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*hauls out soapbox*

I should be asleep right now, but I was only lying in bed fuming about this so I thought I might as well get it off my chest.

So I was over at Feministe this evening, and came across a post on potential legislation banning the wearing of a burqa in France (since it's degrading and all, y'know).

I don't know why I expect more from feminist blogs, but apparently, I do.

The author (whose posts I'm sure I've read and enjoyed in the past, and who I'm sure didn't actually intend to come off the way she did, to me) started off with a caveat:

I’m personally of the mind that calls for women to cover their bodies because the female form is somehow inherently tempting or representative of sex are misogynist, regressive and certainly out of line with the most basic tenets of feminism. But women make choices about the way we dress for all kinds of reasons — sometimes to follow a religious tradition, sometimes to be perceived as attractive, sometimes to be invisible, sometimes to just cover our bare asses. Most of our motivations aren’t feminist or anti-feminist. When it comes to religious requirements especially, we know that outlawing certain garments in public doesn’t make women shed the offending item of clothing; it just makes women refrain from public interactions.

Maybe I'm wrong about this. I could be. But... I think there's an assumption there as to *why* women are called upon to cover their bodies. And I won't say she's not right about that about 98% of the time, but I do think there's a whole other aspect to the entire thing she's missing. And it's easy to miss, when you haven't lived in a formerly colonized country, or been part of a religion that is widely villified. Part of the reason it's important that *women* wear a burqa is because burqas are seen as not only religiously conservative, but culturally conservative. It's part of a power struggle that's been going on for a couple hundred years. A fair number of Muslim countries have experienced colonization and war, which means the culture has been under attack -- and the people have been under attack (think rape and the way it's used not just against women but against the men who are powerless to protect "their" women). It's a classic abuser pattern isn't it, control over women as a means to restore a sense of masculinity -- but it makes sense, because that's how the "masculinity" was taken away. And a burqa doesn't just maintain control over a woman; it also represents that woman's rejection of the (usually Western) colonizing culture.

If you think I'm overthinking this, you need to see a cricket match between Pakistan and England some time. There is a lot of resentment.

And that’s precisely what will happen here. Outlawing the burqa won’t make women who cover themselves decide to walk outside in a sundress; it’ll just mean that women and girls won’t leave the home as much. The women who are supposedly victimized and imprisoned by some pieces of cloth will instead be prisoners in their own homes and communities.

It’s also no shock that the offendingly modest piece of clothing is one worn primarily by immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Empowering women doesn’t come from limiting what women can and cannot wear in public. It comes in part from giving women — all women — wide access to the public sphere. You don’t have to like the burqa to realize that outlawing it will have a hugely negative impact on women.

Here's the other assumption that annoys me: that these women will just submit. I mean, there's no concept of the idea that it can't be bloody easy now, can it, wearing a burqa in France? Even now, when it's legal. It makes me wonder about the reasons these women wear burqas. Do some of them wear burqas in defiance? They very well could. The burqas could be a sign of agency, rather than a symbol of the lack thereof. We're talking about a minority in a culture that sees them as exotic, strange, faintly deranged, dangerous... whatever. Nothing positive, certainly. A culture that doesn't respect them. (Remember that article some months back, on a white woman's experience taking off her hijab?) Mightn't you want to hang on to what you've got of your culture even more strongly than you might already? Maybe I'm just generally overly combative, but I can imagine myself doing just that.

Here's the other thing: I'm tired of constantly reading Western feminists talking about these issues. I really am. Not to say that they don't have a right to, but it doesn't seem like there's much input from the women who are directly concerned. And it's not like they're hard to find. Muslimah Media Watch has an index of Muslim women bloggers, for instance. And going through their archives, it looks like there's been a lot going on in France that really doesn't make this news very surprising, but I don't think many of the major feminist blogs have covered any of it. It's frustrating, because I know how hard the blogs try to get a diverse set of voices there, but at the same time it seems as though they tend to promote the same set of blogs and link to the same people much of the time, leaving minority voices somewhere on the sidelines.

Right. Now I will end this doubtlessly badly written rant and hopefully actually get a couple of hours of sleep before tomorrow...

(Sorry, Steph; I really don't have it in for Feministe but I was really upset!)


( 9 comments — Speechify! )
Jun. 24th, 2009 06:44 am (UTC)
Somehow this doesn't surprise me. Feministe is actually not usually one of my daily reads (though I'm going to start checking it more regularly, obviously)--I tend to read smaller blogs (plus Shakesville) because I find that larger blogs, feeling pressured to talk about ALL feminist issues, make insensitive mistakes like this. Also I absolutely can't read the comments threads on larger blogs because their audiences tend to be less sensitive/more troll-ful. At Shakesville, because it goes out of its way to be a safe space, I can usually stomach the comments. But I just want to scream and hit things whenever a thread gets derailed by "But I didn't think the ad was sexist." or "That's not actually racist!" or "I don't get why they don't just X" or something of the like. But, yeah, I don't know. I wish people were more okay with saying, "Gee. I don't know." It's okay not to know everything about a situation. Listening is just as important as commenting/blogging. But you know this. Now *I'm* rambling.

Also also, because I didn't get the chance to comment on your last post, I'm sorry that mood things aren't cooperating. I don't really have more to say that would be eloquent or not things you already know, but I miss you and love you and all that, and I hope we get to talk soon because we're overdue, though it may be a bit because I had 4 days of constant socialization and am exhausted. <3
Jun. 24th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
It's okay.

Also, I just realized that it really bothers me that she refers to the burqa as "modest."
Jun. 28th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
I skim because I don't read my friends' page very often, so feel free to tip me a new one here. I've never been good on this factor of woman's rights.

If a woman decides to observe her religious customs, it's all good. We can wear whatever we want. However, if we're forced to observe, it's a problem. Where this gets fuzzy is with what the author was talking about, it seems. Clarification? I have none. I just wanted you to know that I'm reading and this made me think :)
Aug. 15th, 2009 04:53 am (UTC)
I realize this is a ridiculously late reply. My issue was less with the "forced to observe" segment, than with the assumption that women are *always* forced to observe a certain religious performance. That assumes that the women in question don't make their own decisions *at all*. Which, you know, seems to be a bit on the generalizing side, and which is particularly problematic when applied to members of a minority group by a majority group. The assumption is sort of along the lines of "All Muslim women are forced to wear burqas either by their male relatives or by the dictates of a patriarchal culture." Which is somehow okay to say, but if you transplant the argument elsewhere (if you argued that the preparation of Christmas dinner, which was until recently a pretty much entirely female affair, and still remains much the same, from what I've seen, is something forced on women by their male friends/relatives and/or a patriarchal culture). It ignores the individual meanings people attach to things (some of which would directly contradict the statement).
Jul. 15th, 2009 02:33 am (UTC)
I was searching for Lyceum students and I came across your journal and this post. I'm glad I did. Thank you for an interesting contribution to the burka ban issue. Yeah, I'm going to go get some sleep too ^^
Jul. 24th, 2009 01:21 pm (UTC)
Hey! It's always a delight to hear that the feminist torch continues to be carried at Lyceum. I'm glad you liked the post, though... I feel like I missed a couple of points I'd wanted to include, but people seem to have enjoyed it nonetheless.

Which subjects are you taking, by the way? I'm curious :)
Jul. 24th, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC)
Heh, I'm more of a disgruntled zombie than a torch carrier but Lyceum gets the credit for my feminist awakening ^^
Literature, Psychology and Sociology (English GP is too useless to be called a subject) :]
Aug. 15th, 2009 04:38 am (UTC)
Let me guess: the Women & Gender section in Sociology?

Which year are you in, by the way? (I ask because if you're at the "searching for universities" stage, I could conceivably be of help, at least if you were looking Stateside.
Aug. 15th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Right on. That and I found a copy of The Feminine Mystique in the library. We did Sex and Gender as a part of Social Stratification so it was more focused on how gender is a social construct but I found myself going "SO TRUE" at many points plus all the hilariously lame 'critiques' on some feminists/feminist theories (feminists are man-haters blah blah blah) meant I outed myself as a feminist or pro-woman at least.

I just started A2 ^^ Thank you for your offer but I'm going to stay in Karachi. I'm seriously considering doing a Masters in Special Education - basically something centered around special-needs children b/c I think they're severely neglected in Pakistan..
( 9 comments — Speechify! )