Yesterday I was on my way to the movies with some kids between 11 and 14 in the back of my car. A few of my own, a few others. Boys and girls. ‘Why is their a ban on burkini’s on French beaches this summer mum? Looks just the same as the wetsuit we put on when we tried surfing in July? And what do you think about headscarfs?’
Sigh. Touchy subject. Where to start? I am not an expert. Or am I, as I a human being?
‘I think it’s about freedom. You want to choose what clothes to wear and how to express yourself right? ‘ I said. ‘I have a friend, a successful female CEO of a company that operates in 6 countries. She’s full of adventure, fun, successful in business, also a mum of 4. And she happens to wear a headscarf. I have another friend muslima that forbids her daughters to wear a headscarf. Your older brother has a muslim girlfriend that looks like a topmodel. She chose not to wear a headscarf, as did her mum that works for the police. They all made a choice. I think it’s up to them and you should respect that.’
They seemed to listen and understand. So I continued. ‘The freedom to make choices is not so simple. For example, if dressing up and putting on a proper shirt when you go to visit your grandparents is a must, you don’t really have the choice to put on an old t-shirt, right? Also, I know friends who make remarks about the length of their 16 year old daughters’ skirts when they go out. Are they also telling their sons to behave towards girls? Freedom of choice does not really exist. We are all influenced by our friends, family, culture.’
As in any discussion, there are no simple truths about right or wrong. I want my kids to learn and think for themselves and form their own opinions. That’s not easy when they are being bombarded with all kinds of slogans on social media. So I made one more comment.
‘What I really don’t like and find very dishonest is that my muslim girlfriends’ brothers, suns and fathers do not have to make a choice. They do not even have to think about what they wear. And they don’t have to hear and read all the opinions about what they should or should not do. They are free to do what they want. That is called inequality between men and women. And that’s never OK.‘
The right to choose is good. The right not to have to make choices is something completely different. It reminds me of the recurring question whether or not career women can also be good mums. Why is that still a question that women get in almost every interview and men do not? Freedom of choice. It’s not so simple.
Elke Jeurissen, (steph)mum of five, entrepreneur, lover of life.