French veil ban goes into effect

two women wearing veilsFrance’s ban on the full face veil went into effect yesterday. The ban on veils, specifically the burqa or niqab, is framed generally but is clearly designed to target Muslim women. Yes, New York Times, the ban targets Islam for cultural exclusion in general, but let’s not pretend there isn’t a specific lived, gendered reality – the state is going after women. Women in France are fighting back, pledging to veil in public and already facing arrest as a result.

We’ve written before about the veil ban on the main page of Feministing, and there are a number of posts on the topic on the Community site as well.

I am so tired of having to read the qualifier from mostly white Western feminists before any discussion of the veil ban that “the veil is sexist but…” In the context of global patriarchy doesn’t this qualifier belong in front of, like, everything? It seems to me we have a lot easier seeing -isms in a cultural context different from our own, and a lot harder time seeing agency. To veil or not to veil is a question to be navigated by Muslim women – what kind of feminism supports the imposition of values and behaviors on women by a government?

I’m struck by the timing of the ban going into effect, as France re-engages in colonial violence in places like Libya. There were two major flavors of colonialism: kill everyone who was there and take the land for yourself (dominant in the Americas), and fix the backwards people by making them like us, while using their labor and their land, the preferred method of France. People raced as “Muslim” or “Arab” were brought into France to serve its economy with very little personal gain in the first place. I can’t help think about this as France engages in violence where they have clear oil interests at the same time they try to stomp out cultural diversity within the nation. The country claims to be secular, but the veil ban is a reminder leadership still holds white, Catholic values. Women are so often the targets of colonial violence, and I see the ban as part of the continued project to “make them like us.”

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • nazza

    It’s easy to espouse paternalistic norms when you have been raised with paternalistic norms. True liberation starts with self-reflection, which is something that sometimes activists forget, lost in their of haze of self-importance. One of the most empowering things in the world is the concept of being self-aware.

  • Rebecca

    To legislate against a religious practise means admitting that you’re giving up secularism for intolerance and xenophobia.

    • Emily Sanford

      That statement is too broad for me. Secularism should protect individuals’ human rights from religious extremism and often this does require legislation. (Take, for example, the insidious religiosity of Abstinence-Only sex ed. That should definitely be banned on the grounds of Separation of Church & State.) But how to do that without infringing on others’ human rights is often tricky, which is why religious issues are always so incendiary and the French solution is so sloppy and supported by disgusting racist groups.

      I read on the BBC yesterday that the French punishment for forcing a woman to wear a niqab or burqa is much harsher than the punishment for wearing one and that caught my eye. I don’t support the latter, but I wholeheartedly support legislation against a woman’s guardian who doesn’t let her out of the house or punishes her for dressing a certain way. I don’t know if French (or U.S.) law protects, for example, Mormon or Amish individuals’ right to dress however they please and punishes any zealots that threaten them for sinning, but it absolutely should. Furthermore, public schools should teach that denying someone their agency, even if they’re a family member and your religion insists upon it, is unacceptable. (Child Protective Services in the American West is starting to complain about the overhwelming numbers of Mormon teenagers disowned by their families for dressing or partying in sinful ways whom the state must then find new homes for.) That is where secular legislation can and should protect individual freedoms even if it’s against the teachings of a religious sect.

      If France had stopped there, targeting the guardians who insist it’s sin instead of those choosing to dress however they please, it would have addressed the issue without resorting to the patronizing, racist oppression it’s currently enacting.

  • manaqueen1

    The facial veil is not mentioned anywhere in the Qur’an, it was something introduced much later by extremists. Turkey has already banned it, and no one complains about that. People only care about France because it’s a predominantly white country.

    The French government is not trying to prevent anyone from being religious. They’re trying to prevent people from shoving their religion, any religion, in other’s faces. France isn’t against people of color or women, they’re against religion sinking into public life the way it is in America. Remember how people in America use religion to try to ban abortions? They don’t want that to happen there.

    • Angel H.

      How is a woman wearing a veil “shoving their religion in other’s face”?

    • James

      They’re trying to prevent people from shoving their religion, any religion, in other’s faces.

      How is that any different from when conservatives say that same-sex couples engaging in public displays of affection are shoving their sexuality in others’ faces?

      Wearing a visual indicator of one’s religion is not “shoving it in anyone’s face.” Simply saying “I follow a certain set of practices in Islam” by the way one dresses makes no claim on you, nor does it impose on any of your rights.

  • Velderia

    Around the time I was reading this article, I was looking at this:

    France…. Wtf. I have no words.

    “The French government estimates between 350 and 2,000 women cover their faces in France, out of a total Muslim population between four and six million.

    Since Sarcozy’s statement in 2009 that the burqa was “not welcome in France”, women in all forms of veils and head coverings said verbal abuse against them had increased.

    Recently the interior minister, Claude Gueant, suggested the growing number of Muslims in France was a problem. Religious groups have likened current Islamophobia in France to anti-Jewish feeling before the second world war.”

  • alerte ORANGE

    I am French and feminist and I can not accept that in France a country of human rights, women lie entirely in order not to tempt the male sex drive! The burqa is a symbol of a vision of women inferior to men in Islam, and why it’s unacceptable for us French feminists!

    • Angel H.

      “Us” feminists? What makes you think that the women who are fighting for their right to wear the veil aren’t feminists as well? These women are fighting for THEIR RIGHT to practice their religion as they please. They aren’t sockpuppets; they have their own voices and they are being unfairly discriminated against. Who are YOU to tell them otherwise?

    • Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

      Yeah, but I and I think a few feminists think the veil ban restricts a woman’s personal choice with her religion and her wardrobe. I don’t think anybody likes the idea of a woman being punished for wearing something because she’s adhering to her religion

  • Ruby Hamad

    No, the state is not “going after women”. The state is targeting an archaic, patriarchal custom that holds women responsible for both male and female sexuality. It is the burqa and the men who deem it religiously obligatory that “target women”. The Koran tells both men and women to be “modest.” Yet it is only women who are required to cover their face. And by covering their face these women are sending the explicit message that they agree that women’s bodies-including mine and yours- exist for no other reason than to tempt men into sexual immorality. It is the supreme objectification of women’s bodies, designed to keep women out of the public sphere and prevent them from attaining any ideological and financial independence. And it is utterly indefensible.

    And yes, I am a Muslim.

    • Angel H.

      The women who wish to to wear a veil do so because of CHOICE. Forcing your own convictions on someone else is no better than forcing these women to go against what they believe is right.

      • Jessica

        The point, which you seem to be missing, is that many of them do not choose to wear it. Their religion forces them into it. While I have no doubt some choose to, others do not. For those that do not, it is a symbol of sexual oppression, one which is an archaic relic of patriarchal practices. You need to stop pretending the world is so idealistic and that all of these women are repressed by choice.

        • Angel H.

          And who says that they’re being repressed? You? On what authority? Believe it or not, there are even some Muslimahs who believe that the veil is actually a type of feminist expression: “Either you look me in the face, or you don’t look at me at all.” If a woman chooses to follow a standard of living (religious or otherwise) that requires a certain mode of dress, who are you to say that she’s doing it against her will? Women are strong, capable, intelligent creatures. To believe otherwise is anti-feminist.

        • James

          For many feminists in the US, much of the clothing marketed to American women is “a symbol of sexual oppression, one which is an archaic relic of patriarchal practices.” If we’re banning certain articles of clothing on that basis alone, we’ve got a long list to start on.

          If we’re really looking for the government to keep men from imposing burqas on women, I think we could come up with a better, more nuanced legal solution than the French law.

      • Gem

        The fact that some women choose to wear it does not negate the fact that the burqa itself is a symbol of female subordination. The men clerics, and they all men, justify the burqa because of the idea of ‘awrah’ or private/shameful parts. Islam proscribes that both men and women are to conceal their ‘awrah.’ So when these men tell women (and yes the women are told, whether by their father/husband/imam/spritual advisor etc they are always told about hijab and how important it is for women-but not men of course), to cover their face they are actually saying womens faces are shameful. My face is not shameful. No woman’s face is shameful. They may choose to put it on but it is only because they are immersed in a culture that equates a woman’s worth with her chastity.
        It’s Jessica’s ‘Purity Myth’ but this time with Muslims! And the western feminists on here who decry the purity myth for American women but think it is just fine for Muslims, your extreme cultural relativity is sickening.

        • Angel H.

          Your insistence that a woman can’t make her own choices is what sickens me. Oops, I thought this was about feminism.

  • littleblue

    I am willing to go out on a limb and say that every girl of every nation and culture knows instinctively, maybe even before she has the words to express it, that she is both Object and Subject. The equilibrium between the two states might lean one way or another depending culture, class, education, socioeconomics, nationality, religion, etc., etc. My question is, would society at large, including the sectarian and secular subgroups within, be either alarmed by or see the necessity of Women’s Coverings if the mere presence of The Female Body wasn’t itself such a threat?

  • Angel H.

    I knew this would happen: I stopped coming to Feministing 3 years ago because I was sick and tired of the voices of marginalized bodies being shut down because they didn’t fit in with the Feminist™ ideal. I had hoped things had changed, but the arrogant, paternalistic way in which some people are treated sickens me. To imply that those women are complicit in patriarchy and aren’t capable enough to choose to wear the veil for their own reasons goes against what I had always thought feminism was supposed to be – equality and agency for own bodies. Instead, it chooses to control women like the French muslimahs under the guise of knowing what is best for them. I say, fuck that shit. And fuck anyone who thinks otherwise.

    • littleblue

      I think people tend confuse the real form of peaceful, tolerant multiculturalism with moral relativity – the mistake being we can’t possibly thoughtfully and constructively criticize another culture as an outsider, so therefore all cultures and opinions and practices formed therein must be equally valid.

  • Lauren

    Forced wearing of a veil is sexist. People add that qualifier because they don’t want others to think that opposition to this veil law signifies that they condone forcing women to wear them. I don’t condone forcing women to wear or not wear a veil because both of those alternatives are sexist. But in this instance, opposing a law preventing women from wearing a veil could be construed as supporting forced veiling, hence the qualifier.

  • braveasanoun

    I have a question for my fellow cis-gendered Western feminists: Do you like wearing conventionally feminine/sexy clothing? Do you do so because of our patriarchal culture, or because you like to wear these clothes? You can’t say that women who aren’t directly forced to wear a veil are still repressed by religion without looking at yourself and your choices. Most of our decisions, in one way or another, are effected by living in a patriarchal culture. We need to stop thinking we’re so “liberated” because we’re not covered head-to-toe. I’m not saying that there aren’t women who are oppressed in their clothing through religion, but the oversimplification of the issue I’ve read some of you say is really ethnocentric. The French burqa ban just further marginalizes a group that sees a lot of oppression as it is. Why don’t we try to form solidarity, rather than impose our culture onto them?

    • Angel H.

      Exactly! Saying that Muslimahs who choose to wear the veil are being complicit in their own oppression is no better than saying that a woman who chooses to wear sexy clothes is doing it for the male gaze.

  • Steven Olson

    The french burka ban is a very interesting case, one in which I am not sure where I fall. And others have, in a fractured way, shown why I am not sure where I fall.

    Many people seem to think the ban is a good thing, and support this with the claim that the women covering their faces are forced to by male family members, so that its not their choice whether or not to wear the veil.

    Many people oppose the ban because it is taking away the choice of these women on how they are expressing their religious beliefs. And since to many people, the defining feature of feminism is that of one having choices, this is obviously a bad thing.

    Now, here lies the problem, each sides has a point IF their supporting evidence is true. But the claims are in complete opposition to eachother. Maybe what needs to be done first is to actually find out if wearing the veil is really a choice (in most cases) or a forced thing (in most cases) or if its roughly half and half. If its a choice, the a ban is obviously a bad thing, as it is now illegal to make a choice that is hurting no one. If its forced then the spirit of the law may not be bad, though I am sure it could be instituted in a better manor. If its 50/50, then there should probably be no ban, and other measures should probably be taken to try and make it so that those who are forced to wear the veil are no longer forced to wear it and do have a choice.

    Before we talk about what the act of wearing the veil means, we should find out why that act is done. More facts are always a good thing. I have my own ideas about why women wear a veil, but they aren’t facts and I don’t feel comfortable making unqualified statements about it until I know the facts.