Between Islam and going topless

THERE’S a women’s movement in the US which goes under the broad title of Top Freedom. These women are campaigning for the same rights to remove their top as men have.

I’ve browsed a couple of their sites on the internet (purely in the interest of journalistic investigation, of course) and I get the impression that they are not making much headway.

As for Ireland, I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard an Irishwoman make any remark on the situation, one way or another.

Isn’t that strange? The West is undergoing a period of Islamophobia around now. The first thing the denigrators of Islam usually bring up is “the way they treat their women”.

The infamous ‘burka’ is cited although most muslim women in the world don’t wear a burka. Of course, it’s fair to point out that Islamic societies do have a restrictive dress code for women.

But so do we. And for men too. In Ireland all forms of nudity are still illegal (even on your own property, if you can be seen from a public place).

Any woman going topless in Ireland is liable to be dragged in front of a judge and jury. Ditto for both men and women not wearing bottoms. (Look, if you can say ‘tops’ why can’t you say ‘bottoms’?)

Until twenty years ago it was common for women here to wear scarves over their heads going to mass. It was considered respectful. So let’s not kid ourselves that we’re so liberal and then adopt a holier-than-thou attitude to Islamic practice.

Many Islamic feminists actually regard wearing headscarves as a liberating device for women. From their point of view, the promiscuous way of life in the West has led to the commoditization of women. They point out that the fashion and beauty industries have used notions of female sexuality to imprison women. They’re right on that score.

Many parents here show their agreement with this approach when they approve school uniforms for kids on the grounds of protecting them from the ravages of the fashion media. It’s just a different form of cover.

Isn’t there something downright rotten when you see music videos with suggestively gyrating, scantily-clad young women aimed at the eight-year-old girl market? There’s not much to celebrate in that particular form of liberation.

All societies, Islamic and Western, are still struggling to come to terms with human sexuality.

Should prostitution be legalised? How does homosexuality fit into society? How do we stop children being sexualised too early? And there are a hundred other questions which we haven’t answered yet.

Islamic societies are emerging from a hundred years of colonial repression, post independence dictatorship, a massive population explosion, economic stagnation and are facing huge cultural changes.

It is time for dialogue and understanding.

In the West, our last hundred years haven’t given us much to be precious about.