Lets have a discussion on the mingling of sexes. There is so much confusion within the American Muslim world. Some communities have free mixing; some are segregated. I do not see evidence of the prohibition of mixing with the opposite sex. This prohibition really dehumanizes females. We are turned into sexual objects. The Prophet never limited the role of women.
Like you said, there is no evidence from the Quran or the authentic Hadeeth that the two sexes cannot be together, provided they are in a public place (otherwise it would be the forbidden Khulwa) and provided both sexes are dressed modestly and act properly. The extreme segregation applied to the wives of the Prophet (PBUH) only. We know that because the Quran made that clear,
“O wives of the Prophet, you are not like anyone among women. If you watch out [for God], then do not submit in speech, lest he in whose heart is disease should covet, but speak with appropriate speech.
And abide in your homes and do not expose yourselves as [was] the exposition of the former [era] of ignorance. And establish prayer and give alms and obey God and His Messenger. God only wants to displace from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification.” (33:32-33)
Extending that to all Muslim women is a matter of tradition, not Sunna. Umar ibn Al-Khattaab, may God have been pleased with him, was once invited to dinner with the Prophet (PBUH). The two of them sat at the table with `Aa’isha, may God have been pleased with her. No segregation here. As they were eating from the same plate, Umar and `Aa’isha reached out to the the plate at the same moment and their hands touched. Umar was very upset but the Prophet (PBUH) was not! He saw that it was accidental.
I respectfully disagree that segregation is tantamount to dehumanizing either sex; it is acknowledging the potential harm and taking precautions against it. Would you live in a drug infested neighborhood if you don’t have to? Admitting that men are lustful does not dehumanize them; it is simply acknowledging a fact of life. Admitting that women are extremely attractive to men and that their effect on them can preempt their better judgement, is an admission to a widely known fact. We may resent that fact, but that doesn’t change it. Pretending otherwise is wishful thinking and ignoring the elephant in the room. You can see that in today’s world a lot. Both men and women keep telling themselves that what they are wearing or the way they are conducting themselves should not lead to adultery; that grownups can control themselves. Is that what actually happens? Hardly.
The example set by the Prophet (PBUH) and followed by the Sahaaba after him, in the congregational prayer in the mosque, best illustrates Islam’s view on segregation. Women and men pray together in the mosque, a public place, both dressed properly and behave decently, and all the women pray behind all the men. Doing otherwise would open the door to distractions and ugly attempts from men to touch the women or watch their bodies. Segregation in this manner protects both sexes. Outside the mosque, the same awareness should be present, i.e., women and men can work together and socialize but only if they act like ladies and gentlemen and dress properly. This is not a novel concept. Corporations have had dress codes and codes of conduct all employees must agree to.