You wouldn’t know that by following the snappy writing on this blog!
But check out my bookmarks – over 600 of them. There’s lots to talk about in the Sisterhood. I just never know what to focus on next.
Case in point (and what’s kept me silent for all these weeks)…
The Burqa Ban, whether in France, Quebec or Belgium, has gotten quite a lot of attention. It’s stopped me in my tracks, because I have something to say, but I needed time to get it together before I put it out there. I think I’m ready to formulate my opinion.
As a woman, as a feminist woman, I believe that the major religions are a source of oppression for all women. I was raised Catholic and left the Church years ago due to the way it treats women. Never mind, although we won’t, about how it treats young boys. It’s important to realize, as Maureen Dowd recently wrote in the New York Times, that Catholic women and their needs/concerns have been ignored by their church.
For most of my adult life, I’ve subscribed to a feminist view of the world. One that holds women as equal to men, not in muscle strength, of course, but in the everyday value we give to people, all people, regardless of their sex/gender. Once you see it, once your consciousness has been raised to recognize it, discrimination can be witnessed almost everywhere you look.
Back to the burqa.
There’s lots of reasons why Muslim women feel the need to cover up: modesty, spiritual piety, male harassment etc. In my conversations with young women who have chosen to cover up, they state, quite matter-of-factly that it’s their responsibility to not tempt Muslim men to sin. These young women speak of the freedom they enjoy, the freedom from lewd looks and wandering eyes from the men they encounter daily. The freedom to not care about how they look, about whether their hair is done or their clothes are stylish. The freedom to focus on themselves as people, rather than women.
Now, I would normally say, bravo for you, for finding your comfort space in our deeply misogynist world. However, it’s important to recognize that Muslim women cover up because Muslim men expect them to. Either their fathers or brothers or potential husbands. If Muslim men didn’t want Muslim women covered up, they wouldn’t be.
More importantly, for every Muslim women living in the western world who can “choose” to cover up, there are thousands living in appalling socio-economic conditions imposed on them by Muslim male-supremacist dictatorships and they have no choice but to cover up.
I’m against a ban. And as much as I am saddened to see so many beautiful women covered with restrictive and potentially dangerous clothing, I am more saddened that the “war on terror” is being played out on women’s bodies. And I’m saddened that so many Muslim women accept and propagate the double standard that rules Islamic practices, that so many women are quick to sell out their sisters, for what else is it when you choose to adopt a practice that is forced on others? Phyllis Chesler, one of feminist’s founding mothers, recently published a book: The Death of Feminism, that details the oppression Afghani women long before the Taliban took over. It is a supremely moving book. She brings to light the dangers of cultural relativism, especially when directed toward the lives of women around the world. Is it ok for only western women to enjoy the benefits of equal rights since we can’t possibly intrude on the culture of another.
In our desire to force Muslim women to dress the way of western women, we best be careful we do no harm. How many women are unable to remove their covering for fear of male retaliation in the home? In Ontario, we have had more than one case of a young woman’s abuse, even death, in her refusal to don the headscarf. What will happen in a home where a woman is forced to uncover herself in public? We are making women pay the price for a practice forced on them by their men.
The Muslim Canadian Congress is behind the ban. There are many clerics and Muslim intellectuals who will state that Islam is not about veiling. They need to speak louder.
And we need to support the Muslim women who speak up against the abuses perpetrated in the name of Islam.