Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pushing the Limits

The thing about limits is how far and how much push is needed is arbitrary. Until you push them, you'll never know which is which.

Hoda Katebi, a fashion blogger, sets how much she pushes against the limits imposed on her by the Muslim leaders, demanding more freedom, fewer clothes, fewer constraints on fashion. It is a safe bet from inside the United States and one could say  rebellion with few -- or no -- consequences. Hoda is not forced to wear a burqa and be covered head-to-foot to protect and maintain her virtue. Hoda lives in middle America, a small Oklahoma town where she was born, to Iraqi parents and has never known life in a Muslim controlled country. You could say that Hoda has had it easy since she has not bucked the Muslim system that demands she be covered head to foot in a burqa or similar all concealing clothing, but is her rebellion against religious constraints any less courageous or bold than a girl born in Saudi Arabia or Iran? It is a matter of degree, Koda wears her hijab loosely and gets away with wearing a crop top that barely covers her midriff while a woman born in Iran and living in the midst of Muslims born and raised in a more restricted culture would be considered daring if she refused to wear the all concealing burqa and went completely unveiled. As with any rebellion, there is always a limit.

Koda is a westernized Muslim and is allowed more latitude than if she had been born and raised in the heart of Teheran. Even so, rebellion is still rebellion and one has to start somewhere.

I remember the more modest clothes I wore and was expected to wear as a child and a teenager before the more rebellious 1960s when Twiggy wore mini-skirts and shorter skirts and tighter bell bottom pants were all the rage. As the oldest of five children, I was not allowed short skirts and my pants still covered my belly button and my feet. I came from a family where modesty and taste were of paramount importance. As the oldest, my rebellion came once I was out of sight of home, or at least far enough away that I could hike up my skirts and bare my knees. I was still wearing dresses to school and those dresses were children's clothes that were tight across my budding breasts and the hems covered my knees. I longed for pants, but pants were not allowed by the school dress code, not until I reached high school. I tested the limits as much as I could, but the limits were very restrictive indeed.

Once the school relaxed the dress code and I could wear pants to school, the least of my worries was the length of my hemlines. I could wear pants, but I was not allowed to wear blue jeans. I wore dress pants with sweaters and blouses that were modest and covered everything, but still could not wear jeans. That changed my sophomore year and I was finally allowed to wear jeans -- in theory. My parents still insisted in dress pants and dress shirts, but no jeans. All around me girls wore bell bottom jeans that had seen better days and were well worn while I continued to wear dress pants and modest blouses and sweaters. The closest I got to fashionable clothes was when I wore hand crocheted pot holder vests that looked fashionable over my dress shirts and dress pants. I still hiked up my skirts as soon as I was out of visible range of our house, but not often because I preferred pants to dresses, especially the middle-aged skirts and clothing my mother bought for me. She was determined that I would be dressed properly and as modestly as she could manage no matter what I thought.

Meanwhile, my sister, a year behind me in school, was allowed to wear mini skirts, jeans, and stockings. It was okay for her because she was skinny and leggy and still considered a child while I was considered nearly an adult and must continue to dress my age -- as long as my age was considered to be somewhere between middle age (over 30) and decrepitude and was dependent on my mother to buy my clothes. It is no surprise I got a job so I could buy my own clothes and a big surprise to me that Mom reserved the right to set the rules about what I could and mostly could NOT wear. I chafed at the bit and planned to defy the rules and wear what I wanted to wear, especially since I was paying for the clothes.

Likely to further minimize how much money I would have left to spend on clothes, it was decided that since I had a job I would also have to pay for room and board. I didn't expect that move, but it was my parents' rule and I obeyed no matter how much I argued against the restrictions. I continued to test the limits, but not very far as I lived in fear of being sent away to the Juvenile Detention Center and labeled a problem child. And still I pushed the limits, believing wrongly that since I could drive and had bought my own car, I would be allowed more privileges. It didn't take long to find out how short those limits were. I was still hemmed in by the rules and denied true freedom to choose and wear what I wanted to wear. All the new expenses (room & board, car insurance, gas, oil, repairs) depleted my meager budget and I continued to wear modest and appropriate clothes. No matter how I pushed against the limits, I remained at square one, a rebel at heart with no rebellious credits to my name, my reputation unsullied and unbesmirched, the worst of the worst kind of girl alive -- a nice girl, a good girl, obedient and responsible and praying for my 18th birthday when I would go away to college or get a job or at least move out of my parents' home and into my own apartment where the only rules were the ones I set. How naive and innocent I was.

In my senior year at school, I bought and wore my first mini skirt and my first pair of jeans and I wore them to school. I was triumphant in my rebellion and had no idea the rebellion would be short lived since I would finish the year married, pregnant with our first child, and working for a living while saving for a life I had not yet envisioned. My rebellion was over before it was begun and I was drowning in married adulthood saving every penny for the coming child and longing for the days when all I had to rebel against were hem lengths and midriff-baring jeans, neither of which I could wear for long as my body filled out with the coming child. I had never been a child, giving up childhood to take care of my three siblings, and would never get the chance to go to college or get my own apartment because I was a married woman. My life was over. I was someone's wife and would soon be someone's mother and I'd never had a chance to be just me.

That is the thing about rebellion. It comes and goes before you have a chance to get used to being a rebel since responsibility and being an adult comes close on the heels of childhood and rebelling against the parents and the limits of childhood disappear in a shadow as responsibility and adulthood take over.

It might have been different if I had gone to college or chose not to marry and have a child, but the girl who chose that path wasn't the one who writes this post.

Koda pushes against the limits of her religion, her parents, and her culture by choosing to wear a cropped top and letting her hijab slip down and allow her hair to be seen uncovered. Her rebellion may seen silly and even not very rebellious, but we play the cards we are dealt. Rebellion is about pushing against the limits, however small those limits may be. Oftentimes we fail as the limits are redrawn and the lines between acceptable and forbidden redrawn. Koda's limits seem daring among her family and culture and should not be measured against the cultural limits of the average American girl nor should they be lionized and determined to be courageous and limitless. What is courageous for one person may not be courageous for another. The only one who can determine the true nature of the rebellion is the person pushing against the boundaries and stretching the limits. At any time, those limits will change and the rebellion forced in another direction. Life is all about change and nothing changes more than limits -- perceived and actual limits. One thing about limits is that they can be pushed and changed.

Someone had to design and wear the first burqini just as someone had to decide that wearing a hijab didn't mean you had to cover your whole head. If no one pushed the limits, there would be no burqini, no hair partially covered by a hijab, and no one choosing to buy and wear a mini skirt and midriff-baring bell-bottom jeans.

That is all. Disperse.

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