Behind the Veil

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Women and their head coverings have been much in the news lately. There have been alternating praise and criticism for Melania and Ivanka Trump, for instance, for their sartorial choices on their recent Mideast trip with the president.

Some found hypocrisy in the fact that the women refused to wear a hijab when in Saudi Arabia but were practically covered head to toe in black to meet the pope. Others cheered their spunk and refusal to bow to a hated Islamist ideology. Similar decisions to cover or not cover their heads have been the subject of criticism for other First Ladies, such as Michelle Obama.

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To all of this I have to ask, what’s the big deal? I am far more disturbed by the fact that President Trump said nothing about the dreadful state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia than whether the First Lady was making a pointed political statement by allowing her hair to be seen. On the other hand, such criticism might be seen as hypocritical coming from a man who does not seem to hold women in particularly high regard. Still, it’s all relative, and I hope that at least privately the president put pressure on Saudi Arabia to advance the rights of women as a condition for continuing to arm them to the teeth.

What I find most disturbing about the recent brouhaha over headwear for women is that society persists in judging every single thing about a woman’s choices, right down to her clothing and hair. It’s the 21st Century, and yet we’re still focused on women as ornaments, somehow not fully human. No one mused philosophically about what the color of Donald Trump’s tie or the cut of his suit might indicate about his beliefs or intentions.

Muslim women who choose to wear the veil do so for myriad reasons, most of them religious. Why that choice should be denigrated and looked upon as political is beyond me. The primary purpose in covering one’s head and chest seems to be modesty. What devout Christian would have a problem with women being modest? Yet because of terrorism and the need to demonize those who oppose us, Americans have taken a hostile stance against Muslim women in hijab.

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Years ago, there was a great TV series called Jack and Bobby. It was about two young brothers, one of whom would one day become the president of the United States. The boys’ mother, played by Christine Lahti, is a college professor, and she has a hostile exchange with a female student who wears the hijab. In a memorable scene, Lahti’s character attacks the woman for allowing herself to be controlled by a male-dominated culture. The young woman throws back her belief that American women are the ones being controlled by men’s need to see them as perfect physical specimens whose looks are constantly on display.

That exchange gave me pause back in the Nineties, and it sticks with me to this day. Women of all cultures should be free to dress and speak and act in whatever way they choose. And it should be their character, intelligence, and personal inner qualities that are focused on, not their clothing, their hair, their modesty, or the lack thereof.

The real veil women are often required to hide behind is the metaphorical one imposed by a society that still does not see them as equal to men. Until we address that reality, what a woman does or does not wear on her head makes very little difference at all.

March in Like a Lion

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I have seen them called ReSISTERS. They are gathering across the country and even around the world. Many of them will be donning knitted pink “pussyhats” or “Nasty Woman” t-shirts. They are women from all different walks of life, ethnicities, and religions. Some are men! They are marching in solidarity against our newly elected president, Donald Trump and his politics of hate.

The Women’s March on Washington is expected to be one of the biggest demonstrations in our history. Here in Chicago, the venue for the march has changed as the number of women participating has grown.

Critics will say that marching does little to change the direction of government or the country. I disagree. The famed civil rights marches of the Fifties and Sixties helped abolish discriminatory Jim Crow laws and policies that kept blacks down. Protests against the Vietnam War turned the tide on our involvement in that terrible conflict. Now women are gathering to say, “No. We will not just ‘get over it.'” President Trump needs to know we have the numbers and the will to resist policies that discriminate and divide. He needs to see that he cannot broadcast his deep disrespect for women without consequence.

I know a number of women who will be marching in Washington, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Some are relatives; some are friends. Even a young Chicago bride-to-be decided to have her bachelorette party at the Washington march, according to the Chicago Tribune. I admire the commitment these women have made to be heard and seen and to let those in power know that half the U.S. population will not tolerate an assault on their rights.

To me it’s sad that 240 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, we still have not seen a woman become president of the United States. The equality for all enshrined in that document and in our Constitution still seems like a dream to be grasped for many marginalized groups. But the women’s marches taking place today give me hope that Americans will continue to demand just treatment for all people.

My hope and prayer is that the marches will take place peacefully, that marchers will return home safely, and that their actions today reignite the women’s movement in our country.

 

 

 

Hobby Lobby Decision an Assault on Women’s Rights

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It’s time to resurrect the ERA. Are you old enough to remember the unsuccessful push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the Seventies and Eighties? I was young and idealistic in those days and fervently supported passage of the amendment to the US Constitution. Looking back, I realize that sporting shorts with “ERA NOW” plastered across my butt was probably not the best way to promote the cause.

Yet Monday’s Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby has convinced me that it’s time to enshrine women’s rights in the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby is within its rights to object to providing some aspects of the contraceptive coverage provision in its company health plan on religious grounds.  Mind you, Hobby Lobby was not being required to hand out the so-called “morning after pill” to employees. They were simply being required to provide health care coverage with which their employees could make their own PERSONAL health care decisions.

Conservatives are trying to downplay the implications of the decision by emphasizing that it was a narrow ruling that only covered certain types of businesses and certain types of birth control. Yet such decisions are a slippery slope. Catholic hospitals are already allowed to refuse to perform sterilization procedures such as tubal ligations. Will this new ruling allow them to prevent their employees from seeking such procedures at all? What about a mom and pop drug store in a small town? Will women be prevented from buying contraceptives there because of the owners’ religious objections?

There is always a balance to be struck between individuals’ competing rights. I would never want to require a Catholic doctor to perform an abortion, for example. But there is a huge difference between promoting something to which one has religious objections and allowing others to make that decision for themselves.

In the case of Hobby Lobby, there is also the hypocrisy factor. If the owners are so adamantly opposed to such contraceptives as Plan B and IUDs, they should not invest in pharmaceutical companies that manufacture said drugs and devices. (Source: Huffington Post)

The gains women have made in the past 40 years have been due in large part to their ability to control reproduction. The advent of reliable contraception coincided with the huge influx of women into the work force in the 1970s. The advancement of women’s causes has made our nation stronger.

It’s time to pass an amendment to the Constitution to protect women’s rights and advancements. ERA NOW! (This time I’ll get a t-shirt.)