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Kids Fiction 1444
Far from Oppressive...
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I truly enjoyed this book, not just because of the lovely illustrations, depicting the colorful and mysterious ways women in West Africa adorn themselves with the malafa, but also because of the message: the malafa is not seen as oppressive to most women who wear them. What we in the West view as oppressive, they view in many different, beautiful ways: expressive, mysterious, belonging, and as a sign of faith, not simply modesty.

Lately I have been exploring philosophically how our culture's feminist ideals sometimes contradict themselves: if a woman is supposed to have choices, and we are to celebrate her choices, why must we continually label those choices that we ourselves may ethnocentrically view as "oppressive" as being forced upon women by "patriarchy," instead of acknowledging that we may not know the entire story, and we may not see the deeper reasons why women live and dress in ways very different from our own? If we are so enlightened and are supposed to be tolerant of different viewpoints, why not a viewpoint that admires and respects the malafa and other modes of dress like it? Yes, to some women the burqa, malafa, and other modest dress is, factually, oppressive. But as the author portrays, it can be an expression of faith and a symbol of coming of age.

I, for one, appreciated this more tolerant message and found the author's story inspiring: after living with women in their culture, she adopted a more rounded viewpoint and saw how she herself was projecting oppression onto women who do not feel oppressed at all. The book is a great way to talk about faith, dress, freedom and religion with your children, especially girls. Some may not like it, but I was happy to have received this thoughtful picture book.
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