***UPDATE 4/3/09: I’ve noticed this post floating around the web in a bunch of different places. That’s fine, I’m glad ya’ll like my thoughts. Please, just be sure to credit The Czech and put in a link when you do so. Thanks.***
What Dori said.
The New York Times and Le Monde both reported today on certain remarks from French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling for the elimination of the burqa.
“The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue. It is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “The burqa is not a religious sign. It is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission, of women.”
To enthusiastic applause, he said: “I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory.”
There are a thousand things wrong with this. Let me count them.
1. Mandating how women should dress is mandating how women should dress, whether it is a mandate to wear a burqa, or a mandate not to wear one. When a man tells a woman how to dress, it’s paternalism and subjugation one way or the other.
2. Plus, as Dori points out, a man telling a woman that too much of her body is covered, and that she needs to expose more of it to his view, is pretty weird. How much modesty is too much? How much exposed flesh is enough to satisfy Sarkozy?
3. A Christian man imposing rules of dress upon Muslim women does little to actually foster the kind of gender equality he claims to be advancing.
4. Sarkozy talks as though there is no “subjugation of women” among the non-Muslim denizens of France. As though France is a wonderland of gender equality. According to WikiGender: “Compared to other countries, France has always been rather late in adopting gender equality as a goal and designing policies to achieve it.” So why suddenly all this concern for a certain subset of French women, who just randomly happen to come from a community hated and feared by many in France?
5. What other items of clothing does Mr. Sarkozy disapprove of? Do they also happen to correspond to certain disfavored, marginalized communities?
6. Any attempt to “eliminate” burqas in France will only serve to further marginalize the women who wear them. Burqas, for some women, represent a compromise. Some individuals believe women are not supposed to be seen in public, or be looked at by men outside of the family. In this extreme view, women would be entirely confined to the house and removed from outside society unless they can put on a burqa and go out. Eliminating the burqa for these women would mean eliminating their access to the world. Better conditions for such women require a little more work than outlawing a piece of clothing.
7. Eliminating burqas in France would not mean that women’s oppression in Muslim communities would end. It would simply be a cosmetic change that would do nothing to actually work with communities and empower French Muslim women to achieve equality. It is a measure that ignores all nuance and avoids all honest work to actually tackle the heart of the problem.
8. All this “eliminate the burqa” talk fits just a little too snugly with the popular “Islam oppresses women” meme that Christian Westerners like to toss around, particularly when they are trying to frame a “War of Civilizations”.
9. Also, doesn’t this just come off as a cheap attempt at burnishing his Women’s Issues credentials while effectively only harassing a marginalized, already-persecuted minority? And doing little to nothing to further true societal equality for all women in France?
10. What real issues do French women, and French Muslim women in particular, actually face that Sarkozy is completely avoiding by diverting attention with this stunt? Why randomly target French Muslims now?
Ok, so that was only 10 things. Huh.