Archive for the ‘Women, money and power / the social side of economics’ Category

A Modest Proposal: The Burkino, for Men

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

originally published in the New York Daily News, September 3 2016 (

Introducing the burkino: A modest proposal in the spirit of equality

Why not men too? (NEIL HALL/REUTERS)
BY Judith Miller Ann Marlowe
Saturday, September 3, 2016, 5:00 AM

Fashion Week is coming. So in the spirit of audacious runway creativity, here’s a new sartorial concept for the Muslim Middle East — and a way to at least partially solve the French “burkini” challenge: the “burkino,” full-body-covering beachwear for men.

Brimming with cultural outrage, French officials from 30 municipalities recently decided to protect precious laïcité , or secularism, by banning women from wearing full-body bathing suits, calling the mere choice of modest swimwear a “provocation.”

Free-speech advocates have strongly objected. How can France, which shattered social convention back in 1946 by inventing the bikini and whose national motto starts with the endorsement of of liberté , tell women what they can and can’t wear at the beach or pool? Indeed, France’s highest administrative court recently struck down one town’s burkini ban on grounds that it violates civil liberties and that the garb poses no threat to public safety.

Yet the bathing suit battle seems likely to continue, as towns continue insisting that the burkini is actually a veiled (so to speak) attempt by Islamist fundamentalists to impose religious dress, and hence Islamist values, in what France considers religion-free public space.

Now, with tongue in cheek, a long-time fashion insider, Kym Canter, proposes a bold compromise: appropriately demure beachwear for men.

Rather than making it illegal for women to cover one’s hair and body, why not offer Muslim men an opportunity to express solidarité — another French value — with their shrouded wives and sisters? In fact, in the name of gender neutrality, why should France not insist upon it?

Many Islamic scholars argue that the modesty imperative applies to both men and women (though over time, patriarchies being what they are, women have borne the brunt of the prophet’s insistence that women should cover their “adornments” and that men and women dress and act to avoid temptation).

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest,” instructs the Koran. So let us level the sartorial score.

Canter, a fashion trend-hunter and entrepreneur, thinks the potential market could be huge. She would like to offer the burkino in four basic colors — black, navy, gray and safety orange — and in all sizes: small, medium, large, extra and super extra large. She would also like to offer a paunch-concealing model, in all sizes.

Consider the side benefits. Until now, devout Muslim men have looked enviously at their heavily covered wives and daughters, shielded from public view, wondering how they, too, could enjoy beachwear consistent with the modesty that some interpretations of their faith impose on women in public spaces.

The burkino would also end the fat-shaming that affects so many male beach-goers. No more need Muslim men fear that their imperfect bodies will be the object of scorn or search in vain for an alternative to standard male beach attire — bare chests and baggy shorts, or, worse, form-fitting Lycra briefs.

And European beach-goers will no longer be able to accuse Muslim men of hypocrisy for dressing like secular Europeans while insisting that their wives cover up.

But wait, there’s more. Devout Muslim men, like their mothers, sisters, and wives, would no longer have to worry about getting sunburned.

Yes, it’s a bit tricky to do the breast stroke, or the butterfly, in the burkino. But isn’t that a small price to pay for the psychological, physical — and spiritual — security burkinos would provide?

Some men might resent being asked to give up water skiing, for instance, in the name of Islamic modesty. But others will take the plunge. For the brave, the burkino’s moment has come.

Miller is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Marlowe is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Libya’s Hidden Minority (orig. pub. Daily Beast, 9/2/11)

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Libya’s Hidden Minority

Long stifled under Gaddafi, an ancient Libyan group called the Amazigh is beginning to quietly reclaim its voice, culture—and freedom.

by Ann Marlowe | September 2, 2011 7:59 PM EDT

From the U.S., Libya may seem like a homogenous place, the setting for a distant war. But Libya’s scant six million people are surprisingly culturally diverse, and Libya’s indigenous inhabitants, Berbers known in Libya as Amazigh, are part of an ethnic group that spans parts of Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Chad, Mali, and Burkina Faso. They have a written language whose oldest inscriptions date from 200 B.C.—but it fell victim to Muammar Gaddafi’s idiosyncratic Arab nationalism and was harshly suppressed to the point where most Amazigh adults cannot read or write it.

Today, as Libyans awaken from their 42-year-long bad dream, the country’s estimated 165,000 Berbers are proudly reclaiming their culture. Berber revolutionaries painted the “Z” symbol of their people on their pickup trucks, and wore T-shirts with the Amazigh flag on one side, the Libyan on the other. And the Amazigh women of Jadu in the Nafusa Mountains—free since the end of February—are flexing their muscles in their own way.

The moment you step inside the headquarters of the Sun of Freedom women’s association of Jadu and see the sketch of the Amazigh flag on the wall, it’s apparent that this charitable organization is as much about reviving traditional Berber culture as it is about aiding the roughly 5,000 internally displaced people, many Amazigh, who have fled from Tripoli, Zwara, and other coastal cities to take refuge here.

The Amazigh people have long struggled against Gaddafi, and during the fighting against him—now in its sixth month—as many as 150,000 people have been displaced. For the Amazigh, the struggle is not just a struggle to unseat a despot; it’s a struggle to reclaim their ancient language and traditions.
Berber women celebrate

Women celebrate the Tripoli intifada in the street on the night of Aug. 19, 2011., Ann Marlowe

In Jadu, a town of about 10,000 Amazigh set on a mesa high above the plain that runs north to Libya’s west coast, a group of women, mainly teachers, have been preparing meals for the internally displaced people, and teaching Amazigh children. With Ramadan turning schedules nocturnal, the women are preparing daily breakfast meals, called iftar.

Before the Feb. 17 revolution here, women weren’t allowed to be active outside the home, says Amal Kahber, one of the 15 or so women active in the Sun of Freedom organization. Thought they were permitted to be school teachers, they did not spend time in public or interact with strangers. But now, she says, times are changing. In addition to cooking for the refugees, the women have tutored children in Arabic, English, and Amazigh. Schools here, as elsewhere in “free Libya,” closed in late February and have yet to reopen, although there are plans for some to do so next month, according to the Transitional National Council Education Minister Suliman el Sahli. The women also ran a charity fashion show featuring young girls in traditional Amazigh dress.

A Libyan girl from the Amazigh (Berber) community wears a headband sporting the traditional symbol of peace, the Azoul, as she attends a class in her ancient language at the Ezefran center in Jadu in eastern Libya on July 17, 2011., Marco Longari / AFP Photo

But beyond more conventional charitable works, the Sun of Freedom organization is devoted to the Amazigh culture, long ignored by Libyan Arabs and actively suppressed by Gaddafi. Until Jadu freed itself of Gaddafi’s control in February, even speaking Amazigh in public was forbidden. The language wasn’t taught in schools, and today, only the older generation and a few younger people know how to write the 32-character, 2,200-year-old phonetic language. “I’m the only one in my family who can write Amazigh,” says 16-year-old Amani Giadwi, a Tripoli banker’s daughter, in perfect English.

Amani and her sister Nada interrupt each other excitedly as they explain the history of their culture. They assert that the Amazigh are the original inhabitants of Libya, and gave the country its name. “Gaddafi said that all Amazigh are Arabs—but we are not!” Amani exclaims vehemently. The Berber culture encompasses many of the indigenous people in North Africa including those in Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia, although their dialects vary.

Despite their devotion to the Amazigh cause, the women’s knowledge of Berber culture is fragmentary and local, just as Gaddafi wanted. They have never heard of the magnificent rock carvings at Slonta, Berber art near al Bayda on the east coast that predates the Greek colonization. In turn, the urban population on Libya’s east coast has little knowledge of the Amazigh—several Arab freedom fighters told me they had known nothing of the Nafusa Mountains until their brigades from other parts of Libya came to fight and train here.

Amazighs look like other Libyans, but the feel of their culture is more free and open. Compared to the Arab town of Zintan just 15 or so miles away, Jadu seems more liberal. Women walk in small groups to the “supermarket” downtown here, and are dressed less conservatively than in Zintan. And the Giadwi sisters drive around without a male escort—something that would make news in Zintan.

What the future holds for these Berber women will depend on the outcome of the still-intense fighting going on for control of Libya.

Still, this is no feminist paradise. An iftar I attended last week at a Jadu mosque was otherwise attended only by men, and women are never seen out at Jadu’s only coffee shop. Within the Nafusa Mountains, culture differs from town-to-town and among the Berber towns as well. I was able to verify for myself the claim of Senussi Mahrez of Zwara, who commanded 200 fighters at a camp in Jadu, that Zwara is more liberal than Jadu. He also called the Berber town of Nalut, which I did not visit, “the Amazigh Zintan,” for its conservatism.

What the future holds for these Berber women will depend on the outcome of the still-intense fighting going on for control of Libya. But it seems likely that their ancient culture and its fascinating language will enjoy an unexpected revival. Encouragingly, on the night of the Tripoli uprising that sent Libyans into the streets in joyous sympathy all over free Libya, the women of Jadu came out spontaneously and for the first time in history celebrated in public with the men.

Bohemian Rhapsody (orig. published in The Weekly Standard, 4/18/2011)

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Bohemian Rhapsody
A backward look at the Manhattan hipster life.
Ann Marlowe
April 18, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 30

Art and Madness
A Memoir of Lust Without Reason
by Anne Roiphe
Nan A. Talese, 240 pp., $24.95

Seventy-five-year-old Anne Roiphe’s short, incandescent fourth memoir doesn’t read like an older writer’s book, but it explores obsessively an archaic constellation of ideas: that there’s something special about artists and writers that excuses their moral lapses, especially in the arenas of alcoholism and adultery.

“I believed that I was going to be a muse to a man of great talent,” she intones, and she might as well be saying she dreamt of being a lady in waiting at the court of Louis XIV, it is so remote to the present day. “Alcohol was the lubricant of genius .  .  . the men needed to drink.” In sentences that alternate between Hemingwayesque brusqueness and Woolfian rhapsodies, Roiphe offers short set pieces anchored mainly in New York and the Hamptons from the mid-fifties to the early sixties. At the time, the United States still had a nearly official culture, with a hierarchy of writers (almost all white and male) whose relative rank order everyone knew. In Roiphe’s account, they partied furiously, often at the Sutton Place apartment of the Paris Review cofounder George Plimpton.

Maybe the nonstop drinking and adultery she participated in was possible because writing was a reasonably paid enterprise, or because many of the Paris Review crowd—Peter Matthiessen, Doc Humes, Plimpton himself—were trustafarians. Some were also highly productive; Roiphe has bested most by publishing three earlier memoirs as well as nine novels and six works of nonfiction, while raising three daughters.

I caught the end of the Paris Review parties in George Plimpton’s place in the late nineties. Coming from the indie rock scene, as I did, the substance abuse and sexual charge seemed mild. So did the intellectual stimulation and literacy level. But Roiphe has a skilled eye in evoking what were obviously the times of her young life, and whether or not it was any more exciting than literary life today, she makes it seem that way.

Art and Madness—a terrible title, at once pretentious and sententious—is also, more sadly, the story of Roiphe’s doomed starter marriage (1958-63) to a delusional alcoholic, Jack Richardson. Roiphe met Richardson at a Brearley dance at 15, re-met him at the West End Bar at 21 (she says she was 19 in the text, but it’s a mistake), and married him at 22. The second time they saw each other, Richardson asked her to buy a drink for him. While they were living together in Paris, he went out alone most nights, drinking and picking up hookers while she typed his manuscripts. And then, finally, he asked her to marry him. The reader can guess which way this is going, but Roiphe couldn’t:

My father gives Jack a few hundred dollars for a honeymoon. .  .  . But after lunch .  .  . Jack says he needs the money for a few nights on the town by himself. He needs to drink. I understand. He goes off alone on our honeymoon and I wait at the apartment. He comes back four days later.

Roiphe worked as a typist in the day to support Jack writing his first play, then typed it in the evening while he went out drinking. Roiphe, whose second husband was a psychoanalyst, is aware enough to say of her choices, “It has a name in the psychiatric manuals: masochism.” But she insists that was not all: “A passion that even as I know better, even as I now regret it, was not without its own grandeur.” We have only Roiphe’s word to take for Richardson being a brilliant writer, since no one today has heard of him. Roiphe doesn’t mention the irony, but the best way to turn up the right Jack Richardson on a search engine today is to couple his name with hers. And this is a man who vowed that, if he were not as famous as Keats by Keats’s age at death (25), he would kill himself.

Speaking of which, there is no bohemian poverty in this tale. Roiphe and Richardson were living on Park Avenue when she was 27, in an apartment bought by her rich mother. When Richardson needed more money for drinking than Roiphe’s meager salary as a receptionist allowed, he pawned her jewelry or she borrowed from her mother. The folie à deux that constituted this marriage might have ended even sooner without Roiphe’s family money, which she wrote about in her second memoir, the excellent 1185 Park Avenue. Roiphe is unflinching about her limitations: “I want a better world. I just want someone else to create it. .  .  . I had the morals of a four year old. .  .  . The man was a snake charmer and I was a snake.” She rationalized her many affairs with married men in the desperate interval between Richardson’s departure and her second marriage. Because her husband was compulsively unfaithful, she was freed not only from her marriage vows but from her obligation to respect others’ vows:

If other women had my husband, I too could do as I pleased. .  .  . In other words I was unmoored, uncertain and violated the only religious precept I really believed: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

She attributes her bad behavior to not knowing “whether it was better to snatch what sex one could from passersby or to remain faithful to a love and miss the party.” She never attributes it to the sense of artistic entitlement that the male writers she knew used to excuse their lapses—though she believed in this justification, too.

Roiphe found happiness with husband number two, Dr. Herman Roiphe, a much steadier model, who was 43 to her 31 when they wed and stayed married to her until he died 38 years later. (She wrote a memoir about that, too.) In the end, though, what haunts this book are not the wild parties and furtive adulteries but the unconsoled screams of the very young Emily Carter, Roiphe’s daughter by Richardson, wailing as her beautiful mother walks out the door, often on a foolish mission: “How hard it must be to be this child, whose mother is about to put her, still in her pajamas, in the car and race to the bus stop for a last goodbye.” Roiphe was going to say farewell to a visiting lover, the late Doc Humes, possibly as alcoholic and mentally ill as Richardson, and today nearly as obscure.

Roiphe’s first daughter is referred to only as “the baby” or “the child.” At the end, Roiphe mentions Carter’s struggles with drugs, her HIV-positive status, and her having become a writer, but still without naming her. Of course, Carter, a fixture of the East Village literary scene, may have requested this anonymity. (The other daughters are Katie, who wrote this book’s forward, and Becky, both from their mother’s second marriage.) And maybe the best commentary on the harrowing marriage that produced her comes from a 1998 interview with Carter. She is reflecting on her years as a stripper, but her words apply to the repetitions of her parents’ union, and her father’s alcoholism, as well:

If I were ruler of this, our darkly gleaming universe .  .  . I’d make it a felony to change any human interaction into something reeking of power and degradation. I’d make it illegal to turn your life into an endless behavioral reply, like a skipping record, of something that happened to you as a child.