A college bans face coverings womens rights vs security vs multiculturalism?

(120 Posts)
msrisotto Tue 10-Sep-13 19:09:30

This old chestnut but I'm posting as I can see two sides to this and am interested in other people's thoughts.
Here's a (non DM) link www.secularism.org.uk/news/2013/09/anger-as-birmingham-college-bans-face-coverings-for-security-reasons

I guess i felt that if Muslim women wanted to wear it then of course they should, i wouldn't appreciate being told what i should and shouldn't wear but then when I read stuff like this: The illusion of choice I get even more confused.

My opinions so far:
1. We should stop judging women on what they wear
2. A security risk is a security risk so maybe this measure was justified
3. Does the hijab represent the control of society over the freedom of women that has taken deep roots in their psyche, which has altered their perception to accept it as their identity. By calling hijab their identity, women reduce their worth to a piece of cloth, bringing entire focus on their bodies. This is no different from using a woman’s naked body to sell products. The blatant sexualisation of body in both cases perceives women nothing more than source of temptation, pleasure and sin. ( c+p from the second link).
4. Forgive my ignorance but is the face covering a religious or cultural issue? I don't believe in sanctioning discrimination under religious rules.

I do not wish for this to become any kind of racist, bun fighting, non sensible discussion. Looking forward to your thoughts.

NiceTabard Tue 10-Sep-13 22:35:20

I am also torn on this one.

A large point as well for your list is that in the UK, generally, covering your face is culturally unacceptable and linked closely with criminal / violent / terrorist intent. I suspect that is something that many people struggle to get past, even to the point of considering the points you list.

NiceTabard Tue 10-Sep-13 22:39:06

For point 4, my understanding is that face covering / to different levels is a cultural issue, justified on religious grounds.

This is not confined to the Muslim community, covering for women / men to different degrees even within the same religion varies according to region / sect and so on. And of course religious texts are so enormous that you can find a bit to back up whatever you think the answer needs to be, generally.

SinisterSal Tue 10-Sep-13 22:39:20

Two sides to this, for sure

Would it be like forcing me to go topless? No way would I be comfortable with that (understatement) Covering up the breasts is just a cultural norm too, though a fairly cultural one.

NiceTabard Tue 10-Sep-13 22:45:14

It is interesting.

I live in an area with a lot of different fairly extreme religious communities & sects who adopt different dress styles which are very marked and often involve covering hair & doing other stuff to hair & generally looking quite obviously "different". This is all fine, to me. But when I see a person (woman) with their face covered, it freaks me out. I think that it is very strongly culturally conditioned in the UK that covering face = really really not good. Which I imagine is why this issue comes up much more than other groups who wear garb which is just as out of step with the mainstream culture.

That's what I think anyway. I know it's illogical to react so strongly but I can't help it. There, that's honest.

FreyaSnow Tue 10-Sep-13 22:51:03

I don't have any concerns about it other than the issue of identifying who people are. Possible there may also be some health and safety issues in labs.

I don't think it reduces people's ability to communicate with other adults in general, although there are obviously issues when talking to somebody who is hearing impaired or has impairments that require them to rely heavily on facial cues to judge situations.

ExitPursuedByADragon Tue 10-Sep-13 22:55:40

I struggle to communicate with people wearing a full veil.

Oh sorry. Not people.

Women.

scallopsrgreat Tue 10-Sep-13 22:57:45

A couple of things:

Is it really a security issue? From the article: The ruling says that everyone on the college premises must be "identifiable at all times". hmm I work at a university. Not everyone is identifiable at all times. How do you realistically identify them? What about people off the street i.e. people visiting the university? How do they identify people with no or little connection with the university? I think it is a bit of a weak excuse, myself.

Point 4) I don't think it is either religious or cultural. I think they are used as excuses for basic misogyny.

NiceTabard Tue 10-Sep-13 23:13:16

Well yes grin

I'm going for honesty here though, which is kind of hard with this. Before I get to the misogyny stuff I am confronted with a very basic, fundamental, deep and huge discomfort with the face covering full stop. That's a UK cultural thing, I'm sure.

I suspect if I grew up in a place where covering of faces was standard for people (meaning women, obviously) then the sheer fact of it wouldn't affect me so much, and then the other points would come into play.

But I just have this fundamental deep intrinsic discomfort with it which is entirely cultural and as I say I'm sure this is why so many in the UK don't like it, and realistically the only way to get past that would be for many more fully veiled women to be in evidence everywhere in the UK. Which is, for me, not desirable for the reasons posted in teh OP.

ExitPursuedByADragon Tue 10-Sep-13 23:16:10

Lily livered much ?

NiceTabard Tue 10-Sep-13 23:18:46

?

I agree with scallops, as an academic myself I think the security excuse is hogwash. It's not like we're living in a war zone where suicide bombers are constantly disguising themselves as women in order to blow people up. Isn't it a little creepy that they want people to be identifiable all the time?

And isn't it a bad thing if it deters some women from attending uni?

I do have mixed feelings on hijab. On the one hand it seems so misogynistic, on the other hand I don't like the idea of forcing women to wear one thing or another.

I also spent some time in a country where I had to cover myself and actually I found it very comforting. Now obviously I would probably feel different if I had to do it my whole life in a deeply sexist country, but I can kind of understand why the women who do find it comforting are distressed by the idea of being forced to go without.

I also think in 30-40 years many communities will have naturally assimilated anyway and there's no need to force things.

FreyaSnow Tue 10-Sep-13 23:29:34

I am in two minds about it because I do think there are practical issues. My dad is deaf and needs to be able to see people's faces to understand what they're saying.

But I don't feel culturally uncomfortable with it. Although I don't know anybody personally who covers their face, I see groups of women taking, laughing and interacting where some of them have faces covered and some do not. We also go to Blackpool a couple of times a year and there are often women in face coverings laughing on the rides and clearly enjoying themselves. That sounds rather irrelevant but I think what I'm getting at is that it is still possible to see a lot of body language and tell a lot about mood from tone of voice and so on. I think the discomfort perhaps comes from when people feel they can't tell anything about the person when they're covered, because we rely so much on faces to communicate.

scallopsrgreat Tue 10-Sep-13 23:32:12

I might have misunderstood point 4. I was thinking msrisotto meant is face covering done for religious or cultural reasons whereas it could mean do the people having an issue with it do so for religious or cultural reasons (which I think is the angle you are coming from NiceTabard?). If it is the second then I agree NiceTabard, cultural reasons definitely (with a bit of racism thrown in - not from your posts I hasten to add, from society in general!)

As for the security thing, I'm just thinking it is yet another excuse to police what women wear. I do not like the contradiction that I dislike and oppose women being the gatekeepers of men's thoughts and behaviour through vastly limiting their clothing, yet opposing those who seek to remove said limitations, for their own patriarchal reasons.

FreyaSnow Tue 10-Sep-13 23:32:17

The impression I got from the article was that women were being asked not to wear face coverings (the niqab?). The hijab is the head scarf and women will still be allowed to wear the hijab - the head scarf. I can't see any practical issues with the hijab; women safely wear them in university labs.

NoComet Tue 10-Sep-13 23:46:07

I'm an atheist, I have only limited patience with religion being used as a cover for cultural sexism.

To my mind face coverings are oppressive and the ultimate in victim blaming. Women are so dangerous to their twisted view of the world lets make women invisible.

It's incredibly hard to interact with a veiled woman. That's what the misogynists want. They can't quite lock all women behind closed doors, although they try. So they make it impossible for them to interact and make friends in most casual settings.

Solopower1 Tue 10-Sep-13 23:55:52

I also agree with Scallops. There's no rule against wearing a false moustache or curly red wig is there? You could wear a caftan or hoodie or motorcycle helmet. If you lose weight or put it on, you also change your appearance.

What would happen if you went into this college in a see-through blouse, I wonder, or in a short skirt? A cross-dresser wouldn't be banned, I'm sure - so why is it OK to express your sexuality but not your religion?

I teach English, including pronunciation, to ladies some of whom are completely covered from head to foot. I might not be able to see the shapes they are making with their mouths, but they can see mine, and I can hear what they say.

So fwiw I think it is ludicrous and discriminatory not to let women wear what they want.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 00:02:50

Solopower, I'm not opposed to your wider point, but I wear short skirts and it is not an expression of my sexuality (although other people may wear them for that reason), and I know other women who wear tha hijab and it is not an expression of their religious attitudes (although it is for some women). Presumably women who wear the niqab also wear it for different reasons. So I think we can't make assumptions about somebody else's beliefs, identity or attitudes from their clothes.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 00:52:28

There are places where you can't wear hoodies, certainly motorcycle helmets are totally out in many places. And (again being honest) the association that people make with only the eyes showing is a balaclava helmet which has a very specific and very strong connotation in UK society. I know it's not very right-on to say it, but in UK society, generally, the only time you would see someone on the high street or in a shop with only their eyes showing was if they were about to hold you up with a shotgun, or blow you up. And I know it was a few decades ago, but it's in my living memory, and I think when people say they are very uncomfortable with people only having their eyes showing, there is a very strong cultural reason why, in recent history.

And I know it's not PC but if we're worrying about cultural sensitivity then that aspect should be considered as well, I think?

FWIW I agree with others that the "security" line in the UK is a cover-up for other reasons (such as all the ones mentioned above).

I also think that dreaming is right in that over time as (hopefully) different communities become wealthier and more integrated, so full veil wearing will drop off.

I don't know why I get on such a rant about this. I just know that when I see a fully veiled woman, it freaks me out. Culture / feminism / who knows. But I can't pretend I'm OK with it, I'm just really not.

Incidentally doesn't being fully veiled (cultural) come with a whole other bunch of expectations around female behaviour (cultural)? There was a thread on here and I said that I wouldn't like it if where I lived, everyone wore a full veil as how would anyone recognise people they knew / were acquainted with when out and about and stop for a chat. The answer was, why would anyone want to talk to people on the street, the thing to do is socialise at home with people you have invited around. It's just a totally different mind-set to how most people in the UK are, I think. I take it for granted going out and about and saying hello to people I vaguely recognise, and smiling at the person who sells me some stuff in a shop, and bumping into someone I worked with 10 years ago and that sort of thing. It really is just a totally different way of living.

GoshAnneGorilla Wed 11-Sep-13 02:50:23

I think it's very disappointing.

The security issue seems to be an excuse, rather then an actual reason. So the fact the college is not being open about its reasons is worrying.

I work in Birmingham, so seeing women in niqab is no big deal whatsoever, it's completely normal. I would say that only a small minority of women do wear niqab, but it's a common enough site, to not be noticeable.

Nice tabard - you can recognise someone in niqab and yes, women who do/don't wear niqab still greet each other in the street and chat and things like that.

There always seems to be this handwringing over women's religious dress in a way that men's religious garments don't seem to get - something which I don't think is explored adequately. It's not enough to baldly state "If women wear this it's misogyny, if men wear it's fine", particularly when such statements are often made without any input from those who actually wear the religious items.

My belief is that to wear or not to wear these items should always be a personal choice, so I find forced unveiling as offensive as forced veiling.

claraschu Wed 11-Sep-13 04:43:01

If westerners travel to Saudi Arabia,they don't wear mini skirts.

TheFallenNinja Wed 11-Sep-13 04:51:36

I struggle with knowing whether the face is covered or hidden. From what I understand it's not a religious requirement so I really don't know where I sit.

I have been asked to remove my crash helmet to pay for petrol to establish my age to which I was, perhaps unreasonably, outraged by, I guess I just don't like bring told what to do.

JustinBsMum Wed 11-Sep-13 05:02:23

Face covering is medieval imv.
I don't much like talking to people wearing sunglasses!

sashh Wed 11-Sep-13 06:59:29

I used to work at this college.

At one of the campuses the majority of students are Muslim, I had a class of 3 at Eid.

Many of the female students were from what you might call strict or traditional families. They did not go anywhere alone.

Another teacher arranged a trip to a local uni and one group could not go because it was on public transport and they did not have a relative to chaperone them. This was got round by said teacher borrowing the college minibus.

I only ever saw one girl with a full face veil. She was easily recognised.

Talking to some of the students I found that they wore one set of clothes for college - floor length long sleeved - and different clothes at home, a condition (from parents) of them attending college was what they wore.

In this case I would rather a girl got an education and covered her face than be sat at home.

msrisotto Wed 11-Sep-13 07:25:51

Thanks for your opinions everyone.

I agree that it is crucially important that these women are not denied an education as a result of this.

The security risk thing does seem OTT for a college, however they did say that they don't allow hoodies, they wouldn't allow balaclavas either.

So, I am an atheist as well so using religion to oppress women is intolerable to me and thinking about cultural behaviours, I am in two minds. On the one hand I think it is nice to celebrate different cultures but whoever said it above was right - covering your face is historically threatening in the UK and it is customary to remove helmets, sunglasses etc when inside and talking to people generally. Appearing to hide who you are is very unsettling.

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