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 Wed 11-Sep-13 08:06:46

If you live in a community where everyone wears a niqab, how do you recognise people you know? You have to get quite close to see someone's eyes surely and anyway lots of the women in the area where I used to work pinned it closed so that only a peek of one eye was showing. Maybe if you lived in such a community you would recognise body shape? I'm interested to know how that works. The woman on MN before who lived in such a community said you wouldn't recognise people unless they had other clues like children with them, and that was fine as it was unnecessary and odd to associate with people on the street.

Goshanne I would be against forced unveiling as well and hope that as communities grow wealthier and integrate it would fall off on its own.

I also think that people don't "handwring" over men's religious dress as I can't think of a form of male religious dress that involves covering the face whenever in public.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 10:03:22

Yet face covering isn't medieval.

<misses the point by a country mile>

I feel uncomfortable about it. I think it's really shitty to scapegoat a group of people who are not unlikely to have less power than their male or white counterparts, for what look to be (to be honest) like thinly-disguised anti-muslim reasons.

I do think the veil is misogynistic, of course I do, but starting in on the women wearing it is the wrong approach.

Btw, insofar as it's relevant, I'm white but grew up in an area where women wearing hijab wasn't uncommon and you do recognize people. Actually, we all recognize people by gait and body shape, veiled or not, but you notice more with someone wearing a veil. Undeniably it makes it harder, though.

GoshAnneGorilla Wed 11-Sep-13 10:26:20

Also a bit disappointed to have to get out my bingo card so soon. I see that Saudi Arabia has been mentioned alongside the remark about Westerners - therefore implying that if you wear a niqab, you're not Western.

Likewise Nice Tabard's comment about veil wearing decreasing as the community becomes more integrated.

I'm not sure how to break this to you, but a sizeable proportion of women who do wear the niqab are converts to Islam, from all backgrounds and I would say another chunk of women who wear niqab come from families where niqab isn't worn and wearing niwab is something they've chosen for themselves.

In short, many niqab wearers are British and would consider themselves intergrated into society.

Nice Tabard - actually I've seen people get just as vexed over hijab, in a way that they never seem to over Sikh men in Turbans.

IMO it's all part of society's comfort at using women's bodies as vessels to make a political point - in this case it's often discomfort with immigration, or plain old racism which is underlying a lot of anti niqab sentiment.

I can't link now, but if you google UDC racist posters, you'll see what I mean.

I agree with sashh. If things are going to change it will be in large part because the younger generations get an education and socialize with different people, so denying women that opportunity is counterproductive.

I also wish we spent more time looking at the powerful social pressures that have very young women dressing in 'sexy' clothing and aspiring to be glamour models. Isn't that just as misogynistic? It seems less insidious because these women seemingly have a choice to do so, but I think that choice is somewhat illusory.

I guess what I mean is, I don't look at it like 'what we do' is good and 'what they do' is bad. I think all cultures have misogynistic practices, they just vary in form and prevalence.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 11:01:37

You can get your bingo cards out all you like, I'm just being honest.

i can't see face covering being accepted generally in the wider community for all of the reasons on this thread. It goes against a very strong cultural taboo.

There are lots of religious groups around here who wear garb that sets them firmly apart, and they want to be firmly apart. The niqab goes under that heading for me. You can't compare it to things like a sikh or jewish man covering hair or a woman wearing a headscarf. These things are all totally within the realm of accepted dress.

Face covering is an extreme form of dress which goes against our cultural norms, as much as going around naked would. That's just how it is. If you want to work to change that then that's up to you. But for me, the fact of this deep discomfort which stems from recent history and culture, added to the fact of the misogyny of the whole practice, means that I am far happier with a situation where less women choose this covering, than more.

GoshAnneGorilla Wed 11-Sep-13 11:04:57

Dreaming - you've missed my point. A lot of the women wearing niqab have done so due to personal choice and may be the first women in their families to wear it, not because they are being pressured to by the older generation.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 11:08:15

Quite right dreaming our culture is shit for women, especially around looks / dress etc. But two wrongs don't make a right. Women shouldn't feel obliged to cover themselves entirely, or to go around half naked.

While all the while the men around the world just wear sensible comfy stuff and get on with it.

Even in the groups around here who have more extreme dress, the women's dress is more restrictive / extreme than the men of the same group.

The whole thing's shit.

GoshAnneGorilla Wed 11-Sep-13 11:10:28

Nice Tabard - once upon a time being openly gay was strongly against our cultural norms.

So was being an unmarried woman and living alone.

Mixed marriages were against our cultural norms and people thought it was terribly unfair on the children.

On a more superficial note, women leaving the house with uncovered hair was also seen as against cultural norms, likewise women having tattoos.

So I'm not sure cultural norms is a good argument to use, unless you think that only certain people get to change cultural norms.

Besides, as I've already stated, niqab is a cultural norm where I live.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 11:11:07

And so might a young woman be the first of her family to work on page 3. Doesn't mean anyone has to like it.
It's this choice feminism malarky thing again isn't it.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 11:17:27

All of those things have changed due to society becoming more liberal, and conservative religious types would like to see them reversed.

Wearing of extreme religious dress is related to conservative religious views, and thus a backward looking practice, not a liberal forward thinking one.

Surely in countries where it is the norm for women to cover their faces, it is not the case where things like homosexuality or having children when you are not married are considered entirely acceptable?

Pachacuti Wed 11-Sep-13 11:21:45

Reading the college's statement, I'm actually wondering whether their main aim is to cut out baseball caps and hoodies (also covered by the regulation) because they have a theft problem and can't recognise offenders on CCTV, and they've had to include the niqab because you can't really say "No, you can't wear that baseball cap because it makes you difficult to identify, but this woman can cover her whole face and that's OK".

I'm concerned about anything that makes it more difficult for a subset of women to get an education, though.

Is the Muslim Association of Britain (quoted approving of the ban) an actual respectable and representative organisation, or one of those rent-a-quote outfits? I lose track of which is which.

GoshAnneGorilla Wed 11-Sep-13 11:41:32

Nice - not necessarily so. Lots of people are aware that freedom for them to practice their religion equals freedom for lots of other people too.

As for dismissing people as "backward" just because they wish to practice their religion a certain way, I despair.

You don't know anyone who wears niqab do you? They're all just some strange "other" to you.

Bodily autonomy is a feminist issue. Wearing niqab and Page 3 are completely different issues, just as wearing a bikini on the beach is a different issue to Lads Mags in supermarkets.

I forsee this thread going exactly the same way these threads always do. It's depressing.

GreatNorthRoad Wed 11-Sep-13 11:56:29

I am torn on the women's rights side of things. Of course women should have choice of what they wear and some do state that they cover their face by choice. As someone from outside those communities though, I don't understand that choice and therefore wonder how much free will they really have.

However, that aside I do think that in public, faces should be on view, in the same way that I think hoodies should be removed in shops and that (adults/teens) going trick or treating in a full face mask is intimidating.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:03:24

I really think that you are making a lot of assumptions there about who I know / where I live / what I do.

Around here there are a lot of different religious communities and generally things are OK. There have been incidents, but they have not been directed at one specific religion. I think we do OK. I am quite proud of the diversity in this area and the way different people's religious and cultural practices are taken into account. Still doesn't mean I can't look at a woman in a niqab, or a woman from an extreme christian sect, and feel uncomfortable.

I see you haven't disputed that countries where women are generally veiled, aren't leading the way in tolerance. You can't pretend that the cultural practice of women covering their faces isn't linked to religious conservatism and all that comes with that.

Gosh -- I didn't miss your point, I had cross-posted so I didn't see it

I don't think it matters whether a woman wears niqab due to family pressure or out of choice, she is still responding to a cultural norm that says this is a proper thing to do.

Because that cultural norm has been transplanted to the UK relatively recently, it is contested within UK society.

My argument is that in 50 years it probably won't be contested any more, like many cultural norms over time. It's pretty typical for controversies like this to fade, either because fewer people engage in the practice or because it just gets seen as not unusual anymore.

Assimilation is not a one-way street, it means changes in both directions. I think it's pretty inevitable although sometimes it does take a really long time and I don't think it should be forced.

I feel the niqab is a misogynistic cultural practice because it is required only of women. I don't personally have a problem with it, I don't judge people for wearing it, and I don't think women should be forced not to wear it. But I do hope that it becomes a more optional practice because many women are forced to wear it and I don't think that's right either.

Viviennemary Wed 11-Sep-13 12:20:21

I think the covering of the face should be banned in all public places. I think the college is absolutely right.

Viviennemary Wed 11-Sep-13 12:21:14

Just seen the cultural norm post. Outrageous. So are we to accept FGM because it's a cultural norm.

I think, like with any norm, you have to look at levels of harm. FGM obviously causes serious physical harm. Wearing a veil doesn't hurt anybody.

HavantGuard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:24:29

Niqab and page 3 are entirely the same issue to me. Treating women as sex objects.

GoshAnneGorilla Wed 11-Sep-13 12:39:29

Nice - talking about other countries is generally a derail, particularly as people are all too quick to presume that circumstances in a country can be tied to one cause, whereas there are many different factors (political, economic, social, post-colonial etc) which determine why a society is the way it is.

In short, we can look at the UK and identify many different factors as to why society is the way it is and we also know there is not one homogenous society as such.

Yet any Muslim majority country is deemed as being like that because they are Muslim, viewed as a monolithic block.

Issues like this to me, strike right to the heart of what we want the UK to be. Counties such as France, where niqab is banned, are also countries with high levels of support for far right political parties. Hence it is facile to just view niqab as an issue of sexism, race clearly does come into play, the imagery used by the UDC is a clear indication of this.

grimbletart Wed 11-Sep-13 12:39:57

It's just the old double standard in a different guise. Only women wear the niqab.

I have a feeling that if men were suddenly required to wear it they would see what a restrictive dehumanising garment it is. I can't imagine the tradition lasting five minutes if men had to put with it.

In some fantasy I dream of all the men in the family that require women to wear this garment being forced to wear it as well. Bye bye niqab grin

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:52:28

But not all muslim countries are "like that", whatever you mean by "like that".

What I am saying is that countries where women cover their faces as a matter of course when in public, are not bastions of liberal tolerant values. Surely there's no argument there?

To say that niqab is not a sexist issue is ridiculous. Men don't wear it. Same as other more extreme religious groups around here have dress codes which are always (AFAICS) stricter on the women and the men. Maybe there are some that have it the other way around - I haven't studied all world religions. But certainly all the ones around here it is the case, and often there is segregation of the sexes in places of worship, roles that women are expected to perform and so on. Sexist.

Pointless IMO to pretend that the wearing of extreme religious dress is not sexist, and is not related to religious conservatism.

ButThereAgain Wed 11-Sep-13 12:57:48

I don't think that Gosh said it wasn't an issue to do with sexism, rather that we shouldn't pretend that the regulation of it wasn't connected with racism. I do think that it is the profound sense of "otherness" (which as complacten liberal westerners we create ourself by designating variant cultures as Other) that is a primary motive for seeking to ban the full facial covering veil. Issues like security and sexual liberation often function as rationalisations of the sought prohibition.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 13:03:00

I am sure the regulation of it is connected with racism.
Ditto the reason lots of people don't like it.

However I think it's shortsighted to dismiss all criticism of this particular form of dress as being based in racism / ignorance.

There are lots of other reasons to dislike the veil, which are not based in racism or ignorance. Also many people on the thread who have said they do not like it, have said they would not ban it, nor would they force women to stop wearing it.

ButThereAgain Wed 11-Sep-13 13:06:01

I feel conflicted about it, like several other posters on the thread. There does seem to be a difference between Hollobone's attempt to legislate against the veil and initiatives like this one in Birmingham. It seems to me wrong and grossly offensive for the state to prohibit the veil, to determine women's dress for them. Whatever form of life the state endorses and seeks to foster by its laws should be "thin" enough not to constrain individual enactment of cultural preferences. But perhaps an institution like a college has the right to seek to foster a much more substantial ethos, which might be incompatible with certain choices on the part of its members. I don't know. I think that whatever the correct theoretical answer, in practice prohibition is likely to add more bullying and constraint to a religious group (Muslims) and a gender (women) than is reasonable in a context in which each of these groups is hassled enough already.

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