Sunday, 24 July 2011

What we wear is a personal choice. Simple as that.

Recently, the issue of what people should be allowed to wear has been raised in Australia, yet again.  The range of arguments are always based on some pre-conceived idea that one person knows better than another.  Frankly, I can't fathom why anyone would have the arrogance to impose their views on what people should look like.

The burka - it's the woman's choice - like any other dress code

On Q&A on Monday, muslim woman Susan Carland was asked her view on women covering their face.  Her response reflected a mature, balanced view.

" in the end I think a person or a woman should be able to choose how much of her body she shows to other people and if she wants to cover her face and she feels comfortable with that and the laws of our society say that she can, then get over it. You know, I might not feel comfortable looking at people with a face covered in tattoos and a Mohawk but that’s their prerogative. If they want to dress like that, then that’s my issue if I can’t deal with it.

So, Carland is saying that it's the responsibility of the person viewing the individual.

I don't like tattoos, but that's my problem

Like Susan Carland, I'm not a big fan of tattoos, and like her, I agree that is my issue.  I have nothing against Collingwood footballer Dayne Beams, or Miss Bombshell, with all of their ink.  Yes, of course it projects an image - and they are entitled to project that image, and dress their bodies in that way.

Who cares what Kate Ellis wears? Other women apparently

Kate Ellis in Grazia
Last year, Kate Ellis appeared in a fashion spread in Grazia magazine, and last month she appeared on the front cover of the Fairfax press Sunday Life section.  In both shoots, she was dressed in what would generally be called fashionable clothing - including tall heels.  Now Kate Ellis is the Minister for the Status of Women, her appearances in those magazines have attracted scores of comments - mainly critical.

Today's Sunday Life carried a follow up article on the controversy. Women had written in with comments such as "the wearing of super-high stiletto heels represents women as vain, attention-seeking, foolish and potential victims".

Really?? Kate Ellis responds in the article that she wears similar clothes to the office as she wore in the Sunday Life shoot.  So, because she is tall and attractive, women are imposing their own biases.  Again, it's their problem, not hers.

How many times do we need to say it - no woman is a "victim" because of what they wear.  Praise be the Slut Walks
Boston Slut Walk, May 2011

The more times we read comments that accuse women of being victims because of what they wear, the more respect we should all have for the Slut Walks. I've blogged about the issues of dress codes and the Slut Walks before, but the message isn't getting through.

When strong, intelligent women such as Kate Ellis are criticised for dressing as she does, women certainly need a strong voice to stand up for their rights.  Slut Walks are continuing around the world - in cities as diverse as Boston, Seoul and Delhi, and long may they continue.

People will judge you based on what you wear, but that's their problem.  Be who you want to be.

Let me know what you think

Mark S


  1. Hhmm I agree with most of what you said and your view has provided me with some concepts to go away and think about so well done. Three questions for (yes I know only three)
    1 security - should women have to remove clothing when requested for security and identity requirements?
    2 oppression how can we distinguish women who choose to cover their face bs those that are forced to by males?
    3 integration how do women that hide from others instill a community spirit
    Keep up the good work

  2. Hi undecided
    Here's my thoughts on your questions

    1 it's not just women who have to uncover for security purposes - motorbike riders need to remove face covering helmets as well in certain situations. My support for people's rights to wear what they want doesn't override police and security forces rights to do their job. When you get a passport the full face must be visible in the photo, and that's perfectly reasonable.

    2 we can best manage oppression by insisting that our own society is open and free. We are not Saudi nor should we be France. There will always be power used by people against other people, we can't stop that, but we can be aware of it and as a society we can rail against it.

    3 Prof Robert Putnam talks about two kinds of social capital: bonding and bridging. Some people choose to ignore the value of bridging capital by sticking with their own kind. This can apply to old school boys, immigrant groups whether from South Africa, Sudan, Vietnam or elsewhere, certain religious groups and many other cliques. Again, if we as a society embrace all of our diversity, over time people will feel safe to mix with others. Like the solidarity shown across all groups in Norway overnight, a steadfast commitment to an open society is powerful.