French ban on face veils; victory for feminism or political and religious oppression?

France has officially banned the use of two specific types of Islamic head coverings; the burka and the niqab stating that the two coverings “[…]undermines the basic standards required for living in a shared society and also relegates its wearers to an inferior status incompatible with French notions of equality.“ according to The BBC coverage of the first ticket issued for wearing a veil in public.

As both a feminist and an Anarchist I am torn on the issue…somewhat. There are many arguments surrounding the debate of to veil or not to veil and for me personally it always comes down to individual choice. Although I can see and somewhat understand the argument that allowing what is often considered a misogynistic practice to occur in public as a pseudo support of the practice I always find myself asking the question “What if they willingly consent to the practice of veiling?”. Of course, in the back of my mind I argue with myself about how much of that is their choice and how much of that is patriarchal oppression forcing them to obey the laws of their religion and culture.

Why can’t we cover our faces in public? Granted, I can see the issue in certain circumstances and places – such as a bank, or even a convenience store.  On the street, however? Again I am always flip-flopping back and forth on the issue. I strongly disagree with oppression of any  kind and so the idea of veiling as a requirement of a society or culture is just as repulsive to me as a ban on the practice. My inner feminist says, “Abolish the burka!” The Anarchist in me says “Let them decide for themselves, and don’t intervene unless help is asked for.” In other words, judge each scenario individually based on facts, not fears.

The main question at hand though, is who draws the line with regards to forcing behaviors on people? Is forcing the freedom to show one’s face as bad as forcing them to cover it up? The issuing of financial fines is as much of a threat as damning one’s eternal soul, although not so forceful as beating or killing the person who chooses to disobey. But how far should the government go into the personal lives and choices of individuals? The Anarchist response is of course, not very far at all thank-you-very-much. However we are not dealing with Anarchists in most cases and so a popular decision should be considered with all beliefs in  mind.

Religious issues aside, creating policy regarding one’s personal attire is a bit much – although it is not a foreign concept right here in the United States. Some states here have bans on saggy pants and have proposed other bans and fines for things like wayward bra straps and peeping thongs. The ban on veiling however does come with the clout of equality and freedom for oppressed women as opposed to our reasons of “indecency”.

Feminists and even some Anarchists agree that banning the burka is a good thing – a blow to patriarchal fascism. I say…what is freedom if one cannot even choose what to wear in the morning for whatever reason they deem appropriate?

My final thought on the matter is that maybe if we focused more on the misogynistic practices of some religions and cultures the veiling issue will solve itself, government need not apply.

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3 Responses to French ban on face veils; victory for feminism or political and religious oppression?

  1. Raina April 20, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    This is a very well written and thought provoking article! I’ve linked it on my Facebook page twice now because I like it so much. The author brings up some very valid points. While done with the very best of intentions, there can be a gray area between saving someone from oppression and infringing on their rights. Too often we judge different cultures by the standards of our own, when they neither need nor want our involvement. Thanks for a great read!

  2. LarissaFae April 20, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Who defines “feminism” and “freedom”? Can they have different definitions in different cultures, to different people? Are we now so caught up in banning symbols that WE have assigned meaning to, that we forget to ask the people who WEAR these symbols how THEY feel about them? Because the VAST majority of the time, I hear non-Muslims talking about the veil this, the veil that, oppressed Muslim women, veils are outdated, blah blah blah. VERY rarely do I hear anyone actually discussing the veil, in any incarnation, with actual Muslim women.

    I’ll be convinced of the concern of non-Muslims over Muslim women when they actually start treating Muslim women like fully functioning adults, and asking THEIR opinions, accepting THEIR views as equally legitimate.

    • valerie rumer April 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

      I’ve seen it discussed with Muslim women, their thoughts vary just as much as ours do. In my opinion, ultimately, it should be left to the people in which it applies to be decided. If “terrorists” started wearing crucifix necklaces or nun’s habits would we try to ban those? There is a lot to this issue, and kudos to Anok for having the cojones to tackle it! It just isn’t an easy one to decide with some women being oppressed into covering their faces and others doing it of their own accord. On one hand, of course we all want to stop oppression everywhere we can to enable people to do as they wish, on the other hand, we should not be regulating clothing. All in all I believe the situation would be best left alone but I can’t say, I’m not a Muslim woman. The bottom line is, in my opinion, we should not be regulating these people (or any others) on their personal choices.

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