Freedom, More or Less
I was intrigued this morning by an article from O, the Oprah Magazine which asked “Bikini or headscarf — which offers more freedom?” I was raised in England and Canada and my western brain immediately answered “not the head scarf”. But as I read through the article – one woman’s account of her daughter’s choice to cover up – I realized that it is a lot more complicated than I originally thought.
In the article author, Krista Bremer, speaks of her own childhood in California – full of beaches and bikinis and surfing – and her hesitation and surprise when her daughter, who’s father is Muslim, asked to be allowed to wear a head scarf. Bremer’s first reaction was similar to mine. What woman would choose to cover up? What mother would send her daughter running for cover?
What’s the sense in covering up?
But bikinis don’t come without strings either. In the article Bremer recalls her own first experience wearing one. She writes:
I felt as raw and exposed as a turtle stripped of its shell. And when I left the bathroom, the stares of men seemed to pin me in one spot even as I walked by.
In spite of a strange and mounting sense of shame, I was riveted by their smirking faces; in their suggestive expressions I thought I glimpsed some vital clue to the mystery of myself. What did these men see in me — what was this strange power surging between us, this rapidly shifting current that one moment made me feel powerful and the next unspeakably vulnerable?
There is a sense of power in turning heads, but there is another side to that power as well. It’s a heady combination to balance – for young girls and grown women alike. There’s a danger that we’ll learn to see ourselves only as others see us, that we’ll lose our ability to see our own worth unless it is reflected back to us.
The safety of choices
I was reminded of a passage in Greg Mortenson’s brilliant book Three Cups of Tea. In one of the later chapters he recounts a conversation with one of the girls from the village school he built now studying nursing in the university. At first Mortenson is shocked to see this modern Afghan woman wearing a full traditional hajib even though the regime that once required it was no longer in power.
He asks her why she would do that to herself, and her answer is simple and profound. “I feel safer this way,” she tells him. “I can walk around the city freely and no man approaches me. They know I am a good woman.” It’s strange to think that there can be freedom in something that seems restrictive, but part of the freedom of being able to choose is having the option to say “no thank you.”
We know, deep down, that many kinds of entrapment masquerade as freedom. Zero down payment mortgages, casual sex and even the fast food joints that are always available can seem like freedom but they’re not always such a great idea. Sometimes having the choice does not help us choose wisely. We love the idea of freedom, it sounds so effortless. But living in freedom still requires that we make choices and in doing so, choose wisely.
There is verse in the Bible, in Corinthians that says “You say, “I am allowed to do anything” — but not everything is good for you.” This is the work of freedom. Like parents who must choose what is best for their child as adults we have to choose as well. There is a whole world of possibilities, and most have consequences. How we choose determines how we live.
How do you exercise your freedom? Would you let your daughter cover her head if she wanted to? Would you let her wear a bikini?
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