Pret-A-Patriarchy – on "modest" fashion

Namazie, Maryam
Date Written:  2018-06-07
Year Published:  2018
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23100

"Modest" fashion is a fast growing industry with companies like Dolce & Gabbana, H&M, Marks and Spencer, DKNY, Zara and others all rushing to cash in. But while more choice is undoubtedly good, I have a problem with the labelling.



Any talk of modesty brings with it the implicit and often explicit shaming (or worse) of those deemed "immodest". After all, it is the immodest woman who fails to dress or behave appropriately in order to avoid the male gaze and titillation. She has no one to blame but herself for any ensuing male violence.

Modesty is always the remit of women (hence why there is never a men’s modest fashion line -- though I can think of some appropriate garments if D&G are interested). And while it is often portrayed as harmless, modesty culture sexualises girls from a young age and puts the onus on them to protect themselves. It also removes male accountability for violence, positioning men as predators unable to control their urges.

Modest fashion feeds into rape culture of which the hijab is central. Women are to be either protected or raped depending on how well they guard their modesty and the honour of their male guardian. Many an Islamist has absurdly argued that modesty is an important deterrent for society's "well being"; if unveiled women and men mix freely, women will lead men astray and will need to be stoned to death for adultery so better to prevent it from the get go with women's modesty!

Billboards of unveiled women being compared to uncovered sweets devoured by flies and roaming gangs of morality police in Iran arresting the "improperly" veiled are some of the innumerable ways in which modesty is policed in places where the religious-Right is in power. In Europe, where Islamism's influence is on the rise, the demand to veil and police women are sanitised and touted as "rights" and "choices" despite huge amounts of pressure, shaming, shunning and even honour-related violence. Improperly veiled women in Britain are called "hoe-jabis" and the likes of the Birmingham Sharia court insist: "In Islam hijab is compulsory and any woman who denies the ruling of hijab is disobeying her Lord and is rebelling against the Islamic law". So much for a "right" and a "choice."

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