Modesty and Feminism

[DISCLAIMER – this post is not intended to be a comment on religion. The word ‘modest’ has been used to refer to women who choose to wear more covered up and loose clothing (including headscarves and wigs). There is no firm definition of ‘modest dressing’, as what is considered ‘modest’ will differ from person to person, depending on their background and religion. In fact, it doesn’t need to be connected to religion at all. You can read more on this here.]

As some you may have seen a while ago, Sophie wrote a fantastic article about references to women in the manifestos for the recent election. One thing which jumped out at me was a promise from UKIP to ban the burqa and the niqab (full face veil) if they were voted in. This seemed to have been framed as something which would free ‘oppressed’ women from the shackles of their forced modesty.

This reminded me of the kind of dialogue being used around the time of the ‘Burkini Ban’, which I wrote about in August last year. The actual reasoning for the ‘Burkini Ban’ and the proposed ban on the burqa is probably more to do with the kind of propaganda we are exposed to on a daily basis (which is a debate all of its own), but the fact that the removal of these items of clothing was being couched as a women’s rights victory was really disturbing to me.

Austria has recently banned the niqab and, as a result, there have been some very uncomfortable images surfacing of women being forced to remove their covering in public by the police. Denmark has quickly followed suit.

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If any of you have Instagram, your feed is likely being flooded on a daily basis by photos of women with arses like genetically enhanced peaches. Curves are “in”, bodies are out and everyone has been calling for us to #freethenipple. This is all great stuff, as women have every right to reclaim their bodies from the more sexist imagery most of us have grown up with (ahem… Page 3) and celebrate their womanhood on their own terms. I am quite partial to a ‘double tap’ on all of Kim Kardashian’s pics myself.

But what about the woman who doesn’t want to bear it all?

For those who want to dress ‘modestly’, it can be a real struggle to thrive in a world where you are made to feel that you’re setting the feminist movement back a couple of centuries.

I have read numerous articles about how modesty and feminism absolutely cannot go hand in hand, which have frankly led me to wonder whether that is, in fact, the case. In some countries, women are indeed not afforded the choice on how they should or shouldn’t dress, but to suggest that every woman who does cover themselves up is doing so under duress seems completely misguided.

Whatever your stance on religion, modest fashion is on the rise and it is empowering women who are seeking to incorporate their love of style with their love of their faith.

Orthodox Jewish fashion journalist Michelle Honig said, “There’s a general misconception that modest clothing is inherently oppressive… but if women in so-called ‘liberated countries’ still choose to cover their bodies, then they have made a choice. They have agency.”

Popular influencers such as Dina Tokio and The Frock NYC have brought the worlds of modesty and fashion together, to highlight the fact that dressing within the confines of your own comfort (and religion) doesn’t mean you have to look drab.

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Dina Tokio

2017 was the year of the first ever London Modest Fashion Week, something which the creators hope will become the norm over the next few years.

On the other side of the pond, model Halima Aden was the first woman to compete in Miss USA wearing a hijab and a burkini (during the swimsuit round). She was crowned Miss Minnesota and, since then, she has walked on international runways and been the first ‘hijabi’ to appear on the cover of Vogue Arabia and Allure Magazine.

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If women are more than their physical bodies, why should it matter what and how we choose to clothe ourselves? If we are against judging women based on the amount of skin they choose to show, how does it follow that we can shame women for choosing to dress modestly?

While feminism is far more of a multifaceted and complex area than most people would believe, when we enter discussions based on whether or not certain sectors of society are able to participate (due to their race, religion or decision to dress a certain way), we are creating the very division that we are seeking to eradicate. If we focus on the different factions within our own sex individually, we are moving further and further away from the intersectionality we should be trying to embrace and understand. Feminism is for everyone; regardless of your sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. Feminism is tolerance, acceptance and equality.

This blog post wasn’t intended as anything more than a personal release on my part and I don’t really have any answers or solutions to propose; however, I do have two pieces of advice to offer:

  1. To politicians in Europe – please stop feeling threatened by the burqa. I can assure you that it is more scared of you than you are of it; and
  2. To society – please just let women wear what they want.

Thanks for reading,

~ Sanya

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