Dressing for Accolade

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What struck me the other day was talking to a friend about dressing at the work place while we discussed gender discrimination. This friend of mine happened to be a male who rather liked to voice his opinion about how it should be if we are ever to experience gender acceptance.

The topic itself is sensitive and one does not know what the primary cause is but this friend of mine judged it on appearance almost instantaneously. His idea of a remote progression towards gender equality in the workplace meant allowing for a merger to take place between male and female dress to form what we most famously call the androgynous look.

I then began to wonder how important appearance has become in today’s visual world where objectification has thus become necessary. While I do not condemn this very idea of progress and in fact was able see where my friend was coming from I do think that succeeding with merit has become a thing of the past. A lot more heartache is taken in to appearance in today’s age. Fashion magazines have in them instructions splashed out on how to dress better in order to win the attention of people at the workplace, particularly male. Personally I find that excessively confining. When we are in an era where feminism becomes part of every single woman’s identity there are contradictory  elements that restrict this very notion.

It is not to say that every woman obediently follows fashion trends and falls into a cycle of aestheticising herself, however I do believe that in order to accomplish a thriving career most women succumb to the demand of looking the part.

What my friend pointed out was rather worrying for me personally when he mentioned how in order for women to be taken seriously they will have to dress in a more manly manner. Naturally every work force is dominated by the male figure and the aim is to impress the majority of people folk at the office, yet I do not think that a female should forget her gender in order to do that. It is like saying you have to carry the persona of a man in order to do a man’s job and I find that eerily disturbing.

When I checked the definition of Feminism in the Oxford dictionary it said ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’, and if we were to adopt a manly manner this very definition would seem phony. It should not be the case that women should avoid dressing in this manner and indeed if it is what is most agreeable to them then there should be nothing to stop them doing so, however what I disagree with is being pressured into something which may even change their identity and femininity. My sister once told me about a time when she was training to be a doctor and she was being taught by a female Consultant doctor at a hospital. This very lady would be seen pacing the corridors of the hospitals clad in a simplistic sari, a traditional clothing of the Indian Sub-Continent, and never quite changed her style of dressing for however long my sister interacted with her. Though she had been in England for more than half of her life, had a married an Englishman and proved to become one of the most successful doctors in England, she chose to dress in what she was most comfortable with, without the need to change in order to appeal to others. I think this story is in itself so very telling about the nature of how intelligent a person can be without the guise of dressing for approbation.

In the end it just makes me wonder how both male and female are on an equal footing in terms of intelligence, and it is a matter of putting in the hard work to get where you want rather than relying on appearance which may give momentary triumph but in the longer run it can bring a lot of stress, not only because you have to prove in terms of skill, but also in terms of the physical exhibition.

5 Pieces of Trivia about Jane Austen’s Life

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  1. She had a brother before she was born called George, who under mysterious circumstances, disappeared before she ever got to know him on a more personal level. Some critics say he suffered from a mental disability, while others say he had a hearing impairment both which might have caused a restriction to the progress of his other siblings in the house. Thus he was decidedly sent away by his parents and to this day one has never fully discovered as to what really happened to him.
  2. Contrary to the the popular image we have of a very modest and moral Jane, a lady (Mrs Mitford) in her society in Steventon once described Jane to be ‘the prettiest, silliest, most affected husband-hunting butterfly she ever remembered’.
  3. In her Sister in law Anne Lefroy’s earliest accounts about the memories of Jane Austen she mentioned that Cassanda Austen (Jane Austen’s mother) once stated how ‘if Cassandra’s (her sister) head had been going to be cut off Jane would insist on having hers cut off too’. This was in response to her protests of being sent to school with her sister in Reading, as the idea of separating from her was unbearable for Jane. This was one of the few initial examples of the closeness between Jane and her sister Cassandra which carried on till the very end of her life.
  4. Her short story ‘Henry and Eliza’ that she composed during her early teenage years portrayed the protagonist heroine’s starving children ‘biting off two of her fingers’ in order to feed themselves.  There is a somewhat perturbing quality to her story, and the earliest signs of Jane having extremely wild and unconventional ideas. This kind of imagination cannot simply justify a kind of pastoral or societal domestic life portrayed in most of her later published novels, and there is definitely more of a metaphorical or allegorical meaning to her books.
  5. Her interaction with her cousin and later sister in law Eliza might have been the reason she was familiarised with the world of high society life, of flirtation and marriage. It was also probably the reason behind her very expressive wit and irony for this kind of a society, which she at the same time found very intriguing indeed. Whilst visiting Eliza in London she wrote to her sister Cassandra ‘and I begin already to find my morals corrupted’. This may have been considered a joke, but on the other hand it also showed her sheer enjoyment in being at the heart of a city much delighted for its eclectic social life.

The Arab Woman

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It is nearly midday, and I sit waiting for my driver to come back from picking my two year old son from nursery. How long will he take? I feel the heat of impatience, and this frustration bites me. If you think about it, the high life I am living is more than what most people can ask for; my very own driver, going to the shops at a whim, a splendid home and a private swimming pool and Jacuzzi to relax and unwind after a long day, a husband who dotes on me and fulfills my every desire, and four bright kids who will be the future. Dubai is relaxing. I often go to get my nails done. I get my hair cut, coloured and styled every week. I have three personal nannies, though I do not work myself. Some of my European friends find that absurd. I think these are perks every woman should demand.

My husband has planned to get my own vintage furniture business going and so I need to get to the office by one thirty sharp, yet there is no sign of my driver. The traffic must be bad. I get up and slowly get dressed. As I am just about to affix my Niqab on I hear the honk of my car. Finally, I think. My female servant fetches me my bag, and my shoes are already placed for me to wear. I step out in the blazing heat and instantly feel the sweat forming around my mouth. The car door opens for me to sit down at the back, I shift myself inside and it shuts behind me. I am in the mood to be pensive. My mind starts relaxing into thoughtfulness, also because the ambience is calm, with the Air Conditioner soothing my cheeks. I was never given reason myself, and was brought up with this idea of having to wear the Niqab when I became a woman. There was a tone of finality in my parents’ words, as if there was no other choice. My thoughts give further way. I have recently watched the Hajj coverage of devoted Muslims taking their beloved Pilgrimage to the house of God. There were many women I saw who did not have their faces covered, would that mean their Hajj would be invalid, God forbid? It makes me wonder how true this idea of covering the face is. My only encouragement has been to cover my face, yet do whatever I feel like. However I have never sensed an encouragement of learning more about my religion. I do not know many things at all. I do not even know if covering the face is what Islam says? It does not make a woman who does not hide her face any less of a Muslim than myself. I do not even pray regularly, and hardly ever read the Holy Qur’an.

I cannot lie and say I don’t like my extravagant lifestyle, it is definitely luxurious. But I am always in need of answers. I get the desire of paying my children more attention, but it has become a habit of relying on external help to bring my children up, it is as if its not in my control anymore. This indulgent lifestyle has shaped me to the person I am today. I have many a girly party, which is why I care so much about my appearance. But it is my education I received abroad, that instilled in me certain doubts about my life. My consciousness speaks a lot more now than it used to. However my worry is I will fall back into that cycle of a superficial life, as I lead every single day, with my face covered. What good is having my face covered if it is just cultural. I want to learn, but an outing with a group of friends entices me. I imagine what life would be like if I did not have this much money to splash out. And this abruptly stops my thought process when my driver announces my destination.