Veiled threats

Its only now, seeing the French veil ban in black and white, that I realise how offensive it is.

Before, discussing the issue with friends, it sort of made sense to intellectualise. On the one hand this: on the other hand that. But now its law and its obvious: this is a deeply sexist, deeply retrograde step by the French government.

Why so? Because at base is the issue of autonomy. If a woman wishes to wear one of these garments, as of today, she may not – or if she does, she faces a fine.

What? Forget any debate about religion and integration and the lark. Because how integrated you are as a society does not rise or fall according to one simple garment. This is scapegoating, with women in the firing line for a generation of failed policies.

This is offensive, because there shouldn’t be any questioning of why a woman wishes to wear a niqab (face-veil). If she does, she does.

Fair enough that the law imposes heavy penalties for women forced to wear such a garment by a husband or partner. Tongue slightly in cheek, perhaps there’s a case for applying such a law more widely, with any partner who insists on foisting some implausible of red and black bustier on the unwilling subject to the full penalty of law.

In that way, there’s a parallel with the superficially far more serious issue of sex work: if a woman chooses to pursue that option then however unwise we may feel it to be and however much we may try to persuade her to think again, it is her choice. Contrariwise, if someone forces an individual into such work, they deserve to be hammered, legally.

As with work, so, too, with every other aspect of life, from comportment, to dress, to face veils.

It is too simplistic to argue, as some have, that the entirety of the female fashion industry is down to the patriarchy. No way. (They haven’t the taste, for starters!).

But there is a fundamental truth in the way that women’s appearance is modified to fit in with the male gaze. That’s bad enough when its just social pressure.

Its outrageous when it is given state backing, as it has been in France today.

Let’s make it simple: women have the right to wear what they wish to wear. And it is not for blokes, acting as individuals, or collectively, to impose rules.


P.S. A spot guide to what is or is not allowed is given in French newspaper Liberation today. Basically, all manner of face coverings ARE permitted – but not the Niqab which is nonetheless still allowed in a car or in the vicinity of a place of worship. Go figure!


About janefae

On my way from here to there
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4 Responses to Veiled threats

  1. kathz says:

    Agreed. When I taught a student who chose to wear a face-veil it was entirely clear that she had made that decision as an adult and was very comfortable with it. The rest of us had to re-evaluate our assumptions about women and veils as the student was articulate, witty and highly intelligent.

    Clearly compulsion should be illegal but an adult woman’s choice of clothing should be her own, as should an adult male’s.

  2. Pingback: Autonomy | Sex Matters

  3. kathz says:

    I have to admit that, as an epéeist, I’m glad that my fellow-fencers in France are permitted to continue wearing the traditional fencing masks. (There are, in fact, strong plastic masks through which the face can be seen, but these are expensive and scratch quickly in combat.) Anyway, I’d hate to think that this was in any way illegal: (my favourite advertisement of all time)

  4. Emily says:

    Great article. I watched the news report on this, and I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t see it as discriminatory and fundamentally wrong 😦

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