‘Fix your veil, sister!’ so warns an Iranian revolutionary guard (male) with profoundly sinister threat in the brilliant animated movie of Marjane Satrapi‘s autobiographical memoirs of her youth, Persepolis.
Conversely at the other end of the concept of dress-code policing; in western, non-Muslim countries there’s recently been much talk once more of banning the veil. Indeed, in France legislators have already elected to do so.
Much of the argument for banning women from wearing veils centres on (or at least claims to centre on), the issue in relation to sexism and women’s rights. Predictably, the argument brought forward in favour of a ban also centres on concern for security issues – I.e. the idea that it’s dangerous to allow people to cover their faces in many situations, particularly in these days of heightened awareness of the risk of terrorism.
However, like most issues there’s another side to this too, and in many instances these arguments are utilised by chauvinists and often far-right groups in a bid to *veil* their own sexism and Islamophobia.
And – it perhaps goes without saying – there’s a racist element to all this too. For even though being Muslim is a religion and not a race, the widespread misperception amongst the bigoted (not to mention the tabloid press) automatically makes being Muslim synonymous with having an ethnicity originating in the Middle East or Asian sub-continent. Typically, Muslims are – more often than not – assumed to be immigrants with a skin colour other than white.
Racists, white supremacists, bigots, Islamophobes and extreme conservatives (and even some so-called ‘progressives’) share a widespread misperception that anything from the Middle-East or Asian sub-continent or, indeed, anything non-western (and for non-western read non-white) is at once irrational, backward and inferior to European culture and so-called rationalist thought.
Tellingly enough, the same people who claim that they aren’t racist and site ‘security issues’ as their main reason for wanting the veil banned almost always seem to concentrate on veiled Muslim women and never, for instance, on groups of young males in hooded tops. Don’t ‘veiled’ groups of young lads in ’hoodies’ pose an equal ‘security risk’, too or is it just middle-aged Muslim women in burkas pushing buggies who pose the main threat of causing injury and death?
Which brings us onto those who claim that the veil should be banned because they think it’s sexist and oppressive to women on the grounds that this is a prime example of men telling women what to wear through the power of organised religion.
Yet, presumably if they are so genuinely committed to feminism then why aren’t so many of these people also challenging patriarchal gendered dress codes in western workplaces and schools where women are often compelled to wear skirts, make-up and are subject to dress codes that are specifically designed to reinforce male-created and defined sexist stereotypes of femininity? Many schools and occupations, for instance, even have separate uniforms for their female and male students and workers which are deliberately designed in order to emphasize the artificial sexist supposed ‘differences’ between the sexes – as, of course, defined and regulated by a male dominated power elite.
Curious, for instance, that when a woman in Sudan is threatened with 50 lashes for wearing trousers the tabloids and right-wing commentators all of a sudden become staunch feminists, yet when (largely on the advice of medical research) the TUC suggests a ban on bosses who force their female employees to wear high heels the very same tabloids and Tory pundits deliberately spread misinformation out on this and spin it as: ‘TUC Want to Ban Women Wearing High Heels to Work!!!’
Recently, the Bank of England hired consultants in a bid to ‘educate’ their female employees in the cause of ‘looking more feminine’. Such ‘workshops’ (not to mention uniforms provided by employers) often require women to wear skirts, make-up and even instruct us in how to pluck our eyebrows *correctly*(!)
Also it seems the flipside of forcing women to wear more clothes is forcing (or at least expecting) women to wear as little as possible – and to ensure that in order to do so we feel the cultural, social and political pressure from the expectation to diet, wax and shave our bodies accordingly in order to be *allowed* by a patriarchal male elite to do so without fear of censure, ridicule, ostracism or even physical attack. Isn’t that also a method of sexist patriarchal control employed against women? Brainwashing so effective that it’s commonplace as such to go largely un-noticed and un-questioned outside of feminist circles?
Clearly double-standards are everywhere when it comes to banning the veil and as such are often propelled by Islamophobia, bigotry, racism and Western/European cultural imperialism: so much so that an observer from afar could be forgiven for thinking that men ordering women (and other men) to dress in order to visually present themselves in such a way so as to advertise the false legitimacy of the patriachally-made constructs of femininity and masculinity is only sexist when Muslims do it.
No, as you’ve probably gathered, I’m not amongst those people who think the veil should be banned. Isn’t banning people from wearing a certain item of clothing or from looking a certain way just as bad as forcing people to wear a certain item of clothing or forcing them to look a certain way?
And, it’s here – in my opinion at least – that we get to the kernel of the matter: surely the ban should be on men forcing women (or any other sex) to wear a veil…and, by logical extension of that – this male-dominated and controlled society forcing anybody to wear anything against (or in spite of) their will which is purely exists to advertise and legitimise the political, ideological concept of a patriarchal heterosexist society? Being forced to dress as either ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ is little different from being forced to wear a swastika armband in Nazi Germany or a little green cap with a red star on it in Mao’s China.
Otherwise too, a ban solely on women wearing veils becomes at once, by definition, Islamophobic and sexist with racist connotations.
Can we see all these (mostly) male heterosexual leaders doing that, though…I mean, *really* proving their deeply-held feminist credentials? Nah…that would mean that the air stewardesses who serve them in business class and on their private jets would be allowed to walk around with un-plucked eyebrows!