“I always want to know the things one shouldn’t do.”
“So as to do them?”
“So as to choose.”
Henry James wrote that in his novel ‘Portrait of a Lady’, and it sprang to mind today when I was pondering over a recent piece of news. These days it seems that there are more things one isn’t meant to do than you can shake a stick at.
A school has won a court battle to prevent a Muslim girl from wearing a jilbab (full length gown), apparently on the grounds that it’s a health and safety issue. Does that make sense to you? Well it certainly doesn’t to me. When I was at school I had to wear a uniform, but generally it seemed as though the teachers had a mental checklist when it came to skirts:
– Is it the right colour?
– Is it long enough to maintain a modicum of modesty?
– Is the person wearing it actually in school and willing to learn?
If the answers to all of the above were yes, then there wasn’t a problem. I occasionally wore long skirts, some of which were ankle length, none of which were seen to present a health and safety issue. So what’s the deal with this case? Is it a matter of discrimination? Some would argue that wearing the jilbab isn’t a requirement of her faith, but merely her personal choice due to her deepening interest in her religion.
Excuse me, but what’s wrong with choosing to wear a respectable item of clothing? Surely that’s better than some of the outfits that schoolgirls wear these days that make them look like jail bait? At the end of the day, to my mind, it doesn’t have anything to do with religion – it’s about suppression of the right to choose.
Yes, the girl in question seems a tad litigious. Yes, she probably ought to have prioritised her education rather than removing herself from school to contest the decision. However, was she wrong to question the school when they said no to her choice of outfit? No. As a nation we pride ourselves on strength of character, but how can we expect that to continue if those in power stifle every effort at self-expression? If this case is anything to go by then is it possible that what they really want is a nation of sheep, blindly obeying every edict?
Is there a moral to this tale? Don’t feel pressured into accepting things with which you’re not comfortable, feel free instead to question what’s put before you. Don’t, on the other hand, cut off your nose to spite your face by blowing things up out of proportion and leaving yourself with nowhere to go. Giving in gracefully isn’t a weakness, it’s common sense. Quiet protest followed by the semblance of conformity will often get you further than outright mutiny.