Saturday, September 10, 2016

Face off (Muslim women on the burka ban)

'All religions cast women as sinners and temptresses.'
'Like a half-naked woman, a veiled female to me represents an affront to female dignity, autonomy and potential. Both are marionettes, and have internalised messages about femaleness.'

'The claim that veils protect women from lasciviousness and disrespect carries an element of self-deception.'

'The Koran enjoins all Muslims – whether male or female – to dress modestly... Beyond this general instruction, the holy book... contains no mention of the burka...the hijab, or veil.'

'I am not assuming that the coverings all represent simple oppression. What I am saying is that many women who take up the veil, in any of its forms, do so without delving fully into its implications, significance or history.'

'When the Taliban captured Kabul and seized power over most of Afghanistan in 1996, they made it compulsory for all women to wear the burka.'

'All religions cast women as sinners and temptresses. Conservative Islam has revived the slander for our times. Women have to be sequestered or contained lest they raise male lust and cause public disorder.'

I have taken these quotes from a variety of Muslim women expressing their views on the recent debates about banning the burka and burkini. I think these women should be leading the debate which has taken some bizarre and unhelpful turns of late.

As a feminist who has studied and fought against the oppression of women in all its complicated, yet often, all too simple and predictable forms, I think the attention given to this issue is progress in itself, unless it makes light of the issues or makes them about something other than the worldwide feminist fight for the rights of girls and women to freedom, dignity and equality.

Being told by law or custom what to wear, or what not to wear, beyond basic decency, is, in my view, a violation of these core rights. And as it currently stands, as well as throughout history around the world, many more women are told to cover up, be modest, hide yourself, don't speak, leave the public sphere to men, etc., than to undress and wear less.

Thus, my sympathies are with the women trying to fight for their right not to have to cover up and be ashamed of their faces or bodies, much less to dress modestly for the sake of preserving men's freedom or 'honouring' some ancient mythical male figure of worship.

However, I do think that the pressure that is on women in western societies to dress in a overtly sexual (busty, slim, youthful, pretty and pouting) way, especially those hoping to make a career as an actress or entertainer, are also inconsistent with the pursuit of gender freedom and equality.

Western women who are fighting against this pressure are fighting the same fight that Muslim women are fighting in resisting the pressure to cover up. It is the same fight against the same age-old, male-imposed double standard that sees females controlled and restricted for the sake of male power and freedom.

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