Well, did I speak too soon to characterize October 2006 as the month of the women?
To veil or not to veil has a new wrinkle after the most senior Muslim cleric in Australia, Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali, warned that women who don't cover themselves with hijabs are asking for violence against themselves.
While not specifically referring to the rapes, brutal attacks on four women for which a group of young Lebanese men received long jail sentences, Sheik Hilali said there were women who "sway suggestively" and wore make-up and immodest dress ... "and then you get a judge without mercy (rahma) and gives you 65 years".
"But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" he asked.
According to the cleric, the problem lies with women who dress and act provocatively, and, "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred." After a translation of the comments, actually made a month ago during a ceremony marking the beginning of Ramadan, appeared in several Australian newspapers yesterday, Sheikh Taj Aldin al Hilali apologised for any offence he might have caused. The world, of course, remains outraged, and the cleric's comments made it to the top stories of Google and Yahoo today.
Lest we should mistake this to be yet another example of Islamic extremism, let's remind ourselves that blaming the victim, when it comes to women's issues, is not a prerogative of Muslims. Here is a vintage gem from the famous Dear Abby column that appeared in the Oregonian, extracted from Christian and Un-Christian Dress by D. G. Hunt [emphasis mine]:
My 19-year-old son has been dating a beautiful 17-year-old girl, yesterday he brought her over here and she was wearing the briefest of shorts and only one of those old-time red 'kerchiefs tied around her top. I was shocked to think a mother would let her daughter go out looking like that. The next day the girl's mother called me and told me that her daughter never had such a “roughing up” in her life. And for me to tell my son never to come over there again.
Abby, don't you think that when a girl goes around like that she is asking for trouble? I'm not making up excuses for my son, but he is only human.
Signed, A MOTHER.
DEAR MOTHER: A young man who's had the proper moral upbringing would not go out with a girl who was not respectably clothed--much less “rough her up.” On the other hand, a mother who wants her daughter to be treated like a young lady should see that she dresses like one. It's always the peach that is easy to reach that winds up in the jam.
If you thought that things have changed much in the Christendom since the fifties, check this 2003 reader favorite from the Ladies Against Feminism for answers to questions that every woman wants to but may be afraid to ask, "How much can I get away with before it is considered sin? How many articles of clothing may I shed before it's considered wrong? How tight is too tight? How short is too short? How low is too low?".
Lest the South Asian women should dress in what the angels fear to dress in, the Anna University in Chennai, India, imposed a dress code last year on women students, prohibiting T-shirts/sleeveless/tight-fitting/revealing outfits. "We are only trying to ensure that students dress decently and modestly, in a way that befits our culture. A dress code will also pre-empt harassment of women students," explained Dr. Viswanathan, the Vice-Chancellor of the University. To prove that he was not a misogynist, the VC announced that even men students would not be allowed to wear T-shirts or jeans! What should they wear, transparent dhotis and shawls?
I bet that Dr. Viswanathan was unaware of the infamous jeans alibi for rape.
In 1999, Italy's male-dominated appeals court overturned the conviction of 45-year-old driving instructor Carmine Cristiano, who had been sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for raping an 18-year-old student.
The appeals court agreed with Cristiano's claim that the woman had consented to sex, because she was wearing jeans at the time.
"It is common knowledge ... that jeans cannot even be partly removed without the effective help of the person wearing them ... and it is impossible if the victim is struggling with all her might," the court said.
Wouldn't you agree that jeans is a better defence against rape than the traditional sarees and salwar kameezes worn by Indian women? Of course, for the Anna University women, it's damned if you wore jeans and damned if you didn't.