Today's treeware column was basically a summary of my previously-blogged ideas about women's leadership in the Iranian uprising as well as some thoughts on hijab, especially in the wake of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's pronouncements on the burqa the other day.
Note that NOWHERE do I endorse the wearing of a burqa. In fact, I say things like ''given my druthers, I'd rather not walk around with a black veil. But I'm a Godless feminist, with no time at all for patriarchal orders from male religious leaders.'' I call it ''a prison for women.''
But, judging from some of the comments and emails, you'd think I sold out my Muslim sisters to the regressive and controlling people -- yes, not always but usually men -- who treat them like chattel. That ''less than livestock'' theme is one that I have repeatedly explored on this blog.
The essential issue my column raises is CHOICE.
It asks this:
What gives anybody – the state, the mullahs, the media, husbands and/or fathers – the right to say what women can wear?
And further down, this:
Seriously: How can a state complain about women being forced to wear something – and then force the same women to take it off?
Why are there incredibly restricting rules for women, and not for men? Is this not sexist (a word I am denounced for using, by the way, by one commenter)?
And what good does such a law do? Will women who refuse to unveil in France be jailed like women who refuse to be veiled are in backward and repressive Islamic countries? Aren't they the victims? Why punish the victim?
Both the National Post and the Star ran editorials today essentially agreeing with my take. When these two political polar opposites concur, well, you have to know that an argument is pretty airtight.
One notable attack came in from a well-know Muslim Torontonian who claimed I was keeping Muslim women enslaved, that I was selling out his female relatives to the misogyny in the Islamic world.
This was my response:
I advocate for women's complete dominion over their bodies.
I believe that, if a woman wants to dress in a miniskirt, it is her right. She is not to be condemned for "asking for it."
I think that the burqa - something I personally despise - should be a CHOICE.
Why should the state go after women who have no choice?
I see that as sexist and counterproductive.
I think that the state should be targeting those who abuse women - and I consider the burqa to be abuse - and not the victim.
Now not all women agree, including devout Muslim women -- and, by the way, I know plenty, none of who veil themselves. Here is what a British Muslim woman had to say today:
Shopping in Harrods last week, I came across a group of women wearing black burkhas, browsing the latest designs in the fashion department.
Yet it's a sight that's becoming more and more commonplace. In hardline Muslim communities right across Britain, the burkha and hijab - the Muslim headscarf - are becoming the norm.
In the predominantly Muslim enclaves of Derby near my childhood home, you now see women hidden behind the full-length robe, their faces completely shielded from view. In London, I see an increasing number of young girls, aged four and five, being made to wear the hijab to school.
Shockingly, the Dickensian bone disease rickets has reemerged in the British Muslim community because women are not getting enough vital vitamin D from sunlight because they are being consigned to life under a shroud.
Thanks to fundamentalist Muslims and 'hate' preachers working in Britain, the veiling of women is suddenly all-pervasive and promoted as a basic religious right. We are led to believe that we must live with this in the name of 'tolerance'.
And yet, as a British Muslim woman, I abhor the practice and am calling on the Government to follow the lead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and ban the burkha in our country.
The veil is simply a tool of oppression which is being used to alienate and control women under the guise of religious freedom.
Agreed on all points but one: the ban.
How many of us who advocate for a ban have actually approached a heavily veiled woman and talked to her? Asked her if she is happy under that black tent?
I haven't, even though I see such women almost every day when I walk my dog near a rapidly-expanding mosque near Donlands and Danforth. Some of them actually work as nannies for the yuppies in my hood. On summer evenings, in a local park, I see maybe a dozen women, completely veiled in black, sitting on the grass in a circle eating sweets and yakking away, their kids nearby on the playground. I have talked to the children, let them pat the dog, but I have NEVER spoken with the women.
How sad is that?
I guess that's the point of the burqa.
Now obviously there's a big difference between the burqa and a scarf. As my friend and colleague Rosie Dimanno emailed this morning,
In a burqa, you can't see your feet. That's why women fall down.
(Well, I can think of other reasons but ... heh heh ... kidding Rosie.)
Point is, I have met very strong-minded women at U. of Toronto, who are in hijab. None of them seems to be under any duress.
Yesterday, while walking past a house where a Muslim family lives (and there are plenty near here), two little girls, maybe 5 or 6 years old, were playing Mommy with a doll and its stroller. One of the girls actually put a piece on of cloth on her head and tied it like a scarf so she could be ''grown-up.'' I stood there in astonishment.
Bottom line: choice.
There should be no more rules for women than there are for men.
That said, if a government were truly concerned about how women in burqas were being treated, it would set up mechanisms so that they could get help when they wanted to shed them, escape tyrannical family situations, and break the chains of "subservience.''
Otherwise, a ban will only cause more problems for these women.
Incidentally, I couldn't help but use one more image from the wonderful movie, Persepolis. (And yes, I know it doesn't depict a burqa ...)
UPPITY WOMAN DATE: Almost forgot to link to this story from Cairo:
At the Embaba Youth Center in Cairo, teenage girls in headscarves that signify Islamic modesty whack at each other with deft karate moves.
It’s fun, they say, but also a defense against nasty boys and men on the Egyptian capital’s mean streets.
“No one is going to touch me when I can hit them real hard,” said Nada Gamal Saad, 16.
The training is a grassroots reaction to a problem Cairo women’s groups say is growing: public verbal insults, groping and even rape. Such harassment contrasts with emerging signs of female political advancement in Egypt and other countries across the Middle East.
“Changes for women are surface improvements,” said Madiha el-Safty, a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo. “There is a deeper cultural problem: male hostility toward women who want to do more than stay at home.”
I wonder how much freedom a woman will have once she can no longer wear a burqa -- but her family won't let her out of the house because she is ''exposing'' herself.
Surely there are better solutions than bans.
ONE UP ME DATE: Balbulican sure knows how to reduce a blog post to the very basics.
a) We find it appalling that your religion dictates what you may and may not wear.
b) We therefore propose to dictate what you may and may not wear.
I am not worthy.