One August in the mid-80’s my mom took me and my sister to Yalta. We usually vacationed elsewhere because this Crimean city, although unquestionably beautiful, was horribly overcrowded. That year my sister was busy with university entrance exams all summer, so, after she passed, my mother decided to do something extravagant for her in the one week remaining before the beginning of the school year, and took us to Yalta.
We rented out a half a room (well, a Soviet vacation) from a lady who lived five minutes away from the beach. The lady that lived in the other half and was very talkative. No problem, we thought, we are not planning on spending time in that room anyway. We put on our swim suits and shorts and headed out.
Two blocks away from the beach we were approached by a young cop.
“Hello! Where are you from?” He asked politely.
We were taken aback. This is not how Soviet authority figures typically approach citizens. “Kharkov,” Replied my mother.
“So do you dress like that in Kharkov too?” He pointed to mine and my sister’s shorts. “This is way too short!” He all of a sudden became a Soviet authority figure, berating us for something that’s not any of his business in a first place. He scolded us for a few minutes after which he said good buy and moved on to the next group of female vacationers. A few months later we saw him on national TV admonishing some ingénues.
My mother was upset: No, we don’t wear this clothes in Kharkov, but Kharkov is not a resort town. And here, two more blocks and we’ll be in our bikinis!
On a positive side, he didn’t throw acid on us, as our Iranian buddies would had done. That young cop was pretty comical actually. All his efforts didn’t make a dent in the beach-goers state of undress. But by then the Soviet Union was falling apart and 70 years of pent-up sartorial frustration was exploding in bright colors and mini skirts. And designer labels on girls whose families, presumably, couldn’t afford any new clothes at all.
I don’t take my ability to dress the way I want for granted. That’s why I view some of recent arrivals in my town with unease. There’s a lot of heads carves and two women have only eyes open to the elements. Their men dress more or less like normal Western men, but women and even elementary school girls are clearly marked as tribal-religious property.
The new arrivals’ dress code doesn’t simply signal their status; it has implications for me and my daughter. As the European New Year’s Eve rape rampage confirmed, in the eyes of quite a few Muslim men Western women are one step above prostitutes.
I think it’s very important to show that we are not about to change our ways just because Muslim families settled in the nearby Section 8 (or whatever it’s called now) housing complex. For instance, I always try to make eye contact with Muslim men and smile. I wear skinny jeans and skirts that bare my knees. If I’m ever in a situation where I can shake hands with a Muslim man, I’ll initiate it.
The other day I was walking towards the Target entrance when two women in head scarves and a male relative of theirs approached the entrance from the other side. I made sure to get in 5 steps in front of them and, for myself, for my daughter and for every woman in Tehran, brushed my hand through my hair.
I don’t think I will personally ward off jihad, but on the other hand American women not as easy of a target as European women. A 17-year-old Danish girl who fought of an assailant with pepper spray was recently told that she will be charged because pepper spray is illegal in Denmark. This cannot possibly happen in the US, and the men entering the country must know it.
We can look at Israel as a model for assimilation. The Jewish state has a pretty good record (well, all things considered) bringing their Muslims into the 21st century, and it’s known for beautiful modern women and Uzis. I’d rather be Israel than Denmark.