I’m a big fan of equality. I don’t think exceptions of the rule should be made, or tokenism allowed for anyone, regardless of gender, religion, ability or ethnicity. The idea of ‘equality’ usually evokes feelings of power and fairness, but sometimes equality can mean everyone gets treated the same in shitty situations. Sometimes life is unfair, but occasionally, you just have to suck it up. However, some people think they’re above this occasional unfairness. I recently read an article ‘Muslim women face an uphill battle against prejudice to find work’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/10/muslim-women-prejudice-getting-job#start-of-comments) in which Muslim women are sometimes forced to remove their hijabs for work. As I was reading, I experienced all the normal reactions; outrage, sympathy, etc. But then I removed myself from my default emotions regarding discrimination and realised that these women were using their religion to demand special treatment. Now before you yell ‘Muslim hater!’, know that I despise all religions equally. I’m a fair woman, so it wouldn’t matter if this article was about Christian or Hindu or Scientologist (if you can even call them a real ‘religion’) women not being allowed to wear their sacred religious garments.
I personally believe there is no harm in a Muslim woman wearing her hijab to work. However, when you look for and accept work, it usually involves being aware of that particular organisation’s or business’s dress code and expectations of employee’s presentation. I live in the real world. I know that some employers do not like my look. I have facial piercings and visible body tattoos and I’m aware that these are deal-breakers for particular employers. I wouldn’t be offended if I got knocked back to become a waitress for a café that serves high tea, or for a job teaching lady’s etiquette. I understand that by having these body modifications, I am limiting my chances of employment in some areas.
This is where it comes back to equal treatment. In supposedly secular countries, religious people should be treated exactly the same as those who do not identify with any religion. To me, this means that employers should have just as much rights to ask a Muslim to remove her hijab as they do to ask me to remove my nose ring. Both are cosmetic, materialistic items with abstract meanings. A Muslim woman’s hijab may be worn to make her feel more comfortable in herself, but this is the same reason why I had my tattoos done. Once you remove the element of religion, a hijab is simply an accessory. If we are to truly be an equal society, I believe religious garments, beliefs or rules should be up for the same scrutiny as their secular equivalents.
Sometimes beggars can’t be choosers. If you desperately need a job, and the only option includes a position in which you need to forgo or supress some of your values or beliefs, then you bloody take that job. I have applied for positions in all sorts of organisations that I don’t agree with, including; counselling at a private Christian school (in which I would have had to incorporate Jesus’s teachings in my advice), case managing for a Lutheran homeless charity, and volunteering for various different churches. This is the real world. People aren’t always going to pander to your personal values.
At the risk of committing the ‘Slippery Slope’ argument fallacy, where would it end? Under the rules of ‘religious freedom’ and free expression, people could argue that wearing giant blood soaked crosses around your neck is a Christian right, or that wearing a tin foil hat so that the aliens can’t read your thoughts is a Scientology necessity. Of course these are ridiculous examples, but religion is in the business of being ridiculous and nonsensical.
Of course there are exceptions to this opinion. Employment discrimination based on race, gender, disability, etc, is unacceptable. Furthermore, I’d have a problem if an employer suddenly changed his or her mind regarding the dress code and enforced rules that weren’t in place at the time of initial employment. But if I was employed and 6 months into the job my boss said ‘Holly, I’m going to have to ask you to cover your tattoos and piercings’, I would weigh up my options. If I desperately needed this job, I would do it. I might grumble a bit and write an angsty entry into my diary, but I’d realise that I need the money, and I’d have to grit my teeth and get over it. If I didn’t desperately need the job, I’d leave and find a new one where my cosmetic differences were accepted.
No accessory should be given precedence over another, regardless of whether it is religious or not. I’m lucky that I live in a free society in which I can leave my house with my piercings and science tattoos, as can Muslim women with their hijabs or burkas, and Christian women with crosses around their neck. Just don’t tell me one is more sacred than the other.