So, in unsurprising news, France’s Senate has passed legislation banning women from covering their faces and men from forcing women to wear a veil. I suspect none of you are surprised when I say I am appalled, and the hypocrisy in condemning those who force women to wear a garment while outlawing women’s right to chose to wear that garment or not is staggering.
A recap: earlier this year, the French government drafted legislation outlawing full face veils (both the niqab and the burqa, though the term burqa is used to denote both in France*) from being worn in public. This doesn’t mean, like legislation proposed in Quebec, that full veils are banned just in public institutions: it means a woman cannot leave the house with her face covered without risking a fine of around $200.
Think about that for a minute.
Outcry ensued from the Muslim population and from around the world, though there was considerable support in France. It’s expected that only a tiny minority of women will be affected by this, but even so, this line from the linked article is telling:
Drider was the only woman who wears a full-faced veil to be interviewed by a parliamentary panel that spent six months deciding whether to move ahead with legislation.
They move to make leaving the house with your face veiled illegal, and they talk to ONE woman who veils in the process. ONE. Way to show how little you think of these women’s opinions and viewpoints, French Parliamentary committee!
There’s been a few rationales given for this law, mostly centered around the idea that France is a secular society and that veiling is oppressive to women. A. put it very succinctly a few months ago when this was first in the news, saying “when a Middle Eastern man tells a woman what she can or can’t wear, that’s “oppression”, but when a white man tells a woman what she can or can’t wear, that’s “freedom.” Need I mention that the French parliament is about 80% male in both the upper and lower houses? And that there’s a heaping amount of racial tension in France, centred squarely around North African, often Muslim, immigrants? This legislation doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
As style bloggers, we’re perhaps overly conscious of the choices we make. This isn’t to say that non-bloggers don’t carefully consider what they wear or don’t wear, especially considering how socially policed women’s clothing is, but France is moving to literally police what a few women chose to wear, and other jurisdictions are moving in that direction as well. I’m not saying that I’m totally comfortable with veiling, but it’s not my place to say what someone else can or can’t wear, and neither is it the state’s place. It’s not like these women haven’t considered their options, and I suspect that they have very deep and considered reasons for wearing a veil in a society which is so openly hostile to that choice. I am all for have a law forbidding people from forcing others to wear a veil, or any other clothing for that matter (though I have no idea how that would be enforced). But turning around and doing just that on grounds that amount to “we know better than to let you do that” (ie, the state’s secularism trumps the individual’s religious convictions) is hypocritical, insulting, and flat out morally wrong.
* I’m not sure whether French Muslims have elided the two terms, or whether French non-Muslims have just lumped all full veils under one term, and as such I’m differentiating.