By Reyam Jamaleddine, August 3 2023—
In the light of the Jonah Hill, Keke Palmer and Tracee Ellis Ross controversies, very heavy politically and religiously charged conversations awoke. Sarah Brady who is Hills’ ex-partner revealed texts to the world where he is berating her for the clothing she wears as a diving instructor (a swim-suit, the piece of clothing typically worn by people who swim). In another situation, Palmer’s partner publicly shamed her on Twitter for an outfit she wore to an Usher concert.
“It’s the outfit tho. you a mom.” he wrote on Twitter in response to a video of her dancing alongside singing Usher. For Ross, when she posted an image of herself topless — but still covered — people on Twitter harassed her with ageist comments bantering about the ways and manners in which she should dress as an older woman. All of these instances entered the public eye within the same time frames, one overlapping the other.
As an observer of these events, it was the first time that I adopted a sense of apathy for a topic that I am so heavily passionate about and involved in. I find myself exhausted from commentary and ruthless discourse that entertain the idea of tightening and loosening the shackles and fabrics that rule over women. These discussions are stressful and lead to no avail. The strong distinction that ranges between thoughts and discussion that surrounds women is all too grave for a woman like myself, I no longer wish to use my voice to defend myself or other women when topics of modesty arise.
I now prefer to ground myself in the foundations of my values and beliefs and to use my voice to alleviate myself and others of responsibility. The beast of immodesty — neither you nor I hold the power to defeat the beast of unknowing value.
I like to think that I understand how I am viewed by the way I dress, and by societal definitions, I live in disregard for such. I ground myself in the literature that I hold close to my heart, literature that I find mirrors what I deem to inherently believe. The calibre of words is not always for the intention of proving a point or changing minds. As autonomous beings grounding ourselves in the existence of our independent minds allows us to cultivate forgiveness for ourselves and others whilst holding earnest solidarity with our beliefs.
I am reminded of Khalil Gibran and The Prophet. A philosophical folklore collection of poems that speaks for and of all aspects of the human experience. Oftentimes critics of Gibran consider his writing to be mediocre because of the quiet nature of his words, and a softened tone — as if he is writing or speaking for no one to hear but himself — even when addressing others. I admire Gibran’s ability to address the most controversial ideas of the human experience as simply experiences — in full disregard to their perception and in their realization as such. I envy his patriarchal privilege to understand these topics as spiritual roadmaps, rather than detonating oppression against a wholly existence.
On Clothes is a poem that is subtle yet powerful in its execution of thought. Published in 1923, it is appalling how the ideas of this poem apply dramatically to the climate of discourse today. I ground myself in this poem, in its simplicity. This poem’s ability to gather my scattered thoughts and to be somehow written by a man an entire century ago, simple ideas, simple thoughts — yet never understood or addressed. A poem that speaks to the beast:
“And though you seek in garments the / freedom of privacy you may find in them / a harness and a chain. / Would that you could meet the sun / and the wind with more of your skin and less / of your raiment,/ For the breath of life is in the sunlight / and the hand of life is in the wind. / Forget not that modesty is for a shield / against the eye of the unclean. / And when the unclean shall be no more, / what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling / of the mind?”
Feeling abandoned by my words, my inability to spell my thoughts out or rather my inability to defend my thoughts in the capacity that I wish them to. Envious of Gibran and his fine prose, I find comfort and ground myself in my apathy. I am not interested in religious debate, I am not interested in political debate and I am not interested in a debate on thoughts or opinions that pose a contrast to mine. Amour de soi — a Rousseauian philosophy describing a primitive love of existing, love of oneself with the disinterest and incapability of understanding being perceived by others. To live like an animal, to be primitive. Perhaps this is what I am interested in.
If to be perceived is to be immodest, if to be modest is a shield against being perceived, then perhaps I would prefer to be ignorant against perception in its entirety.
Perception granted by the beast of immodesty. The one we must all shield ourselves from. A beast of an unknowing kind and value. To run from the beast yet to be shackled in front of the beast and addressed regardless of being shielded or not. With an inkling of what the beast is I ground myself once again in my apathetic nature, not to debate, not to engage. I am not interested in confronting the beast. Yet, just like prey, I am incomprehensive of the fact that I am forever hostage to the beast, regardless of my forged ignorance of the beast.
Three instances of unshocking and old ways of attempting to manage women all happening within the same moment. A final approach to withstanding backlash for what just is. Not in the light of the encouragement of amour de soi, but my individual decision to adjust myself as such in the light of what I witnessed occurring to Sarah Brady, Keke Palmer and Tracee Ellis Ross. Seemingly very innocent moments shifted into malicious endeavours facilitated by femme fatales. Not waving a white flag, but bidding my pride to a sense of peace.
I can step away from my apathy for a moment to sympathize with these women, yet I do not hold back from my understanding that these moments do not only happen in the three moments with Brady, Palmer and Ross. They happen in the millions every single day, oftentimes violent and sometimes ending in the loss of life. I praise the voices being echoed in this discourse in defence of women’s rights.
Be as it may, I shamelessly acquit myself from this endless trial on my body as I naively bid farewell to the beast.
This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.