What's Permissible and What Isn't
And Who Decides

There I was a couple weeks ago down in Buena Vista, GA.  I had to go to Atlanta for a conference and stopped to see GiGi.  She is fine and doesn't think that she will have to come up to the big city for a visit at the U. of Chicago Hospital where we met several years ago.  Interestingly, I told her essentially the same thing about hearing from my doctor at the U of C hospital.  I got my PSA blood test results back on June 9, which were negative. 

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Therefore, we sat in GiGi's backyard sipping on a mint julip and had some watermelon.  GiGi reminded me that her doctor recommended a little drink once in a while. 

In the warm summer day, we caught up on all that is happening in our lives and for the presidential campaigns.  Then GiGi broached the topic that she saw a piece on the Internet about a controversy in Saudi Arabia.  She had seen it on the Arab News service.  GiGi asked whether I had seen the article, which I hadn't.

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GiGi explained that there seemed to be a bit of a controversy between a local municipality in Saudi Arabia and some Muslim religious leaders.  It seems that religious leaders are a part of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, also known as Haia.  GiGi explained that beauty salons can't have windows.  Unless the beauty salons had windows in their shops, they wouldn't get permits to run their businesses.  The Haia feels strongly that the windows present some sort of safety issue.

I asked GiGi how windows created a potential safety situation.  Neither of us could figure out the risk.  The best that we could come up with was that the women weren't in danger, but that some men would gather at the street level watching women get their nails done or make-up put on.  Regardless, the city and the Haia were into a heated discussion over beauty salons. 

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GiGi explained that the city wouldn't give the salons a permit unless the salon had windows to use as an emergency exits in case of fire.  I told GiGi that I didn't see the real benefit to the windows.  I would think that two or more egresses would be more beneficial than more windows. 

It wasn't long before we got into the larger issue of beauty salons in religiously very conservative Saudi Arabia.  GiGi knew that I have taught world religion classes for decades.  I am rattled by all religions dictating how women should behave.  Sexism is doing well in all religions.  It does rattle me that males tell females how to behave, dress, and generally give them, at best, a second-class position.  And they okay that behavior by saying that God said so. 

Beyond that generalization, I can't explain the hijab.  The Qur'an doesn't use that term, but it does say that women are to be modest.  Unrelated to Islam but as a male, the human face is more an issue of beauty than hairstyles.  I would argue that, at one level, a burqa makes more sense than a hijab.  If men want to protect and/or control women, make them wear a burqa which covers the entire face.  While I reject males controlling females, if one is into relegating females, the burqa makes more sense. 

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A burqa

I told GiGi about being in the airport in Casablanca several years ago during Ramadan waiting for my flight to Paris and to back to Chicago after spending a month in Africa.  I was just sitting there as about a dozen planes returned from Mecca.  I saw hundreds of Muslim women with various forms of the burqa.  Some burqas have a small opening for the eyes. 

I just sat and wondered what those Muslim women thought returning from Mecca and the Hajj.  In the midst of my pondering, a woman passed by with a burqa with a small opening for the eyes.  However, what I noticed was that she was wearing very heavy mascara under her eyes.  I was puzzled by that.  If men covering women to either protect them from men or to control them, why was she wearing a burqa and eyeliner?  GiGi and discussed this seemingly counterintuitive dress code.  It was beyond the pale for me as a Western male to understand. 

GiGi gave me a link to the article about the debate in Saudi Arabia about women visiting beauty shops vs. the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.  I looked it up, and this photo was included in the article.  Now, I don't know what to call what this woman is wearing.  It seems like a cross between a hijab and a burqa.  I need to ask some of my Muslim students to clarify my limited knowledge of headdresses for women.

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A photo from the article regarding beauty salons

I told GiGi that I have asked female Muslim students over the years about the whole issue of wearing apparel.  The response on the entire issue of appropriate apparel covers the entire gambit.  Additionally, I mentioned that I asked my students to read an essay that I wrote about being in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.  Turkey is a country almost totally Muslim.  Nonetheless, you can see three major groupings of Muslim women and what they consider correct.

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Fairly conservative

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Mother and daughter mix

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Progressive female

Aside from being confused by Muslims customs, which must be far more confusing for especially Muslim women, I am rattled by the larger picture of Western customs regarding women vis-à-vis men.  I would like to know how much Western women spend on all types of make-up.  Now, I use hairspray on occasion and buy shaving cream. 

Since I don't know how much Western women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, spend on cosmetics, I asked GiGi for a guess.  It must be a lot of money since there are a multitude of products like haircare products, makeup, and nail polish. 

Beyond the dollars spent, it seems to me that it raises the whole issue of sexism.  GiGi said that she never spent very much on anything over many years.  Even years ago, she used nail polish and lipstick rarely.  She never wore makeup.  However, she admitted that she is an exception to the rule.  I asked her to explain why she wasn't into the whole makeup scene.  GiGi's response was that she didn't want to waste the time.  GiGi's son, Forrest joined us to comment on his mother's drive to do things rather than wasting time.

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Nevertheless, I went off on the entire issue of sexism.  In the midst of my venting about sexism, I remembered something that Steve Biko said about apartheid in South Africa.  "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."  If males wish to subjugate females, control their minds.  Make women buy into their need to do what men want.  The result is women competing against other women to catch the eye of men.  Biko is correct about racism.  Applying that to sexism, again, he is correct.

After some more discussion about eyeliner and lipstick, I told GiGi that I had to get back to Crown Point.  However, if I had some extra time at the Atlanta airport before my plane departed, I might get some lip gloss and blush.

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Both Forrest or GiGi thought that my joke was a failed attempt at humor.  Nonetheless, they wished me a safe flight to the big city. 



Visit the GiGi page to read more about this topic.