Friday, August 31, 2007

Headscarves and sagging jeans

The controversy in the US over "sagging jeans" is the opposite of and same as the "headscarf ban" in French schools. Whether the argument is that too much or too little skin (or undergarment) is showing, the point is the same. Authorities and experts are reading a political message into a style of dress. Objecting to that political message--one the style is only conveying some of the time, at most--authorities decide to crack down not on the 'root causes' they are certain lie beneath the clothes, but on the clothes themselves. But when is a scarf too big, or pants too low? Problems arise.

The problem in both of these situations is politicizing behavior that was initially no more or less political than anyone else's style of dress. Is a French woman with a carefully arranged scarf draped over her shoulders is making a political statement about pride in Frenchness? Is a white American in a pastel polo arguing that we maintain the status quo? From the government's perspective, treating clothing like clothing, unless it's half the town marching around in Nazi uniforms, might be a better idea.

One expert consulted in the Times piece about sagging pants says, "'The focus should be on cleaning up the social conditions that the sagging pants comes out of [...] That they wear their pants the way they do is a statement of the reality that they’re struggling with on a day-to-day basis.'"

Or, "they" are wearing their pants the way they do because that's how they like to wear their pants. Must we ask why? Is that really a fair way to approach social tensions?


Anonymous said...

What about all the billions of conservative fat guys who let their guts hang out over what they seem to sincerely believe is their waist(i.e., cinch their little belts below the quintuplets)? THAT should be a crime.

And he said...

There's a heck of a difference between covering your hair as muslim and orthodox jewish women do (inclusive of shaving heads and wearing wigs) due to a religious dictate, than wearing baggy pants in honor of those arrested and (ahem) incarcerated for their criminal behavior.

Phoebe said...

"There's a heck of a difference..."

And yet, there is not. People wear what they wear for so many reasons. Peer pressure, not religious conviction, motivates a great deal of religious dress. People tend to dress like those around them, and to find other styles weird. I find it extremely hard to believe that a majority of those who wear baggy pants are doing so for a reason more involved than because that's the latest style. But the justification for the French headscarf ban is in fact much like that of the baggy pants ban--certain Muslim styles of dress are being interpreted as supporting criminal acts. My point is that interpreting clothing in such ambiguous cases is a waste of time and an unnecessary violation of liberties. And finally, why is religious conviction a more acceptable inspiration for dress than individual clothing preference?