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Indecent underexposure?

April 8, 2010

It appears that I find myself in disagreement with the majority of my compatriots over a law in Quebec that would ban Muslim women from wearing a full veil when accessing public services. I’m a bit shocked, to be honest, that 80% of Canadians would support such a measure. Even more surprising to me is the widespread support in places like Belgium for a complete ban on any face-covering garment in public.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no fan of oppressive religious practices that marginalize and objectify women (and yes, I believe that hiding women’s bodies is as much an objectification as revealing them, in that it still puts the focus on women as bodies rather than thinking, feeling people). But how is banning the niqab possibly going to help? The following statement (whose original source I unfortunately don’t have) sums up the issue so well I’m gonna put it in a great big blockquote:

The idea of imposing a law on how women can dress, in order to save them from being told how they can dress, is self-evidently stupid.

Not only is it stupid, it has the potential to be even more harmful to women. If a woman’s religiously fanatic family forces her to wear the veil in public, what do you think is going to happen to that woman after this type of law is passed? It seems pretty obvious to me: She’s not going to be allowed out in public anymore. A piece of knee-jerk legislation is not going to reverse thousands upon thousands of years of misogynistic religious practices.

I mean, taking this far enough, it can get downright silly. Is Halloween going to be made illegal in Belgium? What happens if there’s a blizzard and someone puts on a balaclava to keep warm? Will they be arrested? Fined? Honestly, if I want to walk around wearing a paper bag over my head (and some days I do), I should have every right to do so. If a Muslim woman chooses of her own free will to wear the veil, she should have that same right.

Trying to legislate away cultural traditions (with the exception of those that are obviously violent) is in itself oppressive and authoritarian, regardless of the noble ideals behind it.


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