Thinking Outside the (Letter) Box

Back when I was working in Louis Vuitton I spent some time one summer working in Birmingham. I’d never been to Birmingham before I agreed to work there and I didn’t know much about it. Many of the (mainly female) staff were Muslim and we bonded over a realisation that our mothers might be from vastly different cultures but their mothering was not. One woman said many times that it was deeply reassuring that Irish and Pakistani mothers were so alike.

Some of them wore headcoverings at work. Most did not. Some explained that they wore headcoverings for different reasons and occasions. Some were deeply devout Muslims, some weren’t. Some spoke of their parents’ plans for their marriages and the arranged marriages of brothers and sisters. I felt I had to preface any questions with a lighthearted (at least I hope that’s how it sounded) quip about it being interesting to hear about other people’s cultures. It was interesting, and eye opening, and made me question a lot of the assumptions I hadn’t questioned before about women and their choices and their obligations and restrictions.

Many women don’t need to be told by others that they’re being oppressed. Maybe they’re not being oppressed. Maybe they like dressing a certain way. Maybe they don’t need opinion pieces from white men to tell them they’re like letter boxes. Maybe we should all stop making assumptions about women’s clothes. Oppression comes in many forms. More tolerance for intolerance is one such form.

These women weren’t letter boxes. They were funny, and difficult to work with sometimes, and boring, and we had disagreements, and we had misunderstandings. Just like I did and do and will do with the people I work with now. Women make all sorts of choices every day about every aspect of their lives. What they choose to wear is their choice. We don’t need laws to tell us how to dress.

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Thinking Outside the (Letter) Box

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