Thursday, April 19, 2012

art, of sorts

Has one little picture ever stirred up a lot of controversy. Surely you've heard of it, from an art show in a British Columbia university. You know, the one of the Muslim woman wearing a veil and holding a bra as she's folding laundry?

Yeah that one. I've been reading a lot about it over the past few days, and it really intrigues me. It brings up a lot of questions, most of which I don't have real answers for.

As I was reading in the Huffington Post today, there's a bit of an uproar surrounding it.

I come at this from the viewpoint of someone who isn't religious. From that standpoint, I have the right not to have the rules of someone else's beliefs pushed on me. I expect to live in a world where whether I have access to abortive procedures or birth control is a decision that the government and the medical experts make, regardless of what the stance of any major religious institution might be. I expect that I will have the option of eating any food I want, even if religious laws forbid it. I expect that I can make the choices to live my life in any way I want, without having the moral expectations of religions I don't subscribe to pushed upon me.

I expect a lot.

I would also be completely wrong-headed to say that I can push any of my views of people who do subscribe to various religious beliefs. I can choose to reject the rules of religion, but I can't flaunt my rejection in people's faces. I have to respect the same rights that I am so adamant about: that people have the right to make their own choices without having someone else's moral viewpoints thrust down their neck.

That's tricky, though. Often these morals clash, quite clearly. For someone who believes that abortion is murder, I can see where it might be pretty hard to sit back and let other people make that choice. How do we reconcile two mutually exclusive viewpoints and peacefully share a world? How do I reconcile my personal freedoms in some of those respects?

What sticks out to me about this particular issue, this picture, is that there is a suggestion there is a disrespect to the religion here. I mean, if I dressed up in a burqa and held a bra and had someone photograph that and post it that would definitely be disrespectful. I would be mocking someone else's religion. As far as I can tell, though, that's not what happened here. This was more photojournalistic - a picture taken of someone's real life, with consent of the individual photographed. It's a poignant contrast, and thought provoking. It was so very, very heavily rooted in humanity.

What's it is not is sexual, in any way. A bra in and of itself is not a sexual object. It's a piece of clothing, a tool that makes life a heck of a lot more comfortable. Women wear them. For the larger-busted among us they are down-right essential. Women wear bras, wash bras, put bras away, buy bras. They are a part of life as women.

But there are a lot of people who are offended by this. The Saudi Arabian Embassy has gone on record saying this photo is offensive to Islam.

So here's my question: how do we balance the rights of an individual and a society to freedom with respect for the fact that other groups have very different ideas?


  1. I liken this to any particular religious group saying you will not have a good afterlife if you don't follow a particular religion. You can't please all of the people all of the time!

    1. It's definitely tricky in that respect, because either way someone is going to feel like their rights or freedoms are being disregarded.

      I'm always interested in cases where individual rights and freedoms clash with the rights on groups of people of any kind.