I was watching a short video today that explained the Amnesty International position on France’s decision to ban the burka (I don’t like it when non-English words are really “foreigned-up” with “q’s” and “x’s” and stuff, just to make them really exotic. They’re phonetic! Spell it with a damn “k”!), and it seemed very close to mine. It isn’t close to the position of everyone I know, though.
Yes, there are some women in some places forced into wearing these garments, and that’s a problem. However, I think some women really do choose to wear the burka, hijab and the niqab (different things! A burka is a floor-length gown, hijab is the head covering, and the niqab is a veil that covers your whole face. Hijab can also be used to refer to a modest Muslim style of dress, though) just like some Christian women choose to wear floor-length skirts and long sleeves, and some Jewish women choose to shave their heads and wear wigs, and some Sikh women choose to wear turbans.
For some women, this is a choice. This is a way to express their devotion to their God. They do have agency. They are not simply manipulated children who cannot make their own decisions, forced by the patriarchy into some sort of “strange” lifestyle. Yes, they are informed by where they come from, but so are the people trying to change what they are doing. They don’t have to be legislated out of this lifestyle by the government. That seems like exactly the same thing to me. The forces at work on both sides just feel they’re using their powers for good, and the other side is using theirs for evil.
I was talking to someone the other day and she was describing the ineffable, visceral rage she gets when she sees a woman in a niqab. I just want to rip it off of her face. I’ve heard other things from women similar to this. For so many of us in the Western world, the face veil seems to represent a lack of male responsibility and another burden placed upon women that really doesn’t belong there. It’s about fear and control. “Oh, your nose, it’s just too sexy, and I might lose my head around you; cover it up! Otherwise you may get raped and it’ll be your fault. You’ll be asking for it.”
I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I was raised by an anthropology major. I just feel that people should be allowed to do whatever they damn well please, so long as it’s a choice. You really aren’t hurting me at all with your veil. So what if I have an emotional reaction to what you’re wearing? I hate jeggings, for fuck’s sake. There ought to be a law against those, and mini-backpacks. Oh, and let me reiterate, tights are not pants. But just because I feel nauseated or angry when I see a man wearing a crop top, Daisy Dukes and sock garters doesn’t mean I get to fine him for his crimes against humanity. Though I really, really should be able to. Won’t someone think of the children?
The reasons that France puts forth for banning these forms of dress seem very intrusive on personal liberties, but are centered mainly about the right one has to see someone else’s face. I don’t get this. It does not apply to balaclavas. It does not apply to medical masks. Nope, just a form of religious apparel. It seems that France is trying to be the rational answer to the Taliban, but instead they become the Looking-Glass version. They feel that these women don’t have any choice in the matter, so they will make the right choice for them. Thank God chicks have got a good, kindly Master now!
On a personal note, I’ve only seen one woman up close who wore a niqab. She was in my sewing class. She would take it off when she saw there were no men in the room (sometimes her son was there, but he didn’t count). She was better looking with it on, let me tell you. Sometimes it’s better not to see someone’s face.
Which brings me to my next point: have you ever heard of the Tapada Limeña? It’s the “covering of Lima,” and was traditional in Peru–I can’t find the actual dates, but it seems to be common from when Peru was settled in the 1560s to the mid-1800s. It consisted of a “manto y saya,” or a mantle and a skirt. When women wore it, only one eye was visible. And what’s crazy, and totally counterintuitive to my way of thinking? This garb gave them the freedom to act totally cray-cray.
Apparently, the Tapada allowed women the freedom of anonymity; they could go where they chose and act however they wanted without being questioned. Manners did not allow men to ask a woman for identification, even if she were in his home. And the garb itself is described as being very flattering; it was tighter and therefore more revealing than most European styles at the time, and was less restrictive (it didn’t require the corset women in Europe wore, so it allowed for more freedom of movement). Because class was determined just by the stockings and shoes worn, women could pass easily through these boundaries in daily life. They could talk to their fathers and brothers without their family knowing it was them, which sounds kind of delicious. Indeed, one author says Lima was known as the “Heaven of women, the purgatory of men, and the hell of jackasses,” and in no small part to the Tapada. Spain had seen the trouble brewing with the manto and saya since 1536 and had a royal edict against it–it was one of their exports to the New World, after all–saying that it was an affront to God and to society for women to go about covered. They ignored that shit.
So it’s not like there’s only one way to go with this. Sometimes, putting yourself inside a bigger skin can allow you to claim a wolf’s soul that day. Sometimes, a disguise can allow you to change who you are. Sometimes you can make-believe the world isn’t so dangerous to you and yours, and manifest that reality. Sometimes you can decide how the story goes. All by picking the costumes. All by being a reverse pirate. How about that? And it only took them 300 years to get it under control. Well, it was a good run.