In October 2006, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, the mufti of Australia, got himself in a lot of trouble over comments made in a sermon, where he allegedly said that if a woman dresses provocatively and gets sexually assaulted, it's her own fault.
Whether he really said this or not, the question of public dress-codes and their affect on society at large is a subject worthy of serious discussion.
He did have a point, didn’t he? Did we miss it somehow?
I thought the errant Sheikh’s point was that if girls are going around dressed like strumpets they’re asking for trouble. If so, he’s raised an important subject in my opinion, and one that needs to be discussed. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a father of a teenage daughter.
Of course, it may well be that the Sheikh said a lot more than that. Indeed, he may have said way too much, and I'm not going to try to defend him. Even so, it’s about time we Australians took an honest look at the effect dress codes in our culture (or the lack of them) have on our society at large, and on the male segment of the population in particular.
We’re very quick in Australian society to jump on the “primitive” standards of Islamic communities, where women have to cover themselves in public, at least in part to lower the level of sexual temptation for men. We think it crazy that women should be so restricted and we can’t see why men shouldn’t be expected to simply take responsibility for showing self-control. In my opinion though, the system has a solid logic to it.
The logic goes like this: The community as a whole recognises the potentially destructive force of the male sex drive - destroying individuals, families and the community at large. Therefore both men and women and the government take responsibility for curtailing these destructive effects. Men are taught to pray and to take cold showers when tempted. Women, for their part, cover themselves in public. And the government does its bit by legislating that all rapists get the death penalty.
OK. It’s a brutal logic, and I’m not expecting it to capture the imagination of the Australian public, but you’ve got to admit that the system makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is our western system, where women can dress and flirt and present themselves in public as they please, and men are expected to pretend that it doesn’t affect them.
A few weeks ago I was taking my younger children to a movie. I guess it was because I was bending down a little to deal with one of the children that when I pivoted around I almost fell headfirst into the cleavage of the young girl standing behind me. Frankly though, it was an obstacle that was hard to avoid. She must have been all of 18, wearing her push-up bra, putting her best assets proudly on display to the rest of the world, in a way that didn’t leave a lot to the imagination.
Now, given that this is the acceptable standard in our culture, you might think that a rational response in that situation would be for me to compliment the girl by saying, “Congratulations on your fabulous boobs, luv!” to which she’d reply, “Why thanks. I was hoping that people would notice”, though she’d probably add, “though it wasn’t really you I was hoping to impress”.
Something along those lines would make sense, at any rate. What doesn’t make sense is how, in our culture, I’m expected to pretend that I didn’t notice.
It doesn’t make sense. She wants men to look, but the man’s responsibility is not to look. She’s hoping to drive the guys wild with her sexual allure, but woe betide the male who wolf-whistles or makes some comment that suggests that she has had exactly the effect on him that she was trying to have.
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