I was walking down one of the many suburban streets here in Toronto the other day and I wish I had my camera with me because I had just missed a perfect Kodak moment. Walking straight towards me, was a woman dressed in a full Hijab garb. And besides her was another woman, quickly moving past, trying to get ahead. At one point in time, they were walking side by side of each other and the pair created a stunning contrast of female identity. One was covered from head to toe in blackness, with only her eyes available for you to imagine the beauty. The other was wearing too short a skirt and tight fitting halter top with almost perfect skin glistening in the sun with her beauty visible to all passersby.
Here were two women living in the same country, yet with two very different attitudes towards life itself. While one was trying very hard to remove any semblance of sexuality in her form, the other was trying hard to expose it. Each was a reflection of competing ideologies. And what if you are a young woman coming of age?which way should you turn? Do you hide your emerging sexuality behind a shroud of blackness? Or do you confidently put it on display??
If you pay attention to the media, you would think yourself ?unfashionable?, ?not chic?, ?out of the loop?, if you do not do the latter. In the media these days, images of women seem to involve the skimpiest of clothing, in the wildest of poses, making you think they are selling ripped Jeans or themselves, only to find after reading the small print that they are selling watches. For a person tuned into the media 24/7, most of life would seem to depend on the superficial. Certainly one cannot watch most Indian movies without being nauseated with the hero?s ode to love simply because he saw the most beautiful woman a few minutes ago. Watching television doesn?t help either, with the barrage of images of women prancing around in shorter and shorter shorts. The problem is not so much with the lack of modesty but with the sheer onslaught of provocative images of women presented, dressed with the idea that less is more and armed with the notion that the only way to get a man?s attention is by wearing the least. Surely there are other ways of getting a man?s attention without resorting to overt sexuality?? Maybe not if you watch too much television. And maybe not if you are a passerby. At some point the line between life and art blurs and it becomes hard to tell what is imitating what. However, it is clear that both life and art are in sync.
On the other extreme end of this issue, is the idea that a woman?s sexuality is so infinitely disturbing and tempting that it needs to be protected and shielded from the gaze of a man. The presumption of lust and sin behind a look and the presumption of the omnipotence of sexuality which is able to override clarity and morality is predominantly factored in the antidote. The proponents of this sort of solution would by its very logic seek to wonder about the character of a woman who chooses to wear a sleeveless blouse and a skirt slightly above the knees, a woman who chooses by the mode of her dress to draw attention to her curves rather than her inner ethereal qualities. Can this woman then still be considered chaste, modest and pure??
The world would indeed be a boring place if every woman was told to dress like Mother Teresa, but at the same time it would also be a very tiresome place if everyone was told to dress like Sleazy Susan. The non-stop emphasis on all things superficial appears hollow and crass for anyone with a discerning mind while the absolute repression of all things superficial would mean a life without colour and Joie de Vivre as the French would say. As with every issue in life, this one is no different. Somewhere between the two extremes is a happy medium that is ours to find and express freely. A medium that is hopefully not stymied by dogmas or vogues and one that does not have us appearing wantonly provocative or transparently asexual. Unless this is what we want.
That then is our choice to make.
Author: Tanya Pinto- Canada