In recent weeks there has developed on Australian political blog Larvatus Prodeo a fairly predictable Thread of Doom about calls from that well-known feminist and progressive champion of women's rights Senator Cory Bernardi to ban the wearing of the burqa in Australia, in a piece in which he argues that of course it's not really about women at all.
As is so often the case with issues around women and Islam, if you're any kind of progressive then you're looking at an interior car crash every time you try to think about burqas. There are four problems and none of them can be solved without exacerbating the other three, to wit:
1) Women (and indeed men) should be legally free to wear whatever they want, and to make that decision for themselves.
2) Cultural difference should be respected and should not be suppressed.
3) Women who have internalised oppressive rules should not be further oppressed by the well-meaning people trying to liberate them.
4) It's important not to join the anti-Islamic howlers for blood in the name of a cause that matters to you, namely the rights and freedoms of women. (Just as it's important not to join the anti-Jewish howlers for blood in the name of another cause that matters to you, namely the non-oppression of Palestinians.)
Most of the commenters on that LP thread are all too aware of this rectangle of tensions, and conclude that they dislike the burqa but they dislike the idea of banning it more. Not surprisingly, all but the most intrepid of women commenters there, of whom there were in the first place relatively few, dropped out of this discussion along the way or never joined it in the first place, and as with an earlier Thread of Doom about breasts, even the most reasonable of male LP regulars have become a little sullen and resistant in the face of arguments put by actual women, including at least one female commenter who herself wears a veil.
Not that there has not been back-channel and IRL muttering among said women. There has.
The idea of the burqa, as of the less absolutist 'loose coat', skirt and/or headscarf, is that the sight of a woman's body and hair inflames men's passions. For some reason, this is supposed to be the woman's responsibility.
Now: how different is this from the talks (standard, nay universal, wisdom for the time and place) I got from my late and much-loved Ma circa 1967 about how boys had terrible trouble controlling their sexual urges and therefore it was my responsibility to make sure no untoward hanky-panky took place? Or the still-all-too-common judgement that if a young woman was wearing that skirt then it was her own fault if she got raped?
Answer: not very.
Close on the heels of this extraordinary bit of urgent police work last week in the Indonesian province of Aceh, supplying all-concealing skirts to 20,000 women to replace their evil man-inflaming trousers on the spot (while the religious police watch, presumably), because of course that's the most urgent thing that needs to be done in Aceh, we have a mass resignation from Al Jazeera in Qatar on the basis of religious insistence that female news anchors should cover up more and present themselves more 'modestly', presumably for the reasons outlined above.
Now: how different is this from the groundswell of discussion a year or two back among Australian commercial television stations that female newsreaders and 'current affairs' presenters should be appointed according to their level of fuckability, because, you know, the ratings stats are, like, people, and people are men, and men like to be titillated?
Answer: not very.
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