France's Irrational Ban on Muslim Veils
For a country that takes pride in rationality, the decision to ban head coverings doesn't make much sense. Pretending that the new law is a defense of women's rights is even more absurd.
I've never been one to participate in the American sport of French bashing. But after the French ban on the wearing of face-covering veils in public began last week, I'm ready to start ordering "freedom fries" at the drive-through. Referring to traditional Muslim coverings worn by some women -- which range from the nijab or niqab to the full, imposing and disconcerting burqa -- as a reflection of "male oppression," the French law prohibits some Muslim women in that country from fully exercising and adhering to their religious beliefs. If ever there were a symbol of male oppression and Western arrogance, it is the law enacted by patronizing Gaulists to support what they regard as "freedom" for Muslim women.
It's hard to fully articulate the scope of the insult and prejudice that so explicitly undergirds the new French law described by President Nicolas Sarkozy as supportive of the "dignity" of French women. The law does not ban the wigs worn by ultra-Orthodox married Jewish women, who shave their heads as part of their religious practice. Nor does it ban communion veils worn by young Catholic girls and women.
Extreme forms of dress by male religious figures are also left untouched. The one-shouldered robes worn by Tibetan monks are permissible, as are the elaborate, multilayered robes worn by Catholic priests (who are forbidden to marry by a church that has its own well-known, elaborate struggles with male oppression). It is only Muslim women who are targeted for the particular solicitude of a French law that reflects the growing right-wing tilt of French public opinion.
Framing this law as a progressive women's-rights ordinance is absurd on its face. If the French were serious about banning from the public space garments that reflect male oppression, then the high-heel shoe and the push-up bra would have been abolished long ago. And the breast implant. And the face-lift. And Spanx.
Is the absence of gray-haired French ladies in their 40s and 50s a symbol of women liberated from the need to reflect their age through their hair, or the result of women who must appear perpetually young to maintain the interest and attention of their graying and balding husbands and male companions? What about the French fashion industry and its celebration of anorexic, yet fully breasted postpubescent models as "hangers" for clothes hand-sewn by considerably stouter, older seamstresses who remain behind the veil of an industry that traffics in male fantasy?
Western culture is rife with symbols of male oppression, many of which are reflected in the dress and drastic, unhealthy surgical and chemical interventions utilized by so-called liberated Western women. These symbols of unrealistic and degrading male demands for ever youthful, absurdly proportioned women can be seen every day on the streets of Paris, New York, London and most Western cities. Fighting against patriarchy and outdated symbols of male oppression in both secular and religious life is an ongoing battle in both the West and the East -- and in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It is the glue that joins women all over the world.