Thursday, 13 May 2010

Our Bodies, our Choice

Many years ago, while working for a large non-profit organisation, there was a very heavy woman, some would even say obese. Despite this, she wore short skirts...and she made it work. I mentioned this to a co-worker who was surprised, and seemed disgusted, by my comment. At the time, I was simply thinking that if this woman felt comfortable in that skirt, and it looked no worse on her than it would look on me, at 110 pounds (back then anyway!), why shouldn't she wear the skirt. Others didn't want to be subjected to her thick legs and round bottom, perhaps, but who were they to impose their ideals about weight and dress code on her. I was reminded of this situation in the past weeks while reading about the suggested ban on the burqa in Belgium and then France. The Belgians and French want to make it illegal for women to wear head and facial coverings in public. They, and their supporters, claim this is a common sense approach to terrorism. In France this week, a resolution was passed that calls the wearing of the burqa and similar covering 'contrary to the values of the nation'. It was passed by all lawmakers in the French parliament. This resolution will make the next step easier - to ban the burqa. It amazes me that so many people can't see this for what it is - racial intolerance and anti-immigration sentiment. What will happen if the burqa is banned? Muslims will stop moving to France, and women will be stuck inside. Ultimately, this is a feminist issue, and for as much as the French people get in the streets to protest, I'm surprised French feminists don't rise up right now. Some Muslim women wear the burqa, niqab and hijab because they want to, some because they have to, and some probably do so because their peers do (the same reason I straighten my hair - I saw it on someone else). A few of them might stop wearing it, but many might simply become prisoners in their own homes. So a seemingly progressive, free nation like France is completely ignoring the rights of female citizens/residents in order to remain 'French'. I love to travel, but I consider where my tourist dollars are going, and as much as I love France, I won't heading there anytime soon.

8 comments:

Arizaphale said...

This is a topic that's been on my heart of late. I cannot believe a so called 'democratic country' will restrict the choices of their citizens like this. They can call it 'anti terrorist' but it is blatantly obvious that it is anti-Muslim. Asking some Muslim women to go outside without their covering is akin to asking us (ie western women) to walk around nude. Whether this is a justifiable feeling or not is neither here nor there. The original purpose of the burqa is not the issue, or at least should not be. Removing the right of women to move about the country in a comfortable and culturally appropriate manner is the real issue here.

Muddiah said...

Like most topics, this isn't painted in strictly black and white tones, but in varying shades and nuances. Perhaps this resolution is racist to some degree, but fear of terrorism is probably the bigger motivation here. And, a valid fear it is as we in the US can attest to. From reading various sources concerning treatment and clothing of Muslim women, I'm not so sure most of them wouldn't welcome the shedding of the burqa with all of it's discomfort and symbol of a woman's lowered status in the Muslim world. On the other hand, some are probably content with their place as it's been that way for a long time and it's all they know. All countries(the US included) exhibit racism in many ways. Would you stop coming home if our congress passed a similar resoultion? You have to take the good with the bad and I for one hope to visit France someday as it's among the countries I've not travelled to.

Laureen said...

I'm so sorry to hear about this resolution passing. I hope the same thing doesn't happen here.

Laureen said...

Did you ever read that story when you were a kid about the contest between the wind and the sun in which the object was to get the man to remove his jacket? The wind blew and blew intending to rip the jacket off but the man just held on to his jacket more closely. Then the sun shone brightly and benignly and eventually the man simply took it off.

Suzer said...

We in the US have been dealing with terrorism for far less a time than many others worldwide. I think it presumptuous to assume the Muslim women of the world would welcome a Western saviour. Additionally, saying it's all they know precludes the fact that there is some purpose (for some at least) in wearing burqa etc., just as there was purpose for you to shave you head and wear a habit when you were a nun, and just as there is purpose for orthodox Jews to wear wigs after marriage. I would get out and protest on every trip home if the US did something so blatently racist. Laureen, love the short story.

Liz said...

I think the issue of the burqa is interesting from the stand point of when the women are required to begin wearing it. When I taught in a school district that had an increasing number of students from the Muslim world it wasn't until junior high that the girls began to wear the burqa. Not all of them complied with the practice but a significant number did. So, I wondered, was it a choice or a requirement? Never got the answer - but I got pretty good at predicting the girls would and who would not comply.

Zultan said...

Prior to the war in Afghanistan, the only time the Burqa seen in Europe was as a symbol of the Taliban's repression of women, shown on TV news trying to justify military action.

I've lived in the heart of a (UK) Muslim community for the past seven years and it's only really in the past three that women have been seen on the streets covered from head to toe in cloth.

So what has changed in that time? For the garment to transform from symbol of oppression? to something that we should protect the right of women to wear?

Suzer said...

The 'garment' has been around for much, much longer than that.