I was going to do an outfit post, then changed my mind once I realized the burqa ban in France goes into effect today. It somehow seems wrong for me to write about what I get to wear freely every day when there are other women who are put in jail for the exact same thing.
I have a few things to say about this. First of all, Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement that the ban is about women in France being “respected” or “personal dignity, particularly women’s dignity” (quoted in this Jezebel article on the ban) is not only grossly condescending to Muslim women, but highly problematic on other levels. By banning the burqa under the pretense of protecting women’s dignity, the French government is placing inherent value on a garment, rather than letting the individuals make meaning out of the garment on their own. So the underlying assumption here is that if you wear a burqa, you are an oppressed person who doesn’t know any better. This creates a false logic/binary of covering vs. not covering; as in, if being covered head to toe signifies oppression, showing skin – no matter what context – is liberatory. I think any critical thinker can tell that such logic does not work.
The ban not only has consequences for Muslim women directly, but also for Western women, or women who do not wear the burqa. Why? Because if we extend French government’s logic, any woman who wears X garment can be read in a certain way, and ONLY in that way. It takes away the power of self-representation from women, and the agency for women to signify themselves. Women wearing short skirts might be lacking dignity too, so why not just ban short skirts too? But the government won’t do such a thing because what the non-Muslims wear is their business. Only Muslim women have no clue how to think for themselves, and are blindly (and willingly) letting themselves to be oppressed. They couldn’t possibly be wearing the niqab or the burqa as an expression of their faith or their culture.
Of course, under the rhetoric of a creepy “father” figure protecting the Muslim women is the deeply conservative and anti-immigrant suspicion of France that is at work here. It troubles me to no end that when surveyed, citizens of various countries also supported the burqa ban (as explained at the bottom of this CNN article), displaying Western culture’s deeply problematic views on Muslim women.
[clip: Niqabitch, one of many protest groups that happened when the French Senate finalized the burqa ban]