Sunday, March 9, 2008

Fashion Freedom - Women's Wear in the Middle East


Many women have a daily uniform that they are required by law to abide. These laws on clothing were formulated by the countries’ religious practices and cultural customs. For the majority, women’s form of dress in the Middle East forbids their act of exercising self expressive rights. Frances Harrison detailed in their article "Iran Police Move into Fashion Business,"

"According to the law, a woman who does not cover her hair and body in public can be fined or imprisoned for up to two months."

Women are burdened with a daily threat because of how their wardrobe appears. The law and male dominance keeps women in a restricted area of dress. Dr. Louay Safi stated in their article "Hijab; Personal Choice Not State Law in Turkey"

"The argument is, more importantly, sexist as it assumes that women cannot have a mind of their own, and are always vulnerable to manipulation by male members of their society."


Interestingly, hijabs and burkas have been proven to be bad for women's health. Due to the yards of fabric blocking women’s skin, they are not receiving enough vitamin D from natural sunlight that their body needs, which could lead the bone deficiencies. The fashion that has so long been induced by the government and men of the middle eastern society is actually bad for women.

In recent years, a little light has been shed on the Middle Eastern Women's world of fashion. They are starting to be able to make their own choices, rather than the men being the constant dictators of their appearance. Rachel Makabi stated in her article entitled "Globalized Fashion a Political Statement in the Middle East"

"The way women wear the manteau has even become a fashion statement in and of itself, with lengths and colors changing from season to season."



The fashion of women in the Middle East is becoming more personalized with varying styles of the traditional wear; however, these subtle changes are made only through the permission from the male dominated government. Here is a Middle Eastern woman citizen's opinion of her daily dress:

"Our goverment's offering a little glamour is like their giving us freedom of speech or giving us our right to have peaceful nuclear energy. I have to wear headscarf and coat in summer while my husband wears T shirt and jeans, although I do not believe in Islamic code of dressing (Hijab). What really bothers me is that we don't have freedom to choose our own style of dressing." Faranak, Tehran/ Iran

Traditions are the root of culture and daily life, but they are not a domain of existence. The women of the Middle Eastern cultures should be freed of their clothing stipulations. Those who choose to stick to tradition may do so. Those who do not, should not be punished for self expression.

9 comments:

Krissy said...

Hey I am so glad someone blogged about this! I feel Middle Eastern woman get a bad rap when it comes to being able to have personal style as a western culture we just don't get that they have personal style! I lived with a Muslim girl for 6 months while I was studying abroad in undergrad... and hanging out with her and her friends I realized that they are just as into style and fashion as American women! If not even more!! Kudos for bring the subject to the blog!!!

Alixianna said...

I think this article paints us negatively---check out my blog http://beautifulmuslimah.blogspot.com/ and this one http://thecoveredlady.blogspot.com/ for Middle Eastern Fashion outlooks. Muslim women love modesty---but there is such a thing as modest fashion. Hijab (the scarf on your head) is good for your hair (no sun damage or pollution causing split ends, ect), and the veil (for your face) is not enforced in ANY islamic country but the Taliban Occupied Afghanistan. Women who wear the veil choose to. Love your blog dear, and the pics here are fab. Keep it up.

Elin said...

Alixianna,

By no means did I mean to portray the dress of most Middle Eastern women in a negative fashion. Your blog, especially the article you wrote after this comment was very eye opening in terms of fashion in other places outside of the United States. I have grown up in a place where it is okay for women to wear whatever they want, whenever they want. For goodness sake, girls here at college walk around in lingerie on Halloween when it's below 30 degrees! This kind of freedom is good, but from the point you made, not always necessary. I especially love your analogy of Superman in comparison to women wearing a burka or hijab. It is an identity concealer that I might like to try someday. I will post an appropriate and more carefully researched response on this blog when I have the cards in place. Thank you for reading and I am grateful for your insight.

Alixianna said...

Thank you for your considerations, and I will remain a loyal reader. Thank you sOOOOooo much.

Mary said...

No Wars, No Murder, No Rape

The remote Chinese lake side culture is said to be the source of the myth of "Shangri La", theidylic land depicted as a utopia in James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. Anthropologists say because men here have no power, own no land and play down sexual roles there is nothing for them to fight about. This makes this culture one of the most harmonious societies on the planet. They have no word for war. There are no murders and no rapes. Should we give all the power to women in order to create paradise? "What is there for us to learn from this culture?" in Lugu Lake, Marriage Is a Affair. 'This is a woman's kingdom. Women have the power.'

Alacuo, an 18 year-old beauty lives in China's legendary women's matriarchal society of about 47,000 people that thrives on the shores of Lugu Lake in a remotre corner of southern China. The women of the Mosuo, which is descended from Tibetan nomads, make the decisions and hold the decisions. Property and names pass from mother to daughter and the women rarely take husbands. Instead they enjoy what is known as a "walking marriage", in which a woman invites a lover to come visit her for the evening with a discreet tickle of his palm. The man must arrive after dark and leave by sunrise, and any resulting child stays with the mother.

It is a tradition that originated thousands of years ago, when matriarchs commonly ruled agrarian villages across China, sociologists say. The walking marriage may be the legacy of a time when fathers were nomads. In the men's absence, the women harvested the crops, fed the families and made the rules. Today, extended families still gather at night around the fire drinking green tea while the eldest woman assigns tasks for the next day. The men do heavy jobs such as plowing the fields, herding horses and hualing fishnets. In between bouts of billiards or baby sitting, they may also help out in a store or guest house owned by their mothers or sisters. But the women say they do everything else. Everything.

"The men here do nothing." says Aiqingma, a 24 year old with quiet charm and quick hands. She glares at a group of men smoking and chatting while she grills fish on a stone stove near the lake shore. The survival of the matriarchal tradition is all the more remarkable in China, a country where male offspring recently were strongly preferred. But the Lugu Lake area's isolation allowed the society's matrilineal system to flourish and endure, even under communism. This area of northern Yunnan province, with its,crystalline lake, Buddhist monasteries and red-earth mountains, was perhaps the model for the mythical-Shangri-La in James Hilton's novel "Lost Ho- rizon." Until a few decades ago, it took a mule train seven days to reach the village of Lugu Lake from the nearest trading center, Lijiang. Even today, it can only be reached after a nine-hour jeep ride over harrowingly narrow mountain passes that are frequently blocked by landslides or snow.

Russian explorer Peter Goullart lived in Lijiang, formerly called Likiang, describes in his 1950s book "Forgotten Kingdom" the sensation that the Mosuo caused during their visits to town. "Whenever these men and women passed through the market or Main Street on their shopping expeditions, there was indignant whispering, giggling and squeals of outraged modesty on the part of the Likiang women and girls, and salacious remarks from men.... "[Lugu Lake] was a land of free love. . . . Whenever a Tibetan caravan or other strangers were passing, these ladies went into a huddle and secretly decided where each man should stay.... She and her daughters prepared a feast and danced for the guest

With its unspoiled beauty, remote location and rare customs, its not surprising that Lugu Lake has become legendary, a place of fascination and often prurient curiosity in China. "People are obsessed with our walking marriage," says Yang Erchenamu, 32, who won a singing contest in 1983 and subsequently was one of the first women to make a life for herself outside the village. "Not only because it's different, but also because it works." "Outside Lugu Lake, marriage is like a business transaction." she says. "The women worry, 'Does he have a good job? Can he take care of me?' In our village, the girls are strong and take care of themselves. Everything we do is for love."

Namu, as Erchenamu is called, has a basis for comparison. In Beijing, she fell in love with an American. They were married in San Francisco and lived there but divorced after two years. "I was raised very strong willed," she says. "I had to learn not to tell him what to do all the time." Following a stint as a fashion designer, she is back in Beijing after 10 years in the United States and is preparing to make her first recording for BMG Entertainment. She vows not to wed again but says with a laugh that she has a walking marriage with a Dutch diplomat. But walking marriage or not, her life is still a world away from the life of her family in Lugu Lake. Namu has two older sisters, and the three women have different fathers. That makes for complicated bloodlines in the village but creates general goodwill. "When we were'kids, we were taught to treat everyone well.", Namu says. "You never know who might be your brother or sister." When Namu came of age, her mother told her which young men not to to walk with in order to avoid a relationship with a blood relative But even in her lifetime, things have changed.

The year Namu was born, 1966, also marked the beginning of Mao Tse-tung's decade long Cultural Revolution. a time when the Communist party tried to eliminate old customs and create a new China. Local government leaders tried to eradicatethe "decadent" traditions of the Mosuo, forcing them to marry and abandon their language and religion. As soon as the Cultural Revolution ended, the Mosuo reclaimed their traditional ways with a rash of divorces. But in an effort to simplify bloodlines, they made one change: Now, once a couple have child, they hold a ceremony announcing their relationship and usually stop seeing other people. But almost without exception, even after fathering children, the men continue to live in their mothers' household and help raise their sister's children. But as the Lugu Lake area becomes more accessible and tourists bring in their fashions and customes, strong currents are moving through the Mosuo villages, threatening to upset the old ways.

Chinese karaoke videos, viewed thanks to the arrival of electricity two years ago, feature coddled delicate heroines. Tourist tell the Mosuo girls they work too hard. "The boys should labor all day," they scold, while the girls play cards or go to school." Even Namu's tales of Beijing, the United States and her brief marriage, feed young Mosuo girl's romantic ideas about the outside world. "I tell them not to be in such a hurry to leave their culture behind." Namu says. "It's only after you lose it that you realize what you've lost."

If there were to be a men's liberation movement here, it might be led by Alazhaxi. A dashing figure in a goat-hair cape and aviator'sun glasses, Alazhaxi used to be an avid practitioner of Lugu Lake's most renowned custom. With his sharp cheekbones easy smile and intense brown eyes full of possibility, he became a favorite of the village. In night of drunken boasting, he told outsider that he had "walked" with 26 of the village women, something of a record. "Usually it is a secret buried deep in the bone. We don't even tell our brothers an sisters." he whispers. "The girl's family can hear the footsteps in the dark, but they never see the boy's face until there a baby."

But Alazhaxi broke tradition- and dozens of hearts, he claims- when he decided to marry and live with the woman who bore his child. "I am one man in a thousand." he declares with a broad smile. "I dare to do new things." Others hint that he had to marry so that his wife could keep an eye on him. The real reason, he says, is that he left his mother's house when she died and opened a small guest house with his wife and her mother. He concedes that it would be hard to pay visits to other lovers while they all live under the same roof, but he says he gave up his midnight trysts six years ago any way when his son was born.

Today, Alazhaxi is concentrating on preserving the village traditions. For the tourists Who brave the long journey over the mountains tains in search of pristine wilderness or in hopes of fulfilling misguided fantasies (despite what, Goullart wrote about their hospitality, the Mosuo rarely tickle an outsider's palm nowadays), Alazhaxi ensuris there is something to see. He organizes a nightly lakeside dance around a bonfire to teach visitors the traditional songs and steps. The young women wear black headdresses festooned with pearls; the older ones wear simple turbans and stamp the dirt with animal-hide boots. The villagers are almost as curious about the'visitors as the tourists are about them. The party ends in a song exchange: Mosuo folk melodies ring in the night, along with Cultural Revolution work songs and the latest karaoke hits.

THOUGHTS & QUESTIONS

How remarkably "different" this system is in some ways. Again, the experience is that we humans tend to have basic needs (and therefore often conflicts and "troubles") in three major areas:

a) Safety, security & money issues.
b) Sexuality, sensuality and pleasure issues.
c) Power, control & decision making issues.

Every culture seems to play out these arenas or issues in various ways as they attempt to deal with the needs involved. The variation at times can seem to be fairly large and often with an accompanying "evaluation" by opposing or different cultures, that their own way is the best or the most moral. So some questions come to mind regarding this example of the remote matriarchy system with its 'non-traditional' ways of handling sex, money, marriage, the raising of chidren, and of course... power and control.

Our our most powerful enemy is FEAR. Fear of change.

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