The extent to which our societal morality is being eaten up is alarming. The older folks, in retrospect, find it near unbelievable that the African society, abused and coveted alike by the outside world, could degenerate to its present ebb of moral decadence. The anthropologist has much to say as to the reason for this degeneracy, but the observant man needs not look up a tasking encyclopaedia entry to understand why: the answer stares us in the face. We dare not venture into the street but we see it approaching us in the spectre of indecent dressing.
None can deny the impact of dressing as a causal factor of moral degeneracy in our society. The types of garbs worn by women nowadays defy definition – but of course they all go by the name of fashion. ‘Physical adornment has long been recognised as a way for women to express their femininity, to enhance their appearance, and to achieve a measure of self-confidence’. In the bid to achieve these obviously noble objectives, women have oftentimes overdone matters. For many women, dressing has become not just a way of adoring and beautifying themselves but also a tool for attracting and alluring – and the rotten fruits of this are all too glaring in our society. Issues of rape and women molestation are ever in the news, the staggering statistics increasing on hourly basis. While there are many contributory factors to this social pus, the effect of indecency in dressing among the ladies cannot be overemphasised. According to a reputed magazine source, ‘by their seductive dress, bodily movement and suggestive remarks, some women invite rape’. In other words, the more you expose, the sooner you will be noticed. This no doubt underscores the potency of indecent dressing among the female folk in arousing the ungodly spirits in the male molesters.
Feminists may be infuriated that when anything is said about indecency in dressing, it is always the females who bear the brunt. Well, let it be conceded that the issue of dressing might just be among the numerous areas where patriarchal immunity easily asserts itself – where the male is never wrong and the female is almost always wrong. But at least it is one which can be easily forgiven, for our common sense, whether we are male or female, tells us that the effects of indecency in dressing are more pronounced in the female than in the male.
While the post-civilised African society has had its blames in several areas, it is admitted by all and sundry that it has contributed positively to the world in the area of preserving morality through decency in dressing. ‘Decency’ is a fuzzy word, meaningless unless by reference to a particular society and time; and for this it would seem that ascribing the hallmark of decency to the past generations of the African society is an unwarranted accolade , unsubstantiated in comparison with what obtained in the wider world of the same period. This is in addition to the fact that the world seem to always hold tenaciously to what is old, as if what is old is always the best. We must, however, consider the past if we must appraise the present – and the inevitable conclusion is that the dressing of the past generation made more for the moral upkeep of the society.
It is unfair and laughable for anyone to suggest that we go back to the pre-civilisation era when women dressed like masquerades in the name of decency. On the other hand, religion has had great influence in the way women dress. A church father opined that ‘[h]oly women, if naturally beautiful, must not increase beauty but try to subdue it.’ Commendable as this opinion is towards morality, one cannot but wonder if beauty necessarily implies seductiveness, and from this stems and ancillary question: can a lady be decent and beautiful at the same time? The resounding answer is ‘Yes!’ and I will endeavour to show that presently.
The world need to be awakened to the fact that no amount of modernity and scientific innovations can overturn the timeless wisdom expressed in holy books, and one must inevitably resort to them in one’s direst moments. For instance, the Bible admonishes ‘women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety.’ The Qur’an, on the other hand, urges women ‘to make not dazzling display’ of their bodies, and even goes as far as attaching to women’s lewdness the punishment of confinement to death at the evidence of four witnesses. Women adherents of Mohammedanism, in the bid to abide by this injunction, go to a great length to conceal their body – sometimes shutting themselves from the rest of the world in purdah! This extreme religious zealotry surely does not augur well in the modern society where the womenfolk ever seek to enforce their right ‘to be seen and heard’. However, its sister but less keen form of bodily concealment, the hijab, is a reflection of both morality and modernity.
The Hijab may be worn mainly for its religious significance, but it has a beauty which one is apt to admire without being provoked. Now lest I be misunderstood, I do not prescribe hijab for girls – I only mean to demonstrate the morality behind it. Many have argued (albeit pointlessly) that wearing hijab covers beauty. But have such ones looked well enough before coming to that conclusion? In my view, hijab covers not beauty but seductiveness! It is pathetic that numerous women consider themselves beautiful only when they are sexually attractive – and most times they cannot even differentiate the one from the other.
Of course the hijab is merely an outward show of decency; it tells nothing of what goes on in the mind of the wearer. No amount of covering or hermitage will make the really indecent person decent, but all the society is asking of women is the physical decency, not the spiritual one; and so long as the wearer of hijab does this, the society is the better for it. Contrary to women’s speculation, men admire decently dressed women but lust for the indecently dressed ones. Men have a common difficulty of approaching modestly dressed women, no matter how attractive they are. But they find it easy to approach the immodestly dressed ones, in the belief (alas sometimes quite erroneously!) that they are always available for the ravishing. Is it any wonder that more than 75% of female rape victims have been found to be indecently dressed? Rapes have been known to occur unpremeditated but incited by the provocative dressing of the victims!
While I do not recommend hijab for those unaffiliated with Islam, I insist that the womenfolk can learn a lesson from its moral significance, and thus contribute their part in the moral uplift of our fast degenerating society.