Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lady Mary Wortley Montague

Lady Montagu was a feminist figure born in 1689. She was a “colorful woman,” and acted as a free spirit. She did as she wished and did not fall victim to society’s rules and expectations. She refused to accept her father’s arranged marriage and instead eloped with Edward Montagu. Despite having chosen to marry Edward their relationship became “merely formal and impersonal” by the time they moved to Turkey. They had two children together, a son and a daughter.
While in Turkey, Lady Montagu truly fell in love with the society. She envied the freedom of women, and the colorful wardrobe and lavish accessories. She spent a lot of her time writing about the style of women in Turkey and their amazing clothing which contrasted with the grayscale style of England. Lady Montagu adopted the Turkey style of clothing and even brought some of it home with her to England. When she gave birth to her daughter in Turkey she said that the experience was very different to her previous birth to her son in England. She felt that it was much less formal and not, “half as mortifying”. She even commented on the fact that only a month after giving birth to her daughter she was allowed to embark on a shopping excursion and actually wander the streets. Lady Montagu also had a few of her own lovers while remaining married to Edward, and this is most likely due to the fact that divorcing was not and common occurrence back then and was more of a hassle then it was worth.
I found the turkish baths to be the most interesting portion of Lady Montagu’s letters. She described them in such vivid details that it felt as though I was there with her. The thought of escaping the hot sun into a cool room made of marble and stone with cold water flowing throughout baths is a summer dream. I thought it was amazing how free the women were when they were in the bagnios. Her comment on the fact that there was no class or social hierarchy because all of the women were naked and therefore there was nothing to place one woman over another was extremely intriguing to me. It’s amazing how much clothing and jewelry has an effect on social class, and that is true today as well. Especially at Govs you can look around the dining hall and immediately know who may be a member of the upper class and who may not be as fortunate. What we wear also has a large impact on perceptions and impressions. If you dress nicely, wear makeup everyday, style your hair in the mornings, hide your wrists in expensive bracelets, and wear the newly trending clothing there is a different perception of your class and of you in general. It is not necessarily that there is a negative view of people who do not do those things, but rather that the people who do often have a different view among others. This is a bit of a generalization, and not all people view what you wear as a signal of class, but I think it is fair to say that a lot of people, even at govs, focus on dressing to society’s standards and “impressing others”.
At first I was very confused by the concept that the women in turkey, and women in general that were described by the articles, were more free when they wore a veil. I have always perceived the veil as an enforcement by men in Islamic countries, but after reading the articles I have learned that it is often a choice. Today when we talk about women’s rights and discuss clothing we often talk about why can’t women wear less clothing: why is wearing spandex around campus or working out in a sports bra not allowed while males are allowed to wear a strip of cloth that covers a sliver of their stomach and just enough of their backs to still show off their muscles? I never hear anyone, including myself, talk about the idea of wearing more as an expression of freedom. Yet after talking about it with Ms. Hammovit it has started to make sense to me.
She was asking for it. Did you see what that girls wearing. What a slut. All she wants to do is show off her butt for the guys.
These are phrases that are thrown around our campus, and most likely the majority of campuses across the country, regarding girls and what they wear and how they present themselves. The fact that as a woman every piece of clothing and every outfit is ridiculed and judged is crazy. A guy shows up to school wearing blue khakis and a blue quarter zip or the same khaki pants and sweatshirt he wears every single day and that is normal. No one ever comments on style choices of men or says that because he wears tight pants or a cut off shirt to the gym he is asking to be raped or he is a manwhore for dressing like that. That thought doesn’t exist in our society. If a girl wears a low cut shirt to school the immediate thought is how desperate she is and that she is just asking for attention from guys. When I began thinking about all of this I realized that the “freedom” that the veil creates is the removal of judgement, shame, and objectification of women for what they wear. If everyone in society wears a loose garb fabric that hides the shapes of their body and a veil that covers everything but their eyes then what is their to judge. What can you objectify about that women. All you see is a body hidden by clothing. And that is wear the freedom is created. No man or woman can judge or objectify a woman who blends into a population of women all wearing the same loose clothing. You have the freedom to act and do as you wish in public without the fear of being judged or cat called or called names or shunned. So even though the wearing of the veil is a religious tradition, I have also learned that it is a choice. I understand why there is such an outrage at the banning of veils and I agree with those people. How can a country ban a wardrobe. How can society strip women, and only women, of their right to wear what they want. I think it is also wrong to require all women in a society to wear a veil or to wear a specific wardrobe, but the idea of making it illegal for a woman to wear what makes her comfortable or more confident in public is crazy to me.
I wanted to know more about the banning of veils and why so many countries were now considering enforcing a ban on them. I find it incredible that so many people would choose to strip the rights of women without valid reason, but I also recognize the fact that I do not know everything there is to know about this topic and that is why this portion of the lecture caught my attention.
Shaista Gohir, the chair of Muslim Women’s Network UK, states that “Women and girls should not be pressured to conform.” She says that they should have the right to choose what they wear and should not be forced to conform to the western culture and style of dress. She also acknowledges the fact that in some cases, “for security reasons,” to “verify identity”, and in some classrooms it may be important for women to unveil. I completely agree with this statement. If in a courtroom and woman is giving testimony but is fully covered and all that can be seen is her eyes, then it may be necessary for her to remove her veil in order to verify her identity. There are ways to do this without creating a law making veils illegal. Shaista also says that a lot of Muslim women do not wear the face veil since it is not a religious obligation and she assumes that a lot of the women that do choose to wear it would be willing to remove it under necessary circumstances. Another point of view from Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, says that, “In a liberal democracy, as we claim we are, everybody should be free how to dress and how to practice their faith.” His point is that in a democracy we should not be dictating what people are wearing and discriminating against people who choose to wear and less revealing wardrobe that hides their face. An interesting perspective from Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders in the UK, says that in schools it may be more important for students to show their full faces, but he also says that this decision on dress code rules regarding veils should be up to individual school heads who know their students and their communities and can make a more educated decision than the central government can. The last viewpoint that I found interesting was from Stephen Evans, a member of the National Secular Society, who stated that, “There are understandable and legitimate concerns about the wearing of the burka or niqab, particularly regarding what it symbolises, its role in the subjugation of women and its potential to hinder a woman's ability to communicate and integrate within civil society.” I think that this point of view may be a misconception. There are women who may be forced to wear the burka or niqab, but as we saw in the articles it is mostly a choice and it is one that actually increases a woman’s ability to, “communicate and integrate within civil society”. I think that this is the exact reason why it needs to be a choice. A man who is a member of a secular society, or the chair of Muslim Women’s network UK, or a group of 18 year olds at a private school can’t speak for each individual woman that wears a burka or niqab or veil of some type. That is the issue and that is why it needs to be up to each woman to decide. No woman should be forced to wear something she does not want to nor should a woman be banned from wearing something that she feels protects her and that makes her feel more comfortable in society.

Quotes regarding different perspectives: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24106142

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