Tuesday, June 23, 2009

But...We ALWAYS Know better! Don't We?

I saw a news bulletin on Twitter (oh Twitter, source of evil and loss of daily productivity ::shakes fist at sky::) that stated:

@BreakingNews: AP: Nicolas Sarkozy says France "cannot accept" that women are forced to wear full-body burqas.

And my hackles went up. My hackles always go up when I hear someone from a Western country who is not Muslim and/or is not obviously familiar with Muslim culture make comments about veiling, but when it is the head of state of a state that is not exactly the most tolerant of the practice, regardless of why it is occurring, my hackles go beyond up. They scurry off to get coffee and a shower before running to their part-time job as props in a were-wolf movie.

After poking around in my feeling of "Oh NO he didn't!" I finally got to the root of what was bothering me about the statement, I mean, besides my over-inflated sense of indignation.

When was the last time Mr. Sarkozy made a decisive public statement about the sexism that allowed him better access to the presidency of France? Oh wait...he has been too busy reinforcing the othering of Muslims and immigrants when they said they wanted to be treated equally.

It never seems to me that Western men who talk about the human rights abuses that women in some Muslim countries face are really all that sincere. There seems to be a tone of "oh those backwards brown people" that permeates the discussion on a very base level, but mostly what bothers me is the focus on what women are wearing. Why is it that whenever I hear about Western men decrying how women are treated in "those" places, it almost always ties back to the attitude of women being seen but not heard. Who cares if she chose to cover or not? We can't see her tits or ass! Isn't that what women are for? What about the rights of men to sexually objectify every woman they come across?

I did have a friend suggest to me that this may reflect a difference in collective v. individualist values, but again, considering France in general and Mr. Sarkozy in particular only seem interested in the choices of Muslim women if they are the choices that allow for the women to be fully on display, I find that perspective not only a hard sell, it makes me think of this bridge some guy once tried to get me to buy. It did seem kinda too good to be true...

It seems, like so many other men out there, that Mr. Sarkozy, and France itself apparently, cannot accept the idea of women who choose not to be sexually available and in the public eye. Congrats to Mr. Sarkozy on being the same shit, just a different day.

(For more on related issues please see my ongoing Veiled Contempt series: Veiled Contempt - Introduction (aka The "Why I Opened This Can o' Worms" Edition), Part One: "Hijab" (aka "The Mythnomers and Impervections" edition), and Part Two: "Hijab"(aka "The Fashion Statement That Isn't, Or Is It?" edition))


  1. So much truth here. I enjoyed my time in France but this perspective on veiling, I can't accept it. Forcing women to unveil is just as bad as forcing them to veil.

  2. Anonymous9:30 PM

    You got to it before me! Well, good job, you helped me clarify my visceral and negative response to this news with your insightful analysis.

  3. Did you read the Feministe thread about this topic?

    If not, take deep breaths first! :P

  4. Anonymous11:04 PM

    Yeah, it sure got intense.

  5. Anonymous6:09 AM

    While I'm not too impressed with his statements either, let's also remember that the cloth he wants off the French streets are the ones that cover the women's faces. The scarf that covers the hair but leaves the face visible would still be allowed.

    There are quite serious reasons for not wanting anyone's faces hidden. Here in DK it's illegal to walk into a bank still wearing your full-face helmet. The mere sight of an obscured face can trigger PTSD and/or with bank employees. It's also illegal to wear ski masks when in a group unless you're actually skiing - which you're not around here. Same reason as above - it's called suspicious activity.

    The face must be visible or at least identifiable. Recently a bus driver was vilified because he refused a woman passage on the bus. He was right to do it, though, because her ticket was a personal month-pass with a photo, and how the hell is he supposed to tell if the photo is hers if her face is hidden beneath a burqa? If she insists on hiding her face, she'd have to pay the slightly more expensive tickets. If she decided to do that, fine, but you can't have it both ways.

  6. jemimaaslana,

    While I appreciate the points you have made here, at the same time, you seem to be missing the context in which this is occurring. Also keep in mind that France has tried to ban the hijab as well, and still does in many areas. We cannot divorce these events from their context, and we cannot ignore that this particular moved in being aimed at this one specific group in a sexist and racist manner.