Everybody’s (Not) Free to Wear Sunscreen…

I’m currently reading a book I wouldn’t usually select.

I was in WHSmith at the beginning of the week and was aware that the shop would be closing imminently. When some of the lights were suddenly switched off I began to panic and conjured up images of being locked in the branch overnight…as was the case in Willisgate (the man who spent the night in Waterstones). Although this may sound like a book lover’s dream (N.B. a book lover in this context is person who loves books rather than an individual who attempts to have sexual intercourse with pieces of literature), once you consider the logistics; the hard, grubby carpeted floors, the lack of heating and the absence of a bed, the appeal somewhat dwindles. Thus, I hastily grabbed one of the books I had been examining and quickly made my way to the tills to make my purchase.

I tend to refrain from reading the blurbs on the backs of books as I find reading the first few pages of a story more useful in gaining an insight into the writing style/general tone of the narrative. However, after reading the first three chapters that night I was somewhat dubious as to whether I would enjoy the novel. I had inadvertently chosen a ‘romantic comedy’ *cue exasperated sigh*. If you have read any of my previous posts you may have deduced that I am not exactly, what some may call, a ‘rom-com’ fan. Nevertheless, I found the writing style to be engaging and the main character, both intriguing and humorous. This post is not a book review. Be that as it may, I shall summarise. Imagine ‘When Harry Met Sally’ but with Harry being played by The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, with a bit of Dharma and Greg thrown in (Note to self: I watch too much TV). Albeit, I do take some issues with the ‘Sally’ character…or in this case ‘Rosie’. A self-declared feminist. A woman who feels the need to dress in a certain manner so as not to be objectified by men. The manner is later categorised in the book  as to how a lesbian might dress, although this is stated by the noted bigot ‘Gene’. Nonetheless, I take some issue with Rosie’s character.

This depiction of Rosie’s choice of dress prompted a deeper response. A few days later I recalled a conversation between my brother and I regarding my lack of interest in visiting a particular Middle Eastern country in which some of our family resides. This was due to past experiences in this country in which my attire (which I had ensured was respectful to both the religion and culture of the country) had solicited unwarranted and indeed unwanted attention in the form of offensive comments, jeers and in some cases physical harassment. Hence, I stipulated to my brother that if I were to revisit the country I would wear niqab (a burka with only my eyes showing) as this seemed to be the only attire to draw almost no attention and would ensure a certain level of respect. My brother took issue with is. He stipulated that as I am agnostic, wearing a niqab would be highly offensive to the Muslims of the country. He argued that I could be seen to be making a mockery of the attire. However, I countered that members of the public would have no knowledge of my religious beliefs and would simply assume I was one out of the hundreds of other woman who also adhered to this form of dress. I also stressed that my choice to wear the outfit would have nothing to do with my religious beliefs but would simply ensure my comfort and possible safety from harassment. He was unable to understand my logic and I suggested that he simply failed to comprehend the issues women face in Middle Eastern countries. Nonetheless, we agreed to disagree and as I have no scheduled trips to the country coming up, the issue was somewhat irrelevant.

However, when reading of Rosie’s choice of dress and the subsequent reasons behind it, I found myself (surprisingly) rather irritated. I have now realised what I am feeling is offence due to the trivialisation of sexual harassment.  The story is set in Australia, thus one can deduce due to the climate, light/revealing clothing or beachwear may be commonplace. However, according to the story, Rosie purposely chooses ‘alternative’ style clothing so as to deflect male attention, and it is only when she wears an evening gown or steps out of the shower and is in a towel, that the protagonist describes her as ‘incredibly beautiful’. Thus, there are parallels to ‘She’s All That’-esque plot lines in which a female transforms herself to ‘get the guy’; a premise we can all agree just screams feminism…*cue yet another exasperated sigh*. Though I believe what I really take issue with is the fact that Rosie’s choice of attire is based on how men will perceive her and the possible attention she may elicit, whereas in some countries the repercussions of choice of dress have far graver consequences in which the female, rather than the harasser, is persecuted. Whilst in some (usually non-western societies), a woman’s choice of dress may not necessarily be personal, but rather what the society (ruled predominantly by men) and culture dictates. Thus to imply women from Western societies base their attire on how they wish to be perceived by men is somewhat insulting and a little bit chauvinistic. That is not to say women in Western culture do not face judgement or harassment based on their choice of dress, I am simply highlighting that the consequences may differ. As a result, I somewhat resent the notion implied in the book that women in Western societies (like myself) are plagued by our outfit choices and their subsequent effects on men. To suggest we base our appearance on men’s preferences is actually rather sexist. This is not me being a feminist because it’s cool or trendy or ‘in’ right now, this is simply me stating my opinion on the matter.

Despite the above, and excluding certain aspects of Rosie’s character, I am thoroughly enjoying the novel…even though it does adhere to typical ‘rom-com’ storyline in some aspects, and as a result is becoming increasingly predictable… *cue eye-rolling*.

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