Advice: Wish my wife would cover upPosted: February 7, 2013
Dear Love Inshallah,
My wife is a beautiful, smart and desirable woman. She wears low-cut, tight blouses and skirts that end just below the knees. She laughs and converses with men at social events that we attend together. I get uncomfortable when other guys stare at or talk to her. I’ve explained this to my wife but she just gets upset and tells me that I have no reason to be insecure. I don’t think this is Islamic or fair for me to watch as other guys check her out. What should I do?
Wish my wife would cover up
Shy Desi Boy replies:
When I started writing this column, I made a decision that these columns would not offer a virtual hug. But, sometimes, a virtual slap is in order and that, Wish my wife could cover up, is what I am giving you right now.
You are “uncomfortable when other guys stare or talk to your wife”? Say what?
So when you go out with your wife, do you just expect (or want) people to pretend she is not there?
Even if this is something you want, is this fair to her? You wife is, after all, beautiful and smart—these are your own words. Why would you not want others to engage her in conversation? It seems to me the issue here is control: you are exercising an unfair—and heck, I will just say it, un-Islamic—amount of control over your wife.
Now as for what she wears, consider this: when a women walks in public and is taunted by sexual advances or stares, we men have a tendency to do one of two things: 1) blame the women for what she is wearing/doing, or 2) insist that the women do not go out at all.
This attitude deflects attention and culpability off of men and places the burden squarely on women. The question we should ask instead is this: how can we men curb men from behaving like jerks?
I am not sure I know the solution but an important step is to grant women greater (not lesser) autonomy and for each of us men to examine how we look at women.
If you are out with your wife and you find men staring at her, you should not be angry with your wife. You should be angry about why so many men think it is not a form of sexual harassment to violate a woman’s body with their eyes.
We live in a curious society: we Muslim men often extol the virtue of wearing hijab and yet I know plenty of hijab wearing Muslim women who say Muslim guys do not find them attractive because of their hijab. How many times have I heard Muslim men say: “I respect the hijab but I do not want my wife to wear it.”
Conversely I know some Muslim women who tell me Muslim guys assume they are “irreligious” because they wear skirts or tank tops.
We men have no idea what women go through. We also have no idea why a woman decides to wear what she wears. It might be that your wife dresses the way she does because she wants to feel good about herself, or she likes the way she looks in a certain skirt, or she wants to feel sexy (and there is nothing wrong with that), or maybe she likes that others pay attention to her when she dresses like that (in way, ahem, that you do not pay attention to her). Or perhaps it may be none of the above.
The real question to ask is this: what makes you insecure?
I find that many men often object to something their wife does and then later find an Islamic justification for their views. Seems to be me you are doing this right now.
Moving ahead: I recommend going for a long walk with your wife. Leave cell phones, iPads, whatever in the car. And ask your wife a series of questions you have maybe never asked her before: what is your idea of dressing? What kind of clothes make you happy? How can I be more supportive of the way you want to dress? What makes you feel most comfortable in public? How do you feel about your body and how can I be more supportive of making you feel better about your body and the choices you make.
And until you have this talk with your wife, my advice is simple: keep quiet. Please.
Ms. Sunshine replies:
What is “Islamic” is largely a matter of opinion. Some would argue that it’s un-Islamic for your wife to leave her house under any but the most pressing circumstances. They could cobble together verses of Qur’an and hadith to support their argument. Most of us recognize that line of thinking as unjust, and contradictory to the principles of love, mercy, and reciprocity the Qur’an proposes for a happy marriage. If religion is about anything, it’s about increasing our awareness and love of the divine and manifesting that love through our interactions with Allah’s (swt) creation.
There are a multiple reasons your wife may choose to dress the way she does. Maybe she likes the feel of wind and sun against her legs. Maybe she wants to impress you. Maybe she feels her clothing is most practical for her lifestyle. Skirts that cover the knees in a mini skirt world are often considered modest — even a little quaint in some circles. Regardless of her reasons for dressing the way she does, if she tells you that you have no reason to be insecure, you need to believe her. If there is doubt in your heart about your wife’s fidelity, then that’s a serious issue and that is the issue you must address. Fidelity is about actions, not clothes.
I’m sorry you feel discomfort with the way men look at your wife. I imagine it must put you in a very unpleasant position. But how others look at your wife is about those people, and not her. As someone who spent well over a decade in butterfly abayas and headscarves that covered half her body, I can tell you that no amount of covering and gaze-lowering will stop men from staring at or talking to a woman. That’s okay, most of us have to look at and talk to people of the opposite sex in order to function as adults in society. If someone is undressing your wife in their mind, it’s their problem, not hers and not yours. Focus your energies on working through your insecurities and concerns in ways that don’t blame your wife for the actions of others, and you’re more likely to find peace and satisfaction.
UPDATE - Shy Desi Boy responds:
Thank you all for the comments and feedback. In reading your comments (and in re-reading my own column), I realize that I was indeed needlessly harsh and presumptuous. I apologize for that.
When I read the question, I wanted to make a point how we too often place the blame solely on women. I wanted to stir things up a bit and flip the table for once, to show that as men we should be more compassionate to the women in our lives. We men often tell a woman what to wear/what not to wear, how to behave, who to talk to or not to talk to, and even what makes a woman virtuous. I am a bit tired of that and as a man I wanted my column to show my exhaustion and frustration with that line of thinking.
That said–as many of you pointed out, the questioner should not be slapped and I regret using that language.
In the future, I will work on being a bit more compassionate and I thank you all for pointing out my error.
And thank you again to all of you who chimed in.
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