What about victims of the cult of impossible femininity?

By Katharine Cukier | Published September 20 by The Montreal Gazette

The Charter of Values plans to eliminate the personal display of religious symbols from the Quebec  public service. Apparently, this is necessary to confirm the secular neutrality of our state. Further, as the current government posters in the Metro suggest, this is a vital gesture to promote the ‘sacred’ equality of women and men.

We are not naïve.  We all understand that the Muslim woman’s head covering, the hijab, is the particular target of the PQ’s action, and it is this particular piece of cloth that has been generating a panic, both ethnocentric and islamaphobic for a number of years.  For many, the head scarf has become the preeminent sign of female submissiveness. And even if these devout women claim it is their choice to follow the dress code of piety, we are convinced that there is some bullying, bearded father or brother forcing them to do it. And, well, we just don’t like it.

I am for consistency, especially from the neutral, rational state, and if we want to be consistent and indeed rid the public service of symbols of female submission, I would argue that not only should Muslim woman remove their scarves, but all female public servants to whom the following applies should be obliged to remove their breast implants, spike heels, false eyelashes and the botulism they have had injected into their faces. They should be forbidden from dying their hair, wearing makeup and tight clothing to their public service jobs as these adornments suggest individual choices that are powerfully at odds with our progressive, egalitarian society. No more pretty, kindergarden teachers with plunging necklines and girly manicures. No more crown prosecutors in short skirts and lipstick. If we really believe that our secular, non-patriarchal state can be compromised by what women wear,  public servants who have been indoctrinated since birth by a barrage of media sexism to submit to a feminine ideal brought to you by Hugh Hefner or Walt Disney should be brought to heel. Flat heels of course. Ladies, you wear flat, comfortable shoes, or you lose your job.

We know these unfortunate women are victims of the cult of impossible femininity with its sacraments of fashion and narcissism and its flipside: a generalised self-loathing instilled from an early age by the manipulative, misogynist gods of media and consumer culture and their ubiquitous propaganda. These fashion-diet victims live in terror of the carbohydrate and the body hair that creeps into the wrong places. They regularly submit to the self-mortifications of fad diets and ritualised waxing or shaving of their – well you know where.  They all will claim it is their choice, that they are liberated like that freedom fighter Miley Cyrus to express themselves, but I am convinced there is some greedy, leering, male advertising executive in the background forcing them to do it. And well, I don’t like it.

In truth, I don’t really want to impose my dress-code of gender equality on women. I am weary of the conceal from men-reveal to men, imperatives of feminine dress codes whether of eastern cover-it-up (read:  backward)or western take-it-off (read progressive) provenance.  It is still about who(he) is looking at whom(her).

The march to gender equality is still in progress. The advancement of women continues to be one of the most significant and let me say it, glorious, developments in human history. Many, many steps forward, and yes from time to time, a few back.  The most important achievement of gender equality is a commitment to treating women like they are adults, endowed with both reason and dignity. They are capable of making choices, even if those choices are influenced by cultural forces that some of us may disagree with. Persecuting pious Muslim women and excluding them from lucrative, stable employment in the government is a huge, ugly leap backwards. And I really don’t like it


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