Fashion is symbolic. Fashion can also be political. From Yves Saint Laurent’s “Le Smoking,” which was a tuxedo suit for women introduced in 1966 when it was inappropriate for women to wear pants, to the white dresses that early-20th-century suffragettes wore to attract photo coverage, clothing has gone beyond its most basic purpose of covering our bodies. It’s a powerful form of communication: take it from Cohen v. California, a 1971 Supreme Court case involving a man who wore a jacket that read “F*** the Draft” and who had been convicted of disturbing the peace.
Clothing is powerful. That’s why I was disturbed by the decision of Democratic congresswomen to wear white to the State of the Union address.
Wearing white was the style code for the event, decided by Florida congresswoman Lois Frankel, who said that when Donald Trump looked out into the House Chamber during the address, he would “see a sea of Suffragette white, sending the message loud and clear…”
For me, their message was indeed loud and clear.
I will, as million of women do, wear white on my (eventual) wedding day. I’ll wear white on Easter Sunday. White represents purity and life, and is often reserved for special occasions. In Syria as elsewhere, the color of clothing holds a very significant role in the culture, especially during mourning. And having been raised around the Syrian tradition, I was especially crestfallen to see white worn by these specific women, especially during a time where millions of Americans, including myself, are mourning the recent New York abortion legislation and Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s barbaric remarks on “post-birth abortion.”
In Syria, it’s a tradition for women to wear black for several months (or, in older times, even years) following the death of a family member. Widows will wear black for the rest of their lives after their husband’s death — my grandmother has worn black nearly everyday since the passing of my uncle (her son) in 2006. Black is so symbolic to Syrians, that when I was a child, I still remember my mother telling me that it was “haram” for me to wear all black clothing. Black clothing symbolizes death, impurity, and loss.
To witness a sea of women who vehemently and proudly support both America’s largest abortion provider and abortion laws that allow for the killing of a child up until birth wearing white is therefore a cruel, sinister irony.
This is compounded by the fact that the suffragettes, those to whom the Democrats were ostensibly paying homage, were largely pro-life. Elizabeth Cady Stanton called abortion what it is: infanticide. She wrote that “when we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit,” Elizabeth Blackwell was the first American woman to receive a medical degree, and she wrote: “The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism.”
I’d like to believe that Democratic congresswomen are just ignorant of these facts, and I wouldn’t be surprised of this solipsistic historical ignorance from them. But if they are aware, then they are co-opting a historical movement that would be diametrically opposed to much of what they stand for, and they’ve defiled the color white.
The Democratic congresswomen should’ve worn black.
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