The morality policing of women’s attire is a tiring and endless confrontation that has infested every medium where women are visible; from dress codes to television programming, and even product advertisements.
These prescriptions, both religious and otherwise, exist as a way for admonishers to exert control and reinforce discriminatory power dynamics. Still, what we wear has the ability to reveal not just class markers, and scriptural fellowship, but often allows us the opportunity to divulge snippets of our personality without the burden of words.
It’s no wonder then that the existence of “Muslim fashion”—a burgeoning subculture in the clothing industry—has sent heads spinning.
Muslim women, whose autonomy is too often ignored for the sake of perpetuating orientalist stereotypes that feature a demure and faceless entity, are further ridiculed for using lifestyle mediums much like other women: in order to produce a contemporary style that suits their tastes and their personal convictions.
In 2016, photographs showing French police officers towering over a Muslim beachgoer created a media firestorm. The woman in question, a 34-year-old mother of two, had been laying in the sand wearing a headscarf, a long-sleeved tunic, and long pants. She was made to remove her tunic in public, and given a fine which accused her of not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.
This episode of criminalisation emphasises the disparity between how state actors propagate women’s liberation while enforcing policies which dehumanise them to such a degree that their attire removes them from the fold of citizenry. And in Australia the conversation is certainly no better.
Upon discovering that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) had sponsored an Islamic clothing exhibition, meant to tap into a booming market, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused the DFAT of “pandering to what is…an incredibly old fashioned view of modesty.”
First, despite all the hand-wringing and hypocrisy, Tony Abbott isn’t on the record having any similar conniption at Australia engaging in “fashion diplomacy” with India. That’s right, the Australian government, specifically the DFAT, under one Tony Abbott, launched the fashion initiative along with the Australian Fashion Chamber in 2015.
Among the numerous countries targeted by the “fashion diplomacy” project was India, with support from Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop, with not so much as a peep from Tony Abbott. “We want Australians to be free and open, we want them to show their face and if they want to show a bit of their arms and their legs and wear a bikini, well, we celebrate that, we don’t apologise for it,” Abbott explained to News Ltd. last month.
This statement from the former Prime Minister exposes an extensive disregard for a woman’s right to determine whether to cover her body or reveal it, in whatever capacity she so chooses. No one of consequence is demanding that bikini-clad beach goers “apologise” for their swimwear, but on the other hand rarely does a week go by without inane commentary about how un-Australian it is for Muslim women to not conform to standards set by others. The tough guy routine of feigning an unapologetic attitude when no one has asked for you to abandon your own personal inclinations is as toxic as it is absurd.
For Muslim women, it may feel at times as though they are forced to battle their own Hydra of Lerna, the mythical, serpentine creature who, for every head chopped off would not die but instead produce more heads in their place.
It isn’t enough that inter-communal, gender-based discrimination can lead to their fashion choices being characterised as too risqué, but even when they try to develop their own fashion subcultures in order to create products that suit their taste they’re stripped of national identity by those outside of their communities. Y
You are not Muslim enough. You are not Australian enough. The pressures of conformity that permeate every avenue women take can make the world feel cold, and unwelcoming, especially for those who are trying to make their own way forward. Still, women from all walks of life are made to deal with politicians and establishment intellectuals who urge them to reconsider life choices, despite having no direct or indirect material impact. Tony Abbott, and his budgie smugglers, are both best kept out of the papers, and the fashion industry.