Rafe: How it became offensive for women to wear too much clothing

Photo: Flickr CC Licence / Flood G
Photo: Flickr CC Licence / Flood G

Yes, yes, yes, I know, Mr. Editor, we’re in the last stretch before the last stretch just before a big, real last stretch going into next May’s election and I should be thinking wall-to-wall BC politics. Well, sir, I’m not going to do that today, for a couple reasons.

I have commented till hell won’t have it on the incompetence of the premier and her quasi-government. I have said plenty, for the nonce, on the invisibility of the Opposition and, surely, all that needs saying about the pathetic display of a Green Party many of us expected much more of.

Don’t take from this that I’m having an exotic boozy blast on Capri  – it’s just that I need a little time to see how some of these issues settle out in real terms.

Besides, I’m overwhelmed by the international concern about what women should wear, where not long ago the issue was whether women wore any clothes at all.

It’s not that fashion has not been of interest going back to the famous fig leaf. We may not be quite sure what  Elizabeth I looked like throughout her life but know what she wore. Literature is replete with descriptions of clothing or lack of it and fashion magazines for both men and women abound and are expensive. It’s very hard to believe that any aspect of clothing or unclothing has not been dealt with by society and that which is deemed by it to be immoral or truly harmful dealt with by the criminal law. For a criminal action to be taken, there must be an evil needing correction, otherwise there is no point.

Well, the Criminal Code, whose encodement started 125 years ago and has never stopped, with 28 parts, nearly 900 sections has not a peep about women’s clothing styles.

In recent years the criminal code has spent almost no time on the lack of clothes because since Hugh Hefner, Playboy, topless waitresses, bottomless dancers, the naked female body in all its contortions has gone from being sexy and seductive to about as provocative a litter of cats. There was a time not long ago when a Vancouver city councillor set her hair on fire over nude people at Wreck Beach (where I skinny-dipped as boy – now there was a sight!) but that’s no longer an issue. In short, dear friends, if you want to see naked females, that poses no problem – just take a Sunday drive. We even have just the beach for you here in sedate old Lions Bay.

Suddenly it’s not lack of clothes that’s the issue but the wearing of them. It seems that from the neck down, where the private parts are located, no one cares, but all hell breaks loose when the woman puts clothes on north of the larynx. It’s a big deal, apparently, if a woman wears anything that covers her face and head, especially if the item is black.

Now, by an amazing coincidence, it’s an even bigger deal if  the lady happens to be Muslim. No one has yet tested a Catholic or Anglican or Jew or follower of Zoroaster on this point, I suppose because this attire is not fashionable with them. I should add that in the days when Catholic and Anglican nuns wore “habits”, clothing that covered the face although not the eyes, no one seemed to complain. It was clothing based upon religious belief but, of course, that was different.

Wasn’t it?

Now we mind a great deal but it’s excess clothing that’s such a problem on the Riviera, with women in black swimsuits that cover every square centimeter. The once-mighty nation of France, home of the Folies Bergere, the Can-Can and famous the world over for its volume and variety of hooker, banned wearing this kind of swimming suit, called the Burkini, not for offending morals but flaunting Islam. The court just threw out this law.

Even in usually rather temperate countries like Canada, rage rises at the sight of women in black from the neck up, even – nay, especially – if it happens to have a scarf involved. But it really hits the fan when the woman wears a veil covering her eyes. This to some is an egregious abuse of those who happen to see her and should require the utmost penalty the nation can impose. (Of course there would be an exception made for Christian women getting married, attending a baptism or Easter Sunday Services).

I mean that’s different!

Isn’t it?

There are a many reasons given as to why this outfit is so serious – it’s not our way of life; it’s not how we do things; I want to see the face of the person I am talking to; it’s a symbol of men’s domination over women…and then the lesser reasons come out.

Now, Canada is a country of amazing coincidences and by an amazing coincidence, the only women who habitually wear veils along with the other black headgear happen to be Muslims and, as we all know, Muslims are terrorists, and would cheerfully murder all white Christians in their sleep.

If one has a sensitive memory about things like this, one is taken back about 15 years or so to that deadly serious issue as to whether or not a man wearing a turban in a Legion was insulting the queen by wearing a hat. It took a while but somehow we got over that.

The argument that the outfit symbolizes male domination is troubling but scarcely unanimous. And while this is a legitimate concern of some Canadians, as is the question of female priests, married priests, and gay marriage as a sacrament, it is not a question for the Parliament of Canada, as the Supreme Court has been trying to tell it.

But let’s bring this mercifully to an end. I have an opinion and I really don’t care if no one in the world agrees.

I think it is all racist bullshit. I couldn’t care less what a woman wears anywhere on her body except as a matter of good or bad fashion or, put another way, sexual attractiveness. If she wishes to wear orange and green hair covered by a baseball cap, even a Blue Jays one, to church with a fake moustache and beard, I would consider that to be distinctly unfashionable but I certainly won’t feel threatened by it.

If people demand to see the eyes of those they speak to, then they should not speak to women wearing a veil.

If they object to women wearing dark facial covering and dark scarves, they should simply walk away, as they would from someone wearing a clown suit top only.

To those of you whom I have insulted and who feel very strongly that they have God and righteousness on their side, as far as I’m concerned – pooh.

I don’t believe you for one moment, nor do I think you believe it yourself. You just don’t like people from certain other religions or traditions displaying that fact. If First Nations folks came to your church next Sunday wearing feathered headdress and deerskin trousers you wouldn’t raise a peep because it’s not fashionable to say unkind things about them, nor should it be. It is very fashionable, however, in some circles to be very unkind to Muslims and instantly link them to violence. It’s the politics of Trump and Palin and I want no part of it.

You can hate me for this view but, in the words of Rhett Butler, “frankly, I don’t give a damn”. You should all give your heads a shake and redirect your anger at social problems, poverty, homelessness, that need attention in this country of plenty.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

15 thoughts on “Rafe: How it became offensive for women to wear too much clothing

  1. Didn’t facial recognition used to be an important means of identification…for whatever purpose? That’s what I recall. I guess I’m just too damn old to understand. Sorry. Sometimes dementia does that to you.

  2. Diane – of course it’s not my business what she wears in any legal or social sense. I thought that was what I was saying; but clothes have been used by both sexes since Adam and Eve which is what fashions, or the absence of them is all about.,Again, both sexes collectively spend a hell,of a lot of money using clothes as sex messages. Dealing just with women, are you saying that if one spends a lot of time, money, and effort to look attractive to men the men have no right to be attracted? Mind you Diane, I’m just going on memory now but 50 years ago woman didn’t mind their clothes being looked at!
    But let’s get serious. It is none of my business what women wear – indeed that’s the point of the article but that’s a very long way from the right to look at a woman’s clothes and pass judgment, on the basis of sex and vive la difference on how they look just as women do with men. Apples and oranges Diane – at least that’s how I remember it,

  3. I feel uncomfortable having a conversation with someone wearing sunglasses, especially indoors. If I can, any interaction with them will involve monosyllabic responses until they take off their sunglasses. I rarely see a woman wearing a burka and I am sure I would feel equally ‘at sea’ interacting with one as I feel ‘at sea’ interacting with anyone whose eyes are hidden from me.

  4. Oh dear, Rafe – you were doing so well up to the point where even you had to impose your view of what women should wear: “I couldn’t care less what a woman wears anywhere on her body except as a matter of good or bad fashion or, put another way, sexual attractiveness.”

    Pray tell, who defines ‘good’ or ‘bad’ fashion? You’re old enough to have seen lots of changes in this department and be aware that it’s all about consumerism.

    Unfortunately you didn’t stop there (and here’s where the patriarchy really shines through) you waded into the quicksand of ‘sexual attractiveness’. It is true that men have been taught to interpret clothes that women wear as being sexually attractive or not and they tend to base their behaviour towards women on these assumptions.

    But the bottom line is it is absolutely none of your business what a woman chooses to wear, period.

    1. Most women (not you it seems), like to know that the gender they are attracted to find them to be attractive in their particular choice of clothing for that social exchange.

      I have rarely met a woman who didn’t like to be told she was beautiful, or pretty, or sexy, or looks great. I have rarely met a man who didn’t like to hear similar things from his female counterparts (handsome, nice suit, smell good, you know what I mean). Most human beings like to be complimented on a surface issue such as appearance.

      There is nothing wrong with that Diane in the eyes of most people. It is not degrading (unless it is done that way which is a whole other topic).

      This Burkini deal in France was bizarre to me. I mean, a nun can walk around with her head completely covered, clothing right down to the ground. You see her hands and her face.. no problem….. a Muslim woman wears this on a beach and you can see a hand and a face… and somehow this needs to banned.

      It’s pure racism.

      When our society ever gets beyond worrying what people wear, or what gender someone falls in love with , or what toilet people want to do their business in, maybe we have a chance at a better world. Religion is the worst invention of human kind and continues to be the root of so much of our problems today.

    2. Well, unless someone is firefighting or bee keeping……..

      They usually wear clothes that a) are comfortable and b) make them look presentable for walking about ( god forbid I suggest that sexist, demeaning, condesending male domineering slur….”nice”).
      As far as “good or bad fashion” …..well that is an endless debate that will never be resolved.
      Patriarchy? Men are “taught to interpret clothes that women wear are sexually attractive or not”
      Please…..your “objectivity” in the debate is slipping..
      Taught by whom? Fashion designers and media advertising over the past 150 years aiming their products directly at women?
      And, of course, thats “every man” who ever looked at you clothes… fault?
      Seems the “brainwashing” swings both ways doesnt it?.
      Unless I’m mistaken.
      Women dont spend billions of dollars every year on clothing, shoes, makeup, hair……. to look “ugly”( sorry there’s that judgemental male “opinion” again).
      However ALL people do succeed(or fail) at poor clothing choices.
      . Do I want to see morbidly obese people dressed comfortably in lululemon spandex? Absolutely not. Do I want to see incredibaly fit people wearing muscle shirts with their hairy armpits in my face at the mall? Absolutely not. Do I want to see someone in a full length hijab at the beach? Not particularly.
      But, as Rafe pointed out.
      Its really none of my ,or the govts, business what you wear.
      If you feel comfortable and are happy with what you’re wearing….you go girl.

      Just dont expect other people to always like, or accept it because its politically correct and the Courts rule it as legal…..
      You can legislate what ever you want into Law. Doesnt mean the public will agree with it.

      And that is one pudgy, sexist, untattoo’ed, Levi pants, collared shirt wearing man’s opinion


  5. Oh, spot on, old fella! If they want to get their knickers in a twist let them go all sound and fury over these guys who wear their pants so low the crack of their ass shows.
    As for a symbol of male domination over women… may I point to high heeled shoes? They put the pelvis at an awkward tilt, cram the feet forward and squish the toes and cause a fore shortening of the Achilles tendon. And they look stupid.
    The burkini furor is racism, and it’s bullying. So easy to terrorize a woman on a beach and force her to remove some of her clothing… they should be charged with criminal and sexual assault.
    Good on you for writing this article.

    1. Oh Anne, yes yes yes!!

      Did you know that the Cannes Festival ordains that no female may attend certain of its events unless said email has subjected her feet to the torture devices know as high heels? No quarter given for handicapped feet, the elderly, or feminists, and if a woman is being honoured she nevertheless has to comply with this draconian footwear requirement. Liberte be damned!

      Yes, the French are such an advanced society that they view untprtured feet as an affront to fashion, and a clothed body at the beach as an affront to secularism. Viva la revolution!

      1. Really? The Cannes Film festival eh?
        Land of the uber rich, famous and beautiful….for one week a year.
        I’ll be sure to check out the footwear next time I’m on the runway in Cannes with Scarlette Johannsen and get back to you.
        If I see any elderly grannies in Dr Scholls I’ll be sure to have the fashion police tackle them and send them packing…..damndable Trotskites….should have imprisoned them in Vietnamese Nike shoe factories when we had the chance………..
        I dare say 99.9999% of the average female footwearing public will never have to go through the shame and humiliation of being told they “cant wear THOSE shoes” in Cannes……
        The horror.
        This is Vancouver and this is what makes us “bleed”

  6. Well said Rafe, and timely considering the efforts to demonize Muslim women at every turn.

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