• The Low Down

Support for women and girls to choose for themselves

This letter is in response to the letter to the editor, titled “76 dead and counting” (Oct. 12 edition) and its dangerous assertion that women cannot be trusted to choose what they wear and how they represent themselves in public.


Daily life in Iran sounds fearful … And yet the hypocrisy of this letter is appalling. The author cannot see their own privilege. The author cannot see the internalized misogyny that leads them to agree the Quebecois provincial government has a right in imposing its own rules on how girls and women dress and present themselves in public. For women who choose to wear a hijab in Quebec, they can be punished with a loss of work and derailment of their career. Additionally, in Quebec most girls are forced to wear uniforms in order to be allowed to attend school. In Quebec, a woman or girl risks being confronted by their neighbour in a grocery store or being dragged in the local paper for their choice of attire.


If consent and coercion are on the same spectrum, I do not see the option to consent to this treatment on the part of women and girls in Quebec or Iran. Rather, I see a difference of degree in the coercion imposed by the Quebec government versus that of the Iranian government on the bodies of women and girls.


The promise of the Western society, the one that draws people in from everywhere else in the world, is that citizens have the right to express themselves in public free from the persecution of others. We are free to worship or not worship whoever or whatever we do or do not believe. End stop.


I agree that what is happening to women and girls in Iran is terrible and should be condemned repeatedly. I also believe that we need to support our neighbours and provide them with compassion and understanding wherever they are in their journey — regardless of what they choose to wear or where they choose to wear it.


The author of the previous letter says that the children and staff of Chelsea Elementary have something to learn. As a parent of one of the children in Ms. Fatemeh Anvari’s class last year, I think that the children and staff have learned something: many have learned that a positive female role model was removed from their classroom for their choice of clothing; that they do not have body autonomy in any real sense; and that the only way to fight for equal rights is to start young.


Meanwhile, the staff (most of whom are women) have learned that they are replaceable if they do not acquiesce to the unjust beliefs and practices of a group of MNAs (mostly men), who prefer to divide society in order to retain power.


Women and girls need support in this province — not support that comes from a self-serving and self-righteous position of privilege. I think we need to provide support for women and girls to find their own way in a society that truly allows them to choose a life for themselves.


Mat Schatkowsky is a resident of Chelsea.