Sheikh Hilaly had a point! or "if you've got a
right to walk around topless,
I've got a right to look"
Sheikh Hilaly had a Point!
In October 2008, Sheikh Al-Hilaly, the mufti of
Australia, got himself in a lot of trouble over
comments made in a sermon, where he allegedly said
that if a woman dresses provokatively and gets
sexually assaulted, it's her own fault!
Whether he really said this or not, the question
of public dress-codes and their effect on society
at large is a subject worthy of serious
He did have a point, didnt he? Did we miss
I thought the errant Sheikhs point was
that if girls are going around dressed like
strumpets, that theyre asking for trouble. If
so, hes raised an important subject in my
opinion, and one that needs to be discussed. And
Im not just saying that because Im a
father of a teenage daughter!
Of course, it may well be that the Sheikh said a
lot more than that. Indeed, he may have said way
too much, and I'm not going to try to defend him.
Even so, its about time we Australians took
an honest look at the effect that dress codes in
our culture (or the lack of them) have on our
society at large, and on the male segment of the
population in particular.
Were very quick in Australian society to
jump on the primitive standards of
Islamic communities, where women have to cover
themselves in public, at least in part to lower the
level of sexual temptation for men. We think it
crazy that women should be so restricted and we
cant see why men shouldnt be expected
to simply take responsibility for showing
self-control. In my opinion though, the system has
a solid logic to it.
The logic goes like this: The community as a
whole recognises the potentially destructive force
of the male sex drive - destroying individuals,
families and the community at large. Therefore both
men and women and the government take
responsibility for curtailing these destructive
effects. Men are taught to pray and to take cold
showers when tempted. Women, for their part, cover
themselves in public. And the government does its
bit by legislating the death penalty for all
OK. Its a brutal logic, and Im not
expecting it to capture the imagination of the
Australian public, but youve gotta admit that
the system makes sense. What doesnt make
sense is our Western system, where women can dress
and flirt and present themselves in public as they
please, and men are expected to pretend that it
doesnt affect them.
A few weeks ago I was taking my younger children
to a movie. I guess it was because I was bending
down a little to deal with one of the kids that
when I pivoted around I almost fell headfirst into
the cleavage of the young girl standing behind me.
Frankly though, it was an obstacle that was hard to
avoid. She must have been all of 18, wearing her
push-up bra, putting her best assets proudly on
display to the rest of the world, in a way that
didnt leave a lot to the imagination.
Now, given that this is the acceptable standard
in our culture, you might think that a rational
response in that situation would be for me to
compliment the girl by saying,
Congratulations on your fabulous boobs,
luv!, to which shed reply, Why
thanks. I was hoping that people would
notice, though shed probably add,
though it wasnt really you I was hoping
Something along those lines would make sense, at
any rate. What doesnt make sense is how, in
our culture, Im expected to pretend that I
It doesnt make sense. She wants men to
look, but the mans responsibility is not to
look. Shes hoping to drive the guys wild with
her sexual allure, but woe betide the male who
wolf-whistles or makes some comment that suggests
that she has had exactly the effect on him that she
was trying to have.
I remember seeing a Leunig cartoon some years
ago, depicting a table-top dancer entertaining a
client. She struts her stuff and waves her bits in
his face. Eventually the man jumps up and drops his
pants. She screams and yells, Pervert,
and the security guards come and drag the poor
Thats how it works in Australian
community. Its all available. Its all
on display. It appears to be all there for the
taking, but God forbid that you should make any
sort of tangible response!
I remember a while ago we had a court case where
some guy was convicted for taking a picture of a
girl who was walking around in public topless. The
girl made some statement that was recorded at the
time, along the lines of, Ive got a
right to walk around topless if I like and nobody
has the right to perv on me.
Now Im paraphrasing, but I think Ive
captured the logic. The assumption is that how I
dress (or undress) is my business and nobody
elses, and this is just plain garbage.
If youre a fan of the Simpsons,
youll remember Bart saying to his sister,
Im going to start swinging my fists
around, and if someone happens to get in the way of
them, thats not my fault. He then
starts windmilling his arms and moving in
Lisas direction, while trying to give the
impression that hes not noticing her
Its the same logic. If you walk around
swinging your arms, you have to take responsibility
if you hit someone. If you wander around in public,
loudly shouting and swearing, youre going to
have to expect that people will get annoyed with
you. And if you are a girl who is determined to
walk around topless, youve gotta expect men
to get excited. Its natural. Its
genetic. Its the way were built.
Im not saying that this gives male voyeurs an
excuse to assault anybody, but girls need to
understand that when they do this, they are playing
I think a large part of the problem stems from
the fact that most women in this community have no
real awareness of the rapacious ferocity of the
male sex drive, especially in testosterone-filled
teenagers. Perhaps Islamic communities are just
more realistic at this level. I dont know,
and Im not pretending for a minute that
Id rather live in Tehran than in Sydney. But
I suspect that the statistics on sexual assault and
marital breakdown are much healthier over there
than they are here.
OK. Now Im not suggesting that the Islamic
dress code for all Australian women is the
solution, and Im not even saying that women
shouldnt be allowed to walk around topless.
All I am saying is that its time we got real
about the situation.
Responsibility is a two-way street. As Ive
often said to my teenage daughter, If you
walk around a room holding a plate of
horderves, youve gotta expect that
sooner or latter someone is going to try and grab
one and have a nibble.
Does that absolve a teenage boy from
responsibility when he assaults some poor young
girl, simply because she was dressed provocatively?
Of course not. But maybe its time we all took
responsibility for the problem, instead of just
leaving it to the lads to work it out for
themselves, because they wont.
Maybe thats what the Sheikh was trying to
say? I dont know, though I do suspect that
the media beat-up over his comments has more to do
with an anti-Muslim political agenda than it does
with anything he was actually responsible for.
Either way, maybe its what he should have
©2011, Rev. David B.
* * *
Never contend with a man who has nothing to
lose. - Baltasar Gracian
David B. Smith is a Parish priest, community
worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author of
the Ring & the Eucharist: Reflections on
life, ministry & fighting in the
inner-city and a
father of three. Get a free preview copy of Father
Dave, the 'Fighting Father's book when you sign up
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