Hot under the collar over dress codes?

dress-codes.jpgThere have been some vigorous debates over dress codes lately but I have to ask, what would a universally acceptable dress code even look like? In some (sub)cultures full body coverings including face coverings are mandatory for all. In some (sub)cultures clothing is optional. Two extremes on a spectrum. In my own culture jeans and shirts are the norm, with bearing shoulders and midriff common in summer in informal settings. Head coverings are acceptable but face coverings of any sort are seen as subversive and banned in high security areas. Conversely, full nudity is also considered subversive but permitted in some, more isolated areas. Breast feeding in public is generally acceptable but discreetness while doing so is considered more polite than just lobbing them out. While some countries, such as France, are taking a draconian attitude towards one end of the spectrum, other countries, such as Saudi Arabia take an even more draconian attitude towards the other end of the spectrum. I expect most countries are at different points along that spectrum. I know this is an emotive topic, especially at the moment, but I always seek the bigger picture and what I see is that it may be very difficult to find somethings everyone agrees with. If we just say each to his own, let’s think of what that means. It means naked folk and 100% covered folk potentially occupying the same spaces and everyone being okay with that. The truth is most societies draw boundaries at some point. As an Aussie I’m comfortable where my society draws boundaries – tolerates most things but draws the line on 100% covering and 0% covering in select contexts. But I know I’d be a fool to universalise my expectations. What’s the answer though? I don’t know.

3 Comments

  1. The recent controversy in France is not so much about dress codes as it is about religious freedom. Secularism is a kind of civil religion in France, and secularists can be just as intolerant as the followers of any other religion when their religion is allied to state power. Those laws apply just as much to Christian or Buddhist monastics, Sikh tuban wearers, and perhaps Hindu loin-cloth wearers as they do to Muslim women. Fortunately a higher court has found such laws to be ultra vires, so they can be scrapped.
    In Western culture there is, of course, the stereotype of the masked bandit, so people who cover their faces must be up to no good. But there is also the tradition of the masked ball, and there are people who wear celebrity masks in public, which cover their faces and make them look like someone else. Are those illegal or frowned upon in Australia? And don’t American kids wear masks at Hallowe’en?

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  2. Oh, I agree that it’s about religious freedom and that atheists, of which France has many, often interpret secularism in terms that are as religiously oppressive as any theocracy rather than in terms of pluralistic coexistence. I also agree it’s good the French courts have overturned the ban. It does raise a broader question though. People often react to these things in a knee jerk way without considering the bigger picture. For me, since much of commentary generated is international in nature, it should involve clarification of what is internationally acceptable across the board and what is not. For instance, are the religious folk complaining this, Mulsim included, prepared to protest the forced wearing of head coverings in places like Iraq. In short are people fighting not for religious freedom for all religions or just their own? If we’re going to work together then it’s import that our protests are as non-discriminatory as our stated aims. Lack of consistency will be pounced on. As for Halloween, it’s not big here is Australia but consider that face coverings do play a part in this festival precisely because it’s a playful take on people’s fears and anxieties. Face coverings are seen as subversive in counties like ours. But let’s remember this ban wasn’t specifically related to face coverings but the much broader practice of hair coverings and religious symbolism in public spaces. In that I agree the ban was excessive. But if for instance it was talking about face coverings alone, well, I actually think that is socially unacceptable. We all draw lines somewhere. Obviously there are people in France that would draw it in different places to me. Obviously there are people in Iraq that would draw it in different places to me. We need to be careful we’re not being self contradictory by arguing cultural relativism on the one hand and internationally criticising some cultures for their decisions on the other. I’d like to a see a more logically consistent approach to religious freedom be developed.

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  3. Well I blogged about it here (with a link to your post) What should we wear? | Notes from underground.
    I suppose that my own response is mainly to those calls on Facebook for the banning of various items of Muslim clothing, with an exhortation to “share if you agree”. I don’t agree, because infringing the rights of other religions legitimises the infringement of my own. Sauce, goose, gander and all that. That is why I p[refer a secular (not secularist) form of state and society.

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