Feminism and the Burqa

Originally published on BabyDust Diaries and cross-posted here with permission.

In 2009, France’s Prime Minister moved to outlaw the burqa – a head to toe covering worn by some Muslim women. The reason being that the garment is a “symbol of subservience, a sign of debasement” and that the women are “prisoners behind a screen.”

In June of 2009 President Barack Obama visited France and voiced his opinion that to each country their own but “I will tell you that in the United States our basic attitude is, is that we’re not going to tell people what to wear.” Amen.

Proponents of banning the burqa state that many women are forced to wear it by their husbands. I agree that this is horrible but proposing choice-limiting laws on women will not only not help those women (whose husbands may refuse to then let them leave the house) but it erodes the base of feminism which is access to freedom of choice.

When a husband beats his wife for burning the meatloaf we don’t outlaw meatloaf (don’t I wish, lol)!  We outlaw beating and we educate women that they have a choice.

Adornment is an important part of human identity. Amish people wear wooden buttons, not because they believe plastic will send them to hell, but because it is a symbol of their intention to abstain from modern culture and advancement. Hasidic Jews have payos (sidecurls). Mormon women wear long dresses. Christians wear crosses. Himba cover themselves in otjize.

It isn’t just limited to religion of course. Ask any goth teenager how important their self-expression is! We simply can not take this away from any human being and claim freedom.

As a woman, I dislike the burqa. I don’t like the idea that a woman should be responsible for inciting lust in a man. I heard a preacher when I was growing up (in a Christian church) claim that women wore necklaces to make men look at their breasts! AGGGHHH. I think it is insulting to men to say that they are so weak that an ankle or collar bone will send them over the edge.

I also think the burqa is particularly over the top even for modesty sake – much more than a hijab or chaddor (want to learn the difference?  See this great slideshow from BBC.)  It limits interaction, in my opinion and dehumanizes the woman.

The thing is, it isn’t about my opinion.  It is about my right to have an opinion.  And the right for a Muslim woman to have her own opinion.  And if that includes the burqa then I would fight to help her keep that right.

Paige Stannard is a Staff Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a former NASA research librarian happy to be home raising her 3 IVF babies after nearly a decade of infertility. She blogs about infertility, parenting, and women’s issues at Baby Dust Diaries as well as being the founder of the gentle discipline site ParentingGently.com and co-founder of the breastfeeding rights site NursingFreedom.org. She likes to cook and sew and has, in general, become her mother. Happily. Follow her on Twitter @babydust.