It’s not the first time something like this has come into the news, and it certainly will not be the last: women are being forced, coerced or whatever into following local customs when it comes to dress. This, however, is not a simple matter of a schoolgirl being told that her skirt is too short and being sent home, or having an off-the-shoulder prom dress and being refused admission. This time it is adults, women being told that they must cover their hair to conform with Iranian customs.
I can understand why some people would get all upset about such a thing, especially when they are American. Theoretically we are used to having a mass of freedoms about our appearance, about where we go, who we speak to and what we do. Iran is completely different. There are different rules, traditions and customs. We do not necessarily have to agree with them but, if we expect other people to respect our customs, then we should respect their customs too.
Screenshot Source: Twitter / The Independent
I am not into oppression in any form, whether it be political, religious or anything else. I can, however, see the other side of the coin. The players in the chess tournament will be visiting a foreign country, will be expected to abide by their laws, and that should include dress codes. In the United States we have seen women forced to cover up on television because their shoulders were bare. We have heard complaints about a news reader who was told it was disrespectful that she wore skinny jeans on air. We have heard of a Muslim teacher who, because of her beliefs, did not wish to shake hands with men, but was forced to because it is the American way. That teacher has since resigned her position, and I can well imagine it has nothing to do with her teaching abilities – which must have been good enough to get her hired in the first place – but because everyone took every opportunity to enforce the hand-shaking ruling and, possibly, took great pleasure in her discomfort.
Now the shoe is on the other foot, and people are complaining that it isn’t fair? Will a chess grandmaster’s abilities be impaired because she wears a head scarf, a hijab? Or are we, as members of a seemingly free – but not in reality – society making a mountain out of a molehill? Following the old do as I say, but not as I do doctrine of the authoritarian?
Yes, we in the West see the hijab, the burka and other modes of dress enforced by some foreign countries as being oppressive and, in many ways, they are items of oppression. They are, though, the customs of that country, and we demand that visitors to our countries follow our customs. We can’t have it both ways.
- Viktoria Michaelis.