And Mahdy believes that strict modesty expectations in Egypt help to create “a society where women are nothing but sex objects harassed on a daily basis by men who know nothing about sex or the importance of a woman.”
But how could modesty objectify? Consider the most extreme example:
Women who live in Taliban-controlled provinces of Afghanistan are expected to cover themselves head to toe with mesh across their eyes. There, a woman’s ankle is thought incredibly sexual, as are her arms and face and eyes and hair. Every part of her body becomes sexualized through extreme modesty.
But the entire body needn’t be covered for this surprising effect to arise. One young Christian woman found that less radical modesty objectified her, too:
Modesty taught me that what I looked like was what mattered most of all. Not what I thought. Not how I felt. Not what I was capable of doing.
Modesty made me objectify myself. I was so aware of my own potential desirability at all times that I lost all other ways of defining myself.
Supposedly women should be modest to protect themselves from rape or sexual harassment. Yet “immodest dress” does not force men to rape. And sexual-harassment runs rampant in places where women are fully covered.
Rebecca Chiao tracks sexual harassment and assault in Egypt where she says both are ubiquitous, "Every time you walk out of the house, you are under attack – physically and verbally," she says. "The reports we get are graphic and angry."
And as reported in The Guardian:
In a 2008 survey, 83% of women reported having been sexually harassed. Almost three-quarters of Egyptian women who said they had been harassed were veiled and 98% of foreigners said they had been intimidated or groped.
Sexual harassment is a big problem in Afghanistan too, a place where women couldn’t be more covered. Last July Afghan women marched against the widespread harassment women face there. Noorjahan Akbar, who organized the protest said:
Every woman I know, whether she wears a burqa or simply dresses conservatively, has told me stories of being harassed in Afghanistan. The harassment ranges from comments on appearance to groping and pushing. Even my mother, who is a 40-plus teacher always dressed in her school uniform, arrives home upset almost every day because of the disgusting comments she receives.
These women are sexually harassed despite modesty. But then, the puritanical focus seems to actually define women primarily as sexual beings.
Meanwhile, when women work to broaden themselves, punishment may be administered via a convenient – and hypocritical – appeal to the honor of virginity which modesty supposedly guards.
At one point Egypt’s military sought to suppress women’s voices and power by stripping activists of their clothing and performing "virginity tests" by which two fingers were inserted into their vaginas. Sexual assault parading as a test of "honor"! Yet this brutality was really a tactic to humiliate and silence, observed Mona Eltahawy of The Guardian.
Women journalists are clear models of empowerment so it’s no surprise that they are under attack. So much so that Reporters Sans Frontieres recommended media stop sending female journalists to cover Egypt after two high profile sexual assaults.
No wonder nudity and sexuality arise as political protest in this atmosphere. Eltahawy of The Guardian continues:
When a woman is the sum total of her headscarf and hymen – that is, what's on her head and what is between her legs – then nakedness and sex become weapons of political resistance.
Modesty isn’t itself a problem. Many women choose modesty for reasons they find meaningful and significant. Modesty becomes a problem when an obsessive focus on women as sex lies behind it.
Originally posted on BroadBlogs
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