item of clothing and still expect to be taken seriously.

 

Many felt that women who choose to wear more revealing clothes are doing so in order to make themselves feel better and to boost their confidence, with no apparent motive for making themselves look more attractive to the opposite sex. Don’t we all want to be found attractive by the opposite sex, and when we are, is it not this that makes us feel better and more confident?

 

One thing the survey definitely highlighted was our desire as women to be allowed to wear whatever we want, whenever we want, and to not be judged for it by anyone. Agreed. The fact of the matter, though, is that we all know that many men find great pleasure in the female form, and isn’t it just wiser to accept that when we choose what we want to wear? Opting to dress in revealing clothes and then appearing affronted when a man engages in a conversation with you but can’t seem to raise his eyes any further than your chest might suggest that you need to reflect on the merits of your current wardrobe, or simply find some other way of ensuring that your mouth does more of the talking!

Kate Blanchard
Kate is an English woman currently living in rural Morocco with her husband, Ben, and their mischievous mongrel, Douglas. They moved out there three years ago after Ben was offered employment as the manager of a large fruit farm, and although life can often be challenging for them both with cultural differences and language barriers, they see this as more of a reason to stay, than a reason to admit defeat and leave. Kate tries to find humour wherever possible in life, and finds herself blessed (or as her husband would say, ‘cursed’) with an irrepressible desire to see the beauty and the positivity in what others may see to be ugly and negative. Most of all though, she has a zest for travel and exploration and finds it incredibly satisfying to share her stories of adventure with others, even if it does nothing more than transport the reader to a distant land for a few minutes.

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