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.


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.

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.

ubik Wed 11-Sep-13 13:09:46

When men start wearing the niqab, I will be happy with it.

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Wed 11-Sep-13 13:19:30

It comes down to the age-old problem that it's difficult, and sometimes impossible, to defend liberal principles with liberal actions. e.g. use of conscript troops to defend Europe against Fascism.

Sometimes you have to be illiberal (i.e. ban veil) to defend the greater liberty. Or, if you wanted, you could argue it the other way.

It all comes down to whether you think women genuinely choose to wear the veil (some people) or whether it is largely a male-inspired and enforced mode of dress (which is what I think)

ButThereAgain Wed 11-Sep-13 13:26:03

"Illiberal to defend greater liberty"? <shudder>

Poor womankind. Let's not stop at the niqab, though. Let's ban the meticulous conversion by some women of their bodies into cosmetically assisted consumerist fantasy versions of X-factor sexualised glamour.

comingalongnicely Wed 11-Sep-13 13:30:51

I'd quite happily wear one (as a man), I'd like to wear a Balaclava in the winter when it's cold, but I can't. My son got told to take his off by the Police one winters day when he was 16.

People don't like other people hiding their faces. Fact. Vocal sounds are only part of our communication suite, face and body language are just as important as tone when talking to someone. Our cultural behaviour is to not feel comfortable if we can't see a face - not sure why that's less important than their cultural behaviour to hide it? Especially as we were here first!!

It's NOT a religious requirement - it's a religious choice. If other people have to take off their crash helmets, sunglass/cap combos when entering banks, petrols stations etc. why can other people walk in with their faces covered? Selfridges didn't appreciate it - Burka Robbery

Personally I wish the UK would take the same stance as France, can't see it happening until a few more robberies/attacks etc have been carried out using them though...

ButThereAgain Wed 11-Sep-13 13:32:56

I mean, the same arguments can be made about that style of dress as can be made about the veil -- the choices are "inauthentic", culturally imposed; women are more free if they are forced not to make those choices, etc. Both forms of dress seem to involve an overly sexualised idea of what a woman's body is. And in each case the prohibition of the form of dress is as colonising of a woman's body as the initial sexualising pressures to dress that way are in the first place.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 13:40:34

People seem to have different issues with the niqab:

1. It is hard for some people to communicate with a person in a niqab. I think this was the situation with the classroom assistant who lost her job for wearing one. (Muslim) parents complained that their children couldn't understand her because of the niqab. Some of the children had SEN and so the niqab created additional difficulties for them (This is my issue with it).
2. It is a UK cultural norm that we see faces when talking to each other so we can identify each other, and not showing the face can be perceived as threatening. It is harder to interact and make friends with people when you cannot see their face (perhaps Tabard's point?).
3. The niqab is sexist as only women wear it, it is treating women as sexual objects who must cover themselves so as not to tempt men, it can sometimes be compulsory not a choice and it is associated with religious conservatism. (The point made by some other posters)

I think 3 is the one where there could be an overlap with racism. It is making a lot of assumptions about why women wear the niqab. It may well be the case that some women are making it as a political statement about their cultural identity as Muslim women, their resistance to cultural and political imperialism and their resistance to assimilation. And some women may just be wearing it because they feel comfortable. I don't think wearing the niqab can always be assumed to be about modesty and religion.

Great summary, Freya.

I disagree a little bit about 3 though. As I said, I know there are many reasons for women to wear the niqab, including through choice, but to me that doesn't detract from the norm's origins in a sexist point of view.

For example, you're right that some women wear it to assert their cultural identity as Muslim women. But who decided that the niqab is part of what defines a Muslim woman? How did it come to have such a strong associative value? Regardless of why a woman chooses to wear it, the original religious or cultural justification for that practice has to do with modesty and women's sexuality.

This is why I say I respect any woman's choice to wear it, because I know there are many possible reasons and it's not for me to judge. But I find the norm itself to be problematic in that it is often strong enough so that women do not have a choice whether to go along or not.

ubik Wed 11-Sep-13 14:37:17

I have real difficulty with the argument that opposing the wearing of the niqab is 'telling women what to wear," and therefore disempowering them.

That seems to be a very trite feminist argument about a practice which damages women's rights and restricts women's freedom.

It strikes me that the argument is that it's ok for those women to adopt it but I doubt any of us would want our own daughters to start wearing it.

I feel sad when I look at my daughter's vivacious laughing friend and know that one day she will have to wear the niqab like her grandmother, mother and 5 aunts.

GreatNorthRoad Wed 11-Sep-13 14:47:18

Actually though msrisotto, I don't believe many current wearers of a face covering in the UK do "have" to wear it. I have worked (on and off) in East London since the late 80's.

To begin with most older Muslim women had a headscarf but didn't cover their faces. Their daughters often did neither. But the daughter's daughters now do cover their faces. So if it didn't come from their parents, who's telling them they must?

grimbletart Wed 11-Sep-13 15:01:23

I'm afraid my attitude to the niqab is coloured by something I saw in a hotel lift in Kuala Lumpur. A man, woman and a little girl - maybe 5 or so. The little girl was all dressed up for a party the hotel was putting on. She wore a pretty pink glittery frock and satin shoes with ribbons in her hair (yes I know but pink glitter is a debate for another day). Her dad was dressed in jeans and a white open necked shirt showing an expense of hairy chest with a large gold chain and medallion nesting on it. His sleeves were rolled up and he had an expensive looking gold watch on one wrist and a heavy gold bracelet on the other. Very bling! He was holding the little girl's hand and his daughter was chattering excitedly to him.

Mum? She was standing silently behind, full niqab, eyes lowered. The lift opened, we all got out and she trailed silently behind.

I felt so sad to know that this little girl will one day morph into this black clad figure while Dad goes on his merry way blinging and breaking all Islamic codes of modesty, which Muslims will tell you is supposed to apply to both sexes.

Outrageous double standards that seemingly are now being endorsed by a percentage of young Muslim women in this country.

I am, by nature, someone who would defend the right of women to wear what they freely choose. But the question is - just like another thread (on page 3) is trying to make people see the bigger picture - what societal effect is the niqab having on the way women are viewed? Page 3/the niqab - two sides of the same coin.

scallopsrgreat Wed 11-Sep-13 15:06:01

"I have real difficulty with the argument that opposing the wearing of the niqab is 'telling women what to wear," and therefore disempowering them." I don't think opposing the niqab is disempowering to women. I think not letting them wear it in an environment where they might not be allowed to subsequently attend because of their societal and familial pressures is also wrong. It is squeezing women from both sides. It is unfair.

Treen44444 Wed 11-Sep-13 15:22:17

I don't mind the the full veil but it shouldn't be allowed for exams. Not all teachers are female but it must be removed for confirmation of attendance as this is linked to student funding.
If extra time and money is used to identify people then I don't agree with that.

msrisotto Wed 11-Sep-13 15:42:05

Argh as a western feminist I feel criticised by the Pakistani Atheists from this tweet:
No protests by Swedish women in solidarity with this Muslim woman? Western feminists silent https://twitter.com/PakistanAtheist/statuses/377798068071960576

msrisotto Wed 11-Sep-13 15:52:26

I think i'm learning the whole women can't get it right thing no matter of your good intentions. If you worry that someone is being oppressed then you're patronising them, but if you do nothing, you get criticised for only giving a shit about your own business.

JustinBsMum Wed 11-Sep-13 16:10:38

I would like to know what the lives of those converts to Islam are like, those who cover their faces, do they work? do they spend most of their time in religious contemplation? do they only leave the home if they have to eg school pick up?
No one condemns nuns, but then the strictest of them stay in their nunneries and pray (I would guess), many are out and about but ime only wear wimple and not a long dress.
If someone wants to be a devout person then good, but shouldn't expect others to adapt to suit them, eg letting those in niqab work despite the difficulties it might mean in being understood when speaking to others. And if you have strong religious beliefs are you going to be able to take advantage of your education? Can you only work if the employer allows an accompanying male family member to attend too? Say you are on call in some emergency job and it is time for prayer, what takes precedence?
I sort of feel that follow strict muslim laws if you wish but do follow them, don't wear a niqab to make a point. And you will expect your daughters to behave the same I should think (sad imo when they are surrounded by others with different behavior).

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 16:34:27

MsRisotto, I think that is a genuine problem for all people who are defined as allies of one kind or another. I don't know how we can resolve it, but I believe it contributes to people not wanting to speak out about the issues of other groups.

fifipoodle Wed 11-Sep-13 16:51:42

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 17:15:49

That seems an odd response about an issue which doesn't apply to me and I am only speculating about and talking about what other people have to say about it! I don't wear the hijab or niqab and am not religious. I think, from previous threads, that GothAnne is pretty well informed about this subject.

HavantGuard Wed 11-Sep-13 17:17:29

I don't care if women chose to wear it. Feminism is about choice. Not all choices are feminist.

It perpetuates the idea of women needing to cover themselves so men can control themselves, it separates women from society both visually and practically. We are animals. We have developed speech but we still use a huge amount of non verbal communication. A veil shuts people off. That's the point of it.

Solopower1 Wed 11-Sep-13 20:16:04

Women walking around the UK completely covered up really challenge us. In a way they're saying 'We're here, we've got a right to be here, we're here to stay. Oh, and we'll wear what we want and live how we like!' How feminist is that!?

Completely different situation from women living in traditional villages who have no choice.

Treen44444 Wed 11-Sep-13 20:45:01

It's not really a choice though.

ubik Wed 11-Sep-13 21:01:43

In what way is it different Solo?

How much power does a teenager have to say that no she doesn't believe in God, no she doesn't want to cover her head? How much power does she have to later say no to the niqab when it is her family's 'cultural norm?'

SinisterSal Wed 11-Sep-13 21:22:37

Ubik - following on from earlier posts, maybe in some cases it's not driven by family or culture at all, but more of a younger peer group thing? There has definitely been polarisation in the last 10 years. People often cling to symbols of identity in situations like this. As said above, it's sometimes not the middle aged mums, but the young adult daughters. So maybe it's a bit of rebelliousness not conformity to wear it.

I apologise in advance if I'm showing my ignorance too much. I don''t know any Muslim women well enough to ask personal questions about what they wear so I'm just going on observation and the odd remark I've picked up.

sashh Thu 12-Sep-13 06:45:13

I would like to know what the lives of those converts to Islam are like, those who cover their faces, do they work? do they spend most of their time in religious contemplation? do they only leave the home if they have to eg school pick up?

Well, although I know a few Muslims I only knew one at uni who wore a full face veil, and yes she was a convert.

She was in uni full time and did volunteer work at a home for people with severe disabilities.

She went to uni and work and when she went out to meet family who were not Muslim she wore 'western' (hate using that word but you know what I mean) clothing, although her legs would be covered by tights her head was not covered.

zatyaballerina Sat 14-Sep-13 23:02:35

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

msrisotto Sun 15-Sep-13 09:05:29

They overturned the ban by the way.
I only found out whilst reading this from the Telegraph

GoshAnneGorilla Sun 15-Sep-13 18:25:42

A more in depth article is here: www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/birmingham-metropolitan-college-drops-controversial-5921560

I am pleased at the decision, not least because niqab bans nearly always lead to restrictions on other forms of religious dress, they start by banning niqab and then hijabs, turbans and skull caps bans quickly follow.

I can think of many types of attire I dislike - ridiculously high heels being a prime example, but I don't seek to ban them.

Hullygully Tue 17-Sep-13 13:41:26

what starball said

GoshAnneGorilla Thu 19-Sep-13 22:12:59

Hully - starball's comment is bigotry wrapped in faux concern for a group of women she can't be bothered to actually speak to. The women mentioned in the OP attend college - hardly isolated from society. I find attitudes like starball's more dehumanising then any niqab, for they obviously feel

GoshAnneGorilla Thu 19-Sep-13 22:20:13

Pressed post too soon.

The likes of starball obviously feel like niqab wearing women don't even deserve to be consulted, yet this is considered a positive attitude? I don't think so.

msrisotto Fri 20-Sep-13 09:12:55

"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."

The comment was quite far up so i've c+p'd it above for reference.

GoshAnneGorilla - I don't see Starball's comment as bigotry. How can you argue with the point that face covering is victim blaming? Please inform me if I am wrong but I was under the impression that the face covering is to prevent men from looking inappropriately at women. How is this women's responsibility? Why don't men have to take the same precautions? I think all religions are misogynist by the way and i'm not campaigning to ban anything but am interested in challenging dogma.

Also, the fact is that to me, I feel that face coverings make someone unapproachable in everyday life to be honest. I am not the only one, there is a strong consensus on this on this thread alone. So, from this perspective the face covering is isolating from society.

Of course I am interested to hear the perspective of Niqab wearing women (and from what I have heard, there is not a consensus among them, I would attribute those differences to religious and feminist viewpoints respectively) but does that change the way the Niqab is seen? No, for reasons already stated. It's like the common misconception of "choice" feminism, that as long as a woman has chosen to do something, that makes it a feminist action - not true. You have to consider the wider context. Just because some women choose to go to pole dancing exercise classes at my local gym, does not make this activity a feminist action. With the Niqab, IMO wearing it might be a personal choice for a woman but in it's context, I view it as deeply unfeminist.

It isn't religious bigotry - no one here has a problem with head scarves or other religious attire. However there is this one cultural taboo in this country regarding covering your face and therefore hiding who you are. That is how it is seen. Why should you care? You don't have to, but it perhaps explains why people don't like it.

ubik Fri 20-Sep-13 09:14:17

I think the niquab is isolating. My neighbours are all veiled. There are five women, one of whom I speak quite alot as we go in and out of our building. Or maybe I speak to a different person every time. I'm not sure because I cannot see their faces. It's the same at our school.

I really don't agree with it. I am not a bigot.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 20-Sep-13 12:06:14

Mrs Risotto. You are using some very poor arguments here. Lets go through them one by one.

Starball's comment is merely her own opinion as to why women wear niqab. This opinion should not override why the women themselves wear niqab. She then chooses to make a whole slew of assumptions as to how niqab wearing affects these women's lives.

Aside from the complete arrogance of thinking you know more about someone's choices then they do, this line of argument reminds me very much as to when people talk about other clothing choices a woman makes.

So you find the niqab deeply unfeminist fair enough, I find high heels unfeminist but nobody would ever talk about banning them, because high heels are seen as a norm for British white women.

Nice Tabrad already used the "cultural norms" argument upthread. I pointed out to her how many other cultural norms had changed, but apparently niqab is the wrong sort of cultural norm, with the further implication that niqab wearers aren't progressive people so shouldn't benefit from progressive attitudes.

Do you honestly feel comfortable with these sorts of arguments? Or that niqab wearers should be held to a higher standard then all the other women who make choices you don't deem as feminist, because they are "foreign and other"?

Also this isn't just talk. Every single time the niqab comes up as a subject of national debate, it's with the viewpoint that it should be banned.

This is despite veil bans only leading to increased attacks and abuse upon Muslim women, as well as the foolishness of saying "wearing niqab oppresses you, so if you wear it, you will be arrested, detained and fined".

It will be a sad fact that during this slow news week/period of debate of debate about niqab, the numbers of niqab wearers being verbally or physically abused in the street will have increased.

I do know of several women in the UK who stopped wearing niqab because it was too dangerous as men - nearly always men, would spit at them, shout at them and attack them. Ever wonder what it is about these woman just going about their own business that these men feel entitled to express such violent anger towards them?

Which brings me to the fact is only a tiny minority of women wear niqab, so why is there so much outrage about it in the media? Do you never wonder about that? Why far more distressing issues of VAWG that are culturally linked, are not getting the same levels of media outrage? Why is a niqab wearing woman seen as such a threat to society?

I do think niqab wearers get slotted into the media niche of How Woman Should Not Be and are thus demonised and pilloried by a male dominated press whenever possible (just as other types of women classed as transgressive are) - they are portrayed as deviant women who need to be corrected by society. I feel that this is an area of analysis that many feminists overlook.

ubik Fri 20-Sep-13 12:35:12

I do think niqab wearers get slotted into the media niche of How Woman Should Not Be and are thus demonised and pilloried by a male dominated press whenever possible (just as other types of women classed as transgressive are) - they are portrayed as deviant women who need to be corrected by society. I feel that this is an area of analysis that many feminists overlook

But context is all. If these women were adopting the niquab in a context of protest and transgression against cultural norms then yes you could probably see it as similar to bra burning by radical feminists of the 1970's.

But what I see is women covering their faces as part of a deeply conservative and patriarchal culture where men are allowed a good deal more freedom than women - they are allowed to walk about bare-faced for a start.

I see bright and vivacious women - my neighbours are all university students - who are unable to experience the sort of freedom which may lead to them challenging these patriarchal values which really are simply set up as a means of controlling women.

I really think that if young muslim women are adopting the veil as a means of protest against a Western patriarchal system...well they are kidding themselves.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 20-Sep-13 12:50:15

Ubik- these are all assumptions you have placed onto these women, women who you have deemed a homogenous mass.

Last night on Facebook, I read a big discussion between many Muslim women, some who wore/ had worn the niqab, others who hadn't. It was so interesting and there was far more to the decisions made then your comment assumes.

msrisotto Fri 20-Sep-13 12:53:39

Isn't Starball's "opinion" based on fact? The religious reasoning for covering up is often quoted from the Quran. I'm not here to defend starball but in reality, she didn't say very much at all, let alone making assumptions about why women wear the Niqab, her comments were about the religious reasoning underpinning it.

My comments were again, not assuming the reasons why women wear the Niqab but the effect it has on their interaction within society and the kind of messages received by others.

I made the point that we're absolutely not talking about banning clothing. However, we do talk about (for example) the clothes female celebs and impressionable young girls wear, why they wear them and the unfeminist impact this has. We talk about it under the banner of sexual objectification which applies here as well.

I'm thinking about the cultural norm arguments you mentioned. You are right that cultural norms evolve and change here in the UK, we're one of the most tolerant countries around but there is a lot of opposition to this one for good reasons (misogyny and cultural taboo of hiding your face) so why should it change? It sounds like you're talking choice feminism again, can you address the wider misogyny aspect since we're in the feminism section.

ubik Fri 20-Sep-13 13:31:45

So if veiling the face is freely adopted by women as a response and protest against these dreadful Western values - what does success look like? Is it that all women eventually cover their faces? what on earth is the point of it as a protest?

I can understand that veiling the face is part of a religious tradition - but surely if someone is doing it as part of a religious tradition then surely they also have to accept that they are playing an active role in upholding certain patriarchal values - in countries where veiling is the norm, other restrictions on womens freedoms are also the norm.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 20-Sep-13 13:44:21

Mrs Risotto - this discussion does not exist in a vacuum. As I pointed out the "niqab debate" has real life consequences for niqab wearers that discussions about sexualised clothing don't, particularly given the racialised edge niqab discussions frequently have.

In your O.P you referred to "this old chestnut", you seem quite happy to endlessly posit about niqab, without ever making any effort to engage with niqab wearing women.

You seem to be missing this in favour of repeating "this sounds like choice feminism" ad nauseum.

grimbletart Fri 20-Sep-13 13:48:01

The Daily Fail (yes I know) had a story today about a Sudanese woman who is refusing to wear the veil and faces a possible whipping because she is breaking the law. So, there a woman asserts her right to be free not to wear something while in the UK others assert their right to wear the same thing. Funny old world.

There has to be something intrinsically wrong with an item of clothing that can bring such opprobrium, whether you wear it or whether you don't. Giving a piece of cloth that power is absurd.

A very articulate 14 year old on The World at One yesterday defended her 'free' choice largely on the grounds that it gave her anonymity and allowed her to be judged for what she did rather than how she looked.
We should be teaching our teenage girls to be confident so that they don't give a damn about what others think of them or how they judge them. She saw her choice as a positive one: I still think it was a negative one i.e. taken to avoid the actions and opinions of others.

I also wonder if the choice is made by some girls at the age when they seem to 'catch' religion. I am an elderly atheist now but when I was about 13 I suddenly developed a thing about getting confirmed and going to church every Sunday. It lasted a couple of years then I grew out of it. I wonder if something similar is going on with some Muslim girls who adopt the veil even though their religion does not require it and their mothers don't wear it. Perhaps they are less likely to grow out of it because their religion is not so laid-back as the average Church of England upbringing! Also, could it be a teenage rebellion thing by some? Being opposite to Mum is attractive to many teenagers whether Muslim or not.

Lovecat Fri 20-Sep-13 13:52:49

Why don't men have to do it? I think that's one question that has never satisfactorily been answered. Do women have more self-control? Are men considered such animals that it's not worth even trying to get them to behave decently?

If women choose to cover their faces, that's their decision, and whether for social, religious or cultural reasons, I don't think they need to be 'told' how they should dress. By anyone, including the men, women (because in close communities of any kind women police each others' dress just as much as men do) and religious officials of their community.

I live in a part of London where the niqab has become widespread since 9/11, which leads me to suspect (none of my immediate neighbours are muslim, most of my muslim friends only cover their hair if that, and regard niqabis as a bit odd/extreme so I can't ask anyone their actual reasons) that they are perhaps showing solidarity/making a visible display of their muslim identity/showing that they are 'a bit more muslim than thou' (that last according to a friend of mine who covers). So a statement, or perhaps a rediscovering of faith?

Converts of any faith always seem to go OTT (I remember as a child a lady who converted to Catholicism who always attended mass in a full lace mantilla and practically knocked the altar boys out of the way in her haste to be first to communion, she was regarded with much rolling of the eyes by those born into the church).

However, I fail to see why modesty to the extent of covering your face is something that only women should do. If men were to do it as well I would have far more sympathy (still wouldn't get it, but at least I could see it as being slightly more rational). I think talking of Sikhs in turbans is a strawman - female Sikhs also wear the turban if they so wish (I used to work with a woman who did so and it was fascinating talking to her about her faith) and they don't cover their faces.

I'm honestly interested to know - are women meant to have more self-control over their sexual urges, so they can resist the Diet Coke break man and his chums? Because that's pretty insulting to men, to say that they have to have women hidden away from them lest they be overcome. I've worked with plenty of muslim men and they seem have have managed to restrain themselves when surrounded by women in Western dress.

A woman in a niqab is actually making herself more noticeable against the vast majority of uncovered people in the UK, surely that flies in the face of modesty?

grimbletart Fri 20-Sep-13 16:10:49

A woman in a niqab is actually making herself more noticeable against the vast majority of uncovered people in the UK, surely that flies in the face of modesty?


msrisotto Fri 20-Sep-13 16:41:03

Mrs Risotto - this discussion does not exist in a vacuum. As I pointed out the "niqab debate" has real life consequences for niqab wearers that discussions about sexualised clothing don't, particularly given the racialised edge niqab discussions frequently have.

In your O.P you referred to "this old chestnut", you seem quite happy to endlessly posit about niqab, without ever making any effort to engage with niqab wearing women.

You seem to be missing this in favour of repeating "this sounds like choice feminism" ad nauseum.

It's Ms by the way wink.
You have no idea of my efforts to engage with niqab wearing women to be fair and as I have said before, muslim women's views differ on this subject.
All feminist discussions have real life consequences, that is where the issues are borne from in the first place.
We are getting nowhere GoshAnne. I thought I had acknowledged that some women choose to wear it but was trying to widen the discussion out to the wider context with a feminist perspective.

Freestyler Fri 20-Sep-13 16:47:29

this is a great article by strident feminist, julie bindel, yes its the daily mail but great words never the less


GoshAnneGorilla Fri 20-Sep-13 18:02:10

MsRisotto - where exactly do you want this conversation to go? I have no problem with women wearing niqab. You do.

When the media has deigned to speak to any niqab wearing women on this issue, they've said they want to wear it and wish to be left alone*, quite a few women on here seem to think they know better.

There is a problem with using "choice feminism" to dismiss any choice a woman makes you don't approve of. Namely, who gets to decide whether a choice is feminist or not.

All that seems to happen is that endless things that women do are deemed not sufficiently feminist until it seems that only a small elite of women can truly be feminists.

This is of course, against the purpose of feminism which is meant to be for all women and also ignores that people may make similar choices but the reasons and contexts of those choices differ hugely.

*The carping remarks upthread about niqab wearers drawing attention to themselves, veers rather close to victim blaming. Julie Bindel has often written of the negative attention her style of dress attracts, I doubt anyone on here would shrug it off, saying she chooses to draw attention to herself.

msrisotto Fri 20-Sep-13 18:16:03

We debate and discuss on here, that's what we do. It really isn't in the spirit of the boards to say - that's their decision, let's leave it at that and not discuss it any more - we talk about the things which lead up to that decision, why that decision is made and the effect it has. Choice feminism shuts down any intellectual discussion which is why it is criticised.

There is no feminist elite either, how ridiculous! However, it is hard to be feminist if you don't critique sexism, patriarchy and status quo. We have said before that we don't/can't be feminist in every moment of life but we can be critical at least.

FloraFox Fri 20-Sep-13 19:58:42

Gosh it's not a question of dismissing any choice a woman makes that you don't approve of. It's a question of analysing choices and factors that influence choices (particularly sexism) through the lens of feminist critical thought.

There is more than one school of feminist thought. Certainly some people who would call themselves feminists believe that any choice a woman makes is a feminist choice and the purpose of feminism is to provide women with the ability to make any choice (which always makes me think of this: www.theonion.com/articles/women-now-empowered-by-everything-a-woman-does,1398/ )

What about feminists who do not believe this? Is it not allowed to discuss patriarchy and sexism on any other basis?

happyuk Fri 20-Sep-13 22:32:42

My (admittedly male) perspective on modern liberal thinking on women’s rights: it’s okay to wear the niqab because a woman’s right to choose what to wear is paramount. Except women who choose to go topless in newspapers and magazines because they are clearly being exploited. Women suppressed in the name of a patriarchal culture: good. Women who make very good money through smart use of their genetic good fortune: bad.

My view is that women should wear whatever the hell they like, within the limits of common decency. But there is no sacred right to cover your face at airport security, in examination rooms, or in court.

And that's whether you try it on with a balaclava, a niqab, a crash helmet, or a Guy Fawkes fright-mask. We need common sense. Blanket bans encroach on freedoms. But there is nothing Islamophobic in asking someone to show their face at a check-in desk. Neither is there anything in the Koran demanding the wearing of the niqab.

The niqab is a relatively recent development designed to keep women "in their place." In many Muslim countries free from fundamentalism many Muslims don’t even accept that it is a religious duty to cover their hair, let alone their face.

GoshAnneGorilla Fri 20-Sep-13 23:16:37

Happyuk - no niqab is not a recent development, various forms of face covering have existed throughout history and that includes Islamic societies.

MsRisotto - I am familiar with the FWR section and post here regularly, thanks, but there frequently comes a point any any discussion when you reach an impasse.

You want a feminist discussion but you're using an analysis I find extremely narrow, also having been on many, many of these debates on MN none of these arguments are new to me.

I'm posting on this thread because no other Muslim women are and I find the way we are spoken about, but so rarely to, to be dehumanising, sinister and dangerous.

Flora - I am well aware of there being more then one school of feminist thought. Does Islamic/Muslim feminism ring any bells for you?

FloraFox Sat 21-Sep-13 00:37:45

Gosh why don't you present the Islamic/Muslin feminist perspective on the niqab or any veil for that matter instead of just repeating "choice" and being insulting?

GoshAnneGorilla Sat 21-Sep-13 01:10:00

Flora - how am I being insulting?

The crux of this entire debate is about choice - the O.P was inspired by a ban e.g eliminating choice, this is all about choice.

I've written at length about the impact this "debate" has, what bans lead to (increased violence against visibly Muslim women) and have also raised the issue of exactly why is it that niqab seems to inspire such a violent male response.

Yet you accuse me of being repetitive.

I think as is often the case on these threads, people want to disparage Muslim women without any Muslim women getting in the way. Then they can congratulate themselves on their superior knowledge and how deluded these women are.

FloraFox Sat 21-Sep-13 02:01:15

^. This is insulting.

Perhaps they want to engage in a bit of feminist analysis that goes beyond "it's their choice".

Lovecat Sat 21-Sep-13 10:19:34

I don't think what I said was 'carping' hmm if it was my comment you were referring to, GoshAnne. I was asking a genuine question about the concept of Modesty. In a country where it's the norm to cover, niqab goes unremarked and serves its purpose. In the UK where it is largely an unusual sight, it does the opposite and draws the eye. If the object of the exercise is not to draw the male gaze, long sleeved tops and loose jeans or joggers would serve. As I said, muslim women I know view face covering as 'look what a good Muslim I am' showboating.

As 'the only Muslim woman on the thread' (fwiw I'm sure I saw another Muslim woman on here earlier saying why she hated the veil but hey ho), could you please answer my question about male modesty and why men don't cover their faces? I'm genuinely interested.

GoshAnneGorilla Sat 21-Sep-13 10:37:49

Flora - but the entire issue is choice. I also see that you've just indicated my entire comment is somehow insulting, without providing any evidence of this. This means you can completely dismiss what I say without paying attention to it.

You basically don't want me here, unless I am willing to submit to your viewpoint as to what the correct analysis is. Yet, this discussion is meant to somehow be to the benefit of Muslim women?

You would all be better off minding your own business since you all show repeatedly that you aren't even slightly concerned about Muslim women, just about convincing them that you know better then they do.

Lovecat - Islamically men are encouraged to have beards, that's their face covering. As for niqab, for those who wear it, it is seen as as a practice in itself, worn for many reasons and to them it is modest, regardless of the reactions of others. I think going down the road of prescribing what dress is or isn't "attention seeking" is extremely dubious.

Lovecat Sat 21-Sep-13 11:46:53

Thanks for answering. I still don't see it as an equivalent though, because a beard still allows others to see the expression on your face, your features are still recogniseable, it's not a mask that dehumanises your features and makes you a clone of every other niqabi.

Besides, if the men I see in the company of their niqabi-clad sisters are anything to go by, they seem to favour an Amish-style chin beard that does nothing to cover them from view...

Lovecat Sat 21-Sep-13 11:54:25

And I think you must be misreading my posts - I have been asking questions, trying to understand, not seeking to prescribe or indeed proscribe. As I said in my first post here, what people freely choose to wear is their own business, there just seems to be this elephant in the room of the purpose of covering, which implies that men are uncontrollable monsters who can't be trusted and it's somehow the women's job to police that. Which is both unfair and sexist.

Telling people to mind their own business in the context of a debate is pretty rude, btw.

GoshAnneGorilla Sat 21-Sep-13 12:29:06

Lovecat - pointing out that this debate is motivated by faux concern is rude?

GoshAnneGorilla Sat 21-Sep-13 12:36:22

Lovecat - you keep putting your own spin on these women's actions. They would see niqab as keeping their face private, not as "dehumanising" their features.

You are taking away their words and their reasonings and substituting your own. Why? What makes you think your reasons and your perceptions concerning their bodily automy is superior?

FloraFox Sat 21-Sep-13 14:09:43

Gosh the evidence of your rudeness is your own posts. Do you not see how it is rude in a discussion to tell someone you don't know what their motivations for posting are, especially when you are imputing negative motivations? Saying someone is posting from faux concern is rude. Saying someone is posting because they don't want you here is rude. You are making massive and unreasonable assumptions about the motivations of posters.

It also makes you look like you can't engage in the actual discussion other than repeating "choice". I don't subscribe to the concept of choice feminism. I think it is a consumerist notion with its roots in capitalist libertarianism. Where a woman who is a feminist wants to make a choice that appears to conflict with certain aspects of feminism, it is helpful to discuss this. I have discussed this with Muslim friends in real life. The people I know who were born and grew up in countries where women cover their face wear no scarf or veil when out of their home countries. They tell me covering is cultural, not religious. They also tell me (from several countries) that the rise of the veil in the last few decades comes from the outreach of Saudi funded Muslim teaching. I realise the people I know are expressing their own views and not representing Muslims generally. They are all well educated but not necessarily feminists and not Saudi. I'm interested to hear views from women who are feminists and wear a veil. "It's their choice and mind your own business" is a pretty poor response.

To be clear, I don't want you to go away. I would like you to stop trying to determine the motivations of the other posters - it is insulting even if you don't mean it to be. I would ideally like to read some view points on Muslim feminism, modesty, the role of culture and the impact of Muslim identity and politicisation.

GoshAnneGorilla Sat 21-Sep-13 15:00:36

Flora - I asked way, way upthread exactly why is this such an oft held debate, particularly in the mainstream media, particularly as such a small number of women wear niqab. That question was ignored.

I asked why niqab particularly seems to get such a strong negative reaction from non-Muslim men, noting the experiences of niqab wearing wearing who had received attacks and abuse from such men. That question was also ignored.

I really don't care what brand of feminism you subscribe to, it doesn't work as a trump card with me. I know full well that if I bring in extremely relevant issues of orientalism and post-colonialism they will be dismissed as irrelevant to feminism, as usually happens around here.

If you want to read lots about Muslim women I am not stopping you, but to expect me to tailor my arguments to fit your frames of analysis is nonsense. You seem completely unaware of the power dynamics you are trying to impose on the conversation.

FloraFox Sat 21-Sep-13 15:16:55

Who could answer your question about why this is such an oft-held debate? Who could answer your question about why niqab gets such a strong reaction from non-Muslim men?

You "know" wrongly about issues of orientalism and post-colonialism being dismissed as irrelevant. It seems highly relevant to the issue of western feminists' views on veils. It wouldn't address why Muslim feminists would choose to wear a veil however. You're clearly not interested in discussing it though, which is a shame.

GoshAnneGorilla Sat 21-Sep-13 16:08:42

Flora - but they are important questions and key to exactly why this "debate" seems to get so much media airtime.

I am stunned that this media fixation is not seen as worthy of closer inspection.

Also not wanting to do all your googling for you, particularly as you've been very dismissive of my contributions so far, does not equate to not wanting to discuss something.

SinisterSal Sat 21-Sep-13 16:25:14

GoshAnne I'm trying to follow this thread and not contributing because I know nothing about the issue. I'd like to though. Your posts are coming across like you know and won't tell ! It's frustrating, looking in.
The questions you posed above - what's your own take on them?

FloraFox Sat 21-Sep-13 16:26:38

Gosh I don't think the "media fixation" is not worthy of closer inspection but (a) it's not what the OP is about and (b) you ask a question which no-one here can answer, you don't put a viewpoint to be discussed.

Google =/= discussion. But hey, you've probably killed the possibility of anyone else expressing a view here. Job done?

ButThereAgain Sat 21-Sep-13 16:27:29

I couldn't believe how hard John Humphreys on Radio 4's Today programme was pushing Jeremy Hunt for some sort of controversy-feeding quote on the issue (non-issue!) of NHS health professionals wearing the niqab. Hunt kept on refusing to say anything quotable, and repeated that it wasn't a political discussion, just something for employers to address as necessary, but Humphreys was clearly after a "Minister wants to ban veil" type of headline. I'm just astonished how the responsible parts of the media are quite happy to manufacture a problem where there is none.

ButThereAgain Sat 21-Sep-13 17:20:09

I think it would be wrong to see a feminist respect for the culturally and religiously informed choices of Muslim women as an example of "choice feminism," with its roots in capitalist libertarianism. I'd imagine that is is something like a precise opposite of that. "Capitalist libertarianism" is an extreme example of viewing individuals in isolation, abstraction, from the social and cultural practices that in fact help to define them. It seeks to view individuals as abstract freely choosing entities, completely distinct from the social and cultural forces that shape their identities

Opposed to that is any kind of perception of people as being essentially socially embedded, partially defined by their membership of a group -- in a manner that is either oppressive or liberating depending on the nature of the social relationships they inhabit.

(Non-libertarian) feminism states one sort of social embeddedness of individuals: we are shaped by socially constituted gender roles and we achieve liberation by transforming them. But equally, an approach that embraces women's partial self-definition in terms of a rich culture of faith is a brake on libertarianism: individuals can't be viewed, in isolation from a heritage, as abstract enactors of some illusory realm of pure choice -- they achieve self-realisation (as well as suffer frustration) through their embeddedness within cultural practices.

There is a point of intersection between feminism and faith where both our status as women and a status as practitioners of a particular faith can be examined as sources of both constraint and self-realisation. That is a mile away from a preoccupation with facile notions of choice.

Oh, and a third form of embeddedness is within the racial/ethnic boxes that society's prevailing categorisations set out for us. We live in a society where certain groups are "other" because of of the orientalist lens through which non-European cultures are viewed. The conscious choice to wear a niqab or not can be a radical, challenging stance taken towards that particular set of social relations, -- something very different from the consumerist choices honoured by libertarianism.

crescentmoon Sat 21-Sep-13 17:59:46

i think this cartoon sums up the different viewpoints...


"I'm posting on this thread because no other Muslim women are and I find the way we are spoken about, but so rarely to, to be dehumanising, sinister and dangerous."

not been in this section often of late gosh, glad your here posting.

FloraFox Sat 21-Sep-13 18:06:02

But Of course no all concepts of choice are capitalist libertarian. But I would not assume that when a person says they are respecting a choice that this results from feminist perspective as opposed to capitalist libertarianism. This could only be seen through further discussion, particularly of feminism and faith or culture and whether the decision is a radical, challenging stance (which I would be interested to hear more about) as opposed to either consumerist choices or conforming with cultural expectations.

crescentmoon Sat 21-Sep-13 18:08:45

sorry reposting as its an interesting image...


and since im posting again anyway, heres an interesting article on the problem men have with women and their bodies... 'from miley cyrus to banning veils...'


interesting to note the similarities between the rhetoric of freeing muslim women by banning the niqab with the lyrics from the misogynistic Blurred Lines song where Robin Thicke sings 'just let me liberate you...'.

ButThereAgain Sat 21-Sep-13 18:27:00

I agree with that comment from Goth about the dehumanising and dangerous character of this debate, speaking as it does about Muslim women but not to Muslim women.

grimbletart Sat 21-Sep-13 19:40:28

Gosh: years ago it was very unusual to see a Muslim woman in a niqab.
Now the wearing of it seems much increased. I don't think the answer is simply that there are now more Muslims in the UK than there were two decades ago (which would explain an increase in total numbers wearing then niqab). I get the impression that it is a proportional increase i.e. a higher percentage wearing it.

Am I right or am I imagining it? If I am right, can you explain why a higher proportion of women are now wearing it?

This is not intended to be a provocative question. I would really like your opinion on the reason behind the choice and why a higher proportion are making that choice.

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