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JS Mill

When xenophobia meets sexism ... 'Hi, oppression!'

Over the past few weeks I've been following the news from around the world and becoming increasingly, vibratingly irate. First, there was word that France wanted to ban the burqa. Then Belgium did it. Then up popped odd little news stories 'highlighting' the dangerousness of the burqa (Plane forced down by woman in burqa, Man in burqa makes armed cash grab). Meanwhile, Italian city fines woman for wearing burqa. Unsurprisingly, the day after these stories, the Australian media was full of Senator Cory Bernardi's piece on how, "For Australia's sake we need to ban the burqa" (also, Burqa theft prompts Abbott to echo Howard's concerns). Hard on the heels of that, French parliament adopts resolution condemning Islamic veil. So far, the Australian government isn't making moves to follow suit ("No law agency advice to ban burqa: PM").

The papers here have been full of opinion pieces (and opinionated comments from the public) on the issue:
The burqa's not unAustralian, but banning it sure is
Going berko about the burqa
The fuss over the burqa is out of kilter
What women wear is their business
Let's face facts - the burqa is an affront to feminism

You know, it really bugs me, this anti-Islamic hysteria masquerading as 'feminism'. Yes, I'm aware of circumstances like in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has enforced the burqa for women, and I'm aware of what it says about the status of women in that culture, and I am vehemently opposed to that. However, not all burqa-wearing women are being oppressed - for some, it is an choice they make, with regard for their beliefs, and to outlaw the burqa for these women is to oppress them (by removing their choice, and further cutting them off from society by forcing them to not go out if they want to continue wearing the burqa). Feminism is about empowering women to have the freedom to make their own choices, and that means the freedom to wear a burqa, or be a stay-at-home mum, barefoot and pregnant. As long as these paths are chosen by the woman, and not inflicted by a man, we should respect the choice.

Let's be realistic. The supposed 'security risk' of burqas can easily be worked around without banning. All that is required is some security procedures to be put in place in airports and banks which are culturally sensitive but still ensure identification can take place. It may make Westerners uncomfortable that they can't read facial expressions on someone in a burqa, but guess what? My expressions can't be read when I'm wearing my sunglasses, either - and that's something I take advantage of often. I've become very proficient in only showing reactions in my eyes, and I often have to watch myself when I'm not wearing my sunglasses that I don't give myself away! And you know, it's not the responsibility of a minority of Islamic women to go out of there way to make sure that a xenophobic public is immediately comfortable. It's up to us to make an effort to be more accepting of other cultures, not to force the other culture to change to suit us. And let's be honest - most of the arguments really being made for banning the burqa have nothing to do with 'setting oppressed women free' - they're to do with the fear of the other, and the fear of Muslims. And reason, not fear, should be the basis of law.

Comments

Great post.

Look, I think the burqa is inherently sexist.

Only women wear it. It's yet another way of defining women as primarily sex objects. You may be scientist or politician or a mother, but that's all secondary to the fact that you're a woman, and a glimpse of your face might reduce men to uncontrollable acts of lust.

It's bullshit. Deeply offensive bullshit.

But calls to ban the burqa are bullshit too. If you were going to ban things because they were sexist, you'd ban Zoo Magazine and the Footy Show.

It's a classic tactic of conservative forces co-opting progressive language to make their bigotry seem more palatable. They get to blow thier dog whistles, and we're not supposed to call them on it because they're being "feminists".
Look, I think the burqa is inherently sexist.

Only women wear it. It's yet another way of defining women as primarily sex objects. You may be scientist or politician or a mother, but that's all secondary to the fact that you're a woman, and a glimpse of your face might reduce men to uncontrollable acts of lust.


I actually totally agree with this, you've just worded the whole thing better than I could at the time.

I hate what it says about women, but also what it says about men - that they are unable of controlling themselves, are little more than 'animals', purely reacting, no reason or will involved.

If you were going to ban things because they were sexist, you'd ban Zoo Magazine and the Footy Show.

Amen.

Excellent comment!