From the attempted burkini ban on the beaches of France to the alleged gendered segregation of university students in the wake of a Muslim guest speaker in the UK, to the on-going discussion of ‘banning the ‘burqa’ (when what they’re actually talking about is called a niqab) in Australia, it seems like everywhere I look and listen there is some angry man getting his panties in a twist at the injustice of female oppression at the hands of Islam. All this finger pointing – which aims to shift the spotlight from Western systemic and social sexism onto the supposed deeply engrained, unrelenting oppression of women that exists in the home of every Muslim family – is not just hypocritical, it is blatantly racist. This relentless imposition of white-man-western-imperialism masked as outrage against female oppression is as insulting as it is insidious in its mutilation of the language of feminist liberation. Moreover, it is insulting in its transparency.
When senator Cory Bernardi labelled the burqa a “shroud of oppression” (and oh, also a threat to national security) things are not what they seem. Here, we do not have a man concerning himself with what he claims is a feminist issue affecting a minority. What we have, is brazen Islamophobia, with a little bit of age-old misogyny thrown in – women are vulnerable, weak and do not know what is best for them, and Muslim women are the most destitute of all.
When these statements are made, these intentions expressed, it is the women who suffer. In this on-going discussion women are told why they wear what they wear, and why they are wrong in doing so. They are told they are oppressed, and then they are told that the Western world hates them for being complicit in their own oppression. At what point will the men and women, who in the name of feminism denounce the burkini as a reprisal against women’s liberation, realise that forcing women not to wear a burkini is the very same as forcing them to wear one?
What greater insult to the likes of Gloria Steinem, bell hooks and Shulamith Firestone who have fought for the social freedom of us all who suffer in the midst of this patriarchal hellscape, than the opportunistic appropriation of burgeoning feminist dialogue to disseminate Islamophobic agendas.
How is it possible that we continue to make an individual’s decision about her clothing a global, media discussion? How is what a woman of any race or religion wears, a matter for public debate? How are we still policing the lives of women in any way at all? And how the hell is that happening in the name of feminism?!
I know it can be difficult to see through sun-drenched glamour-fog of the titty baring Free-The-Nipple selfie, but if you look hard enough, you might just see that what you are actually doing when you rally against the niqab is silencing the women for whom the discussion is most relevant. You’re telling them that you know what is best for them. You are not only resolving to take their rights away, but their voice as well.
In the words of Roxanne Gay, in the hopes of shutting up every person who isn’t a Muslim woman on the topic of ‘to wear or not to wear’:
“Western opinions on the hijab or burkas are rather irrelevant. We don’t get to decide for Muslim women what does or does not oppress them, no matter how highly we think of ourselves.”