Friday, December 16, 2011

Let's all wear niqabs and high heels to protest Kenney's state racism

 Last Monday, Immigration and Citizenship Minister Kenney issued a public decree that women wearing a niqab or burka will have to remove them to say the oath of Canadian citizenship. That in Canada this is targeted at what is less than a handful of women clearly exposes the fears of said minister and the Conservative government he represents and not the impediment to clearly hear the oath, as is his so-called reason. It's only fair and open, says Kenney, if the women want to "join the Canadian family." Our open family. Oops. He just made it clear we are close-minded. He forgot to clarify, too, what type of family he's talking about, which from all the other narrow-minded regressive positions he supports, is clearly not only patriarchal and heterosexual, but also white and Christian -- Evangelical Zionism preferred.

Tabatha Southey has written up a response in the Globe and Mail about Kenney's legal meddling in what women can and cannot wear. Her article, part of which I've excerpted below, chastises Kenney for constricting women's choices. (Meanwhile, in the comments section of Canadian newspapers, one is accosted by the rabid racism and xenophobia that is surfacing in defending Kenney). In her piece, she compares her apparel choices with other women and suggests that whether the choice is high heels or a niqab, what business does the government have in restricting women's choices? Are we a democracy or are we not? I'm reminded of the phrase many years ago when a Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau (Liberal), asserted that "The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation"....Those days of inclusive federal thinking are, sadly, gone. As dead as the tailing ponds of the Alberta Tar Sands and our government's Kyoto commitment.

Many people consider high heels and miniskirts to be degrading to women. High heels can restrict a woman's movements. Fitted clothes objectify women, which is intrinsically demeaning to them and prevents them from achieving equality with men – so the theory goes.
Yet women have never worn less and achieved more in the public sphere than they do now, and so – arguably – there goes the theory.
My own feeling is that if it were the men in our society who wore the four-inch Louboutins, we might well theorize that this reflects their privileged position in society: Men know they'll never have to stand all night, or chase after a bus, it would be said of the men in pencil skirts.
Mr. Kenney feels that veils are fundamentally at odds with 'Canada's commitment to openness, equality and social cohesion.' Many Muslim women have told him so, he claimed. But surely neither Mr. Kenney nor an unidentified lobby of concerned Muslim women should be making wardrobe choices for adult women, for any occasion – because that is at odds with Canadian values. He's the Minister of Immigration, not Anna Wintour.
Veils are spooky and challenging to many people. You might feel cut off from a woman if you can't see her face, and thus disadvantaged. I'm not sure why people feel they have a right to see a woman's face any more than another part of her body. When my eyes meet the eyes of a veiled woman at my No Frills when her child is yelling about breakfast cereal, they speak volumes, as does her body posture, as quite often does she.
If there's a barrier between a veiled woman and me, it's on my side. It's made of any preconceived notions I might have about why she's wearing what she's wearing, and what it says about her ambitions, education, self-esteem and status in her own household.
I refuse to make those assumptions and I regret any rule that enshrines them. Just as I ask those assumptions not be made about me, based on my shoes. Click, click, click.


Dacey said...

I don't know why people used to follow these kind of rules.Still there are some religions that used to follow these rules and doing wrong deeds with the women

Mouse said...

The issue is, I think, that such clothes are seen as a sign of oppression, of men's ownership of women, and that is contrary to western ways.

And I can't help wondering how a woman dressed in a short, tight skirt and revealing top would be treated in a muslim country.

northshorewoman said...

Dacey, it seems people follow all sorts of irrational rules. I can remember back in the 80s when I was an aerobics instructor, I would justify wearing thongs -- outside my shiny tight leggings -- as comfortable. They were not. They dug up my a*#. So, whether the rules are some misguided sense of religious decrees or the illusion of fashion choice offered to women in consumer culture, I don't think there should be any one deciding for a woman what she can and cannot wear.

Mouse, yes, some do see these sorts of coverings as oppressive, of men's ownership of women; however, if a woman tells us it is her choice, then if we tell her no, you are mistaken, you are brainwashed into patriarchy, bla bla bla, then are we any different then the men who have compelled that "choice"? No. She is stuck between a rock and a hard place: between the discourses of patriarchal interpretations of religion and the discourses of 'freedom' that supposedly the West has a handle and monopoly on.

Also, two wrongs don't make a right. And you are generalizing about a homogeneous "muslim country." You should walk downtown Beirut on a Saturday in the summer. True, Lebanon in mixed and has its specific social and historical intersections -- but so do each of the Muslim nations.

The question is the meaning of the terms "democracy", "freedom" and "choice" that supposedly the West upholds. Well, where is freedom of choice when we force someone to dress in a way that is comfortable to "us"/ the invisible norm? "They" are "us."

Mouse said...

your post led to a very interesting debate between The Rags and I around the Christmas dinner table, we discussed Islam, the burkha, France's banning of it, the mess that is Israel/Palestine, our country's shameful history in that region, immigration, personal freedom...

In my youth I was a fervent supporter of Israel, now, a mature adult, I promote the Palestinian cause but sadly I think there will be no peace and no justice until the USA (and others) ceases to throw its weight behind Israel.

northshorewoman said...

hello Mouse, I'm glad you and your friends/family had a good debate.

In my youth, I didn't even know about Palestine. I only knew about Israel and the kibbutz's, which during the late 60s and 70s were presented in the media as some sort of shangri-la flower-power dream destination of hippie types. Well. THat whole peace and love ya all certainly was myopic.

Pamela said...

I live in Dallas, TX and work as a sales associate for a major dept. store. In addition, I often shop at Wal-Mart. My point? There is a significant muslim population here - many of whom I see daily. While I agree that many of my female counterparts take exception to the hijab/niqab wearers, I, on the other hand, am surprised by their oft seen combination/contradiction of head cover with high heels. Not to mention make-up. Anything normally worn by western females seems to be OK, as long as one's head is covered or face is hidden .

An unknown advantage of wearing a hijab (particularly when accompanied by an abaya or chador) is that one becomes nearly invisible. A unanticipated feeling of privacy befalls the wearer - even if she hss heels on. I know, I have experienced it.

It isn't a feeling of opression one experiences, but a sense that you can go about your routine without being subjected to unwanted approaches. Males don't give you lustful glances or make attempts at small talk hoping for a phone number. No, you decide the terms under which interaction will occur. You are in control.

Western women could certainly learn a thing or two from their muslim sisters.

northshorewoman said...

hello Pamaela,

Yes, we are all full of contradictions; Muslim women are no exception. How could it be otherwise as one has to navigate a world of contradictory messages and the context changes from place to place, day to day, group to group.

While I do agree that some people accord respect to women wearing modest dress such as hijab, chador and niqab, which gives the women some anonymity in public space as well as, at times, freedom from harassment, yet, sexual harassment stems from power, control, and violence and respects no borders. It cuts across all contexts, all peoples, all clothing women can wear. Wearing hijab and chador doesn't guarantee women against protection from the male gaze or male grabbing or verbal assaults. In an ideal world, perhaps. But our world is not even close to that.

Mike Martlet said...

Unfortunately, as usual, there is no understanding by these feminist and Islamic (culture rather than the actual Koran) inspired protesters of how their protest will be perceived by the males they are trying to influence.
Men (the majority of heterosexual men) are attracted visually to the opposite sex in the first instance; it is the visual attraction that causes us to bother to try to make acquaintance with members of the opposite sex. As the relationship develops, it of course generally (at least in most long term relationships) moves on to other things such as character, intellect, education, and things in common, such as a sense of humour. One of the arguments against the Niqab (when combined with an abaya or jilbab) is that it prevents women from forming relationships with members of the opposite sex that they are attracted to; this is of course its purpose and it keeps young women as chattels of their parents to be traded as brides in arranged marriages rather than allowing them the adult freedom to make their own relationships as we do in the west.

However, the attire of niquab + high heels of these protesting young women almost entirely negates the effect of the niqab and in some ways, by creating an air of mystery as in a carnival mask, makes them more attractive with it than without it. I suspect that some men would be quite happy for them to wear the niqab if such attired women were to compensate them by showing off their high heeled adorned legs (always a sexual stimulus) in this manner. I would certainly find the young lady in the photograph very attractive even if she did wear a niqab, as those particular high heeled shoes are very sexy and, being part of her sexual persona, betray quite a lot about her inner character (that's what your shoes do ladies!). In this case the hijab that she is wearing frames her very attractive features and because, apart from the shoes, her face is the only 'visible' aspect, one notices more about it, - such as her long dark eyelashes. If she were to wear a niqab, with only the shoes to go on I would find myself wondering whether her facial attraction matched the 'promise' of her high heels.

Objectification? ....... yes obviously, - we westerners (at least) are all here because our parents initially objectified each other.
Best wishes,
Mike (mikemartlet)