I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. Rather than having it rattling around my head, I thought I’d just spew it out and ask for your help in working this out. Yes, I’m making a dick of myself by writing about something I don’t know very much about, but hey, that doesn’t stop Paul Sheehan writing about feminism.
The niqab. And France.
Believing that banning the niqab in public will stop women being oppressed is like believing that burying CO2 in the ground will fix climate change.
And we’re talking about 2000 women – out of out of a total French population of Muslim women of 1.5 million.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the ban is about liberating women. That the veil is their prison, imposed by men. (I wonder if this recognition extends to other parts of life, or if it’s just about sticking the boot into Islam and giving French men another 2000 women to perve on. Cynical? Moi?).
But it’s bullshit. I am fundamentally opposed to the idea that because women are forced to wear the niqab, then the right thing to do is force them not to wear it. How the fuck is that not also oppression?
A few years ago I met some women at a conference on Islam and the media, “Aussie converts” who wore the headscarf. They said they loved wearing it because it was a symbol of their pride in their beliefs, and it meant that in public, men stopped leering at them and looking them up and down. In public, they were people, not potential fucks or body parts to stare at. And, on a facetious level, they enjoyed not having to worry about their hair.
Of course, their experience is going to be very different to that of someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is just one of millions who have suffered in the name of Islam. (Mind you, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on making women suffer.) But it seems to me that banning the niqab has nothing to do with liberating women, and everything to do with telling Muslims that We in the West are Better. Because We allow Our Women to be Almost Nude in Public. (Almost nude, because women still don’t have the same semi-nudity rights as men.)
Update: I was just cleaning out my inbox and found this: Women unheard in the din about burqas:
If a woman has freely chosen to wear the full veil, then a law overriding that choice in public places is a clear curtailment of her civil and political rights. Those in the West who argue that women, even through the exercise of their own choice, should not be entitled to put themselves in a position which potentially demeans them, would do better to fight against violent pornography and unregulated prostitution.
If a woman has been forced to wear the burqa or the niqab, then it is barbaric to ostracise her socially, criminalise her, and restrict her access to public services. To isolate her further from the broader society and to discriminate against her while she is vulnerable, in the name of protecting her rights to be free from violence and discrimination, is nonsensical at best, dangerous at worst.
And as an aside, I wonder if Australian school kids are still being taught that Qantas is the only word in the English language that has a Q but no U? Burqa is in common English usage these days.