Equality is largely about everyone having equal choices and options. In the US in the 70s and 80s, some (educated, career-prepped, privileged) feminists spoke out against “housewives” and their choice to make a career of managing the household and/or raising kids responsibly. This was wrong. It was fair to point out that some women felt they had no choice but to be “housewives.” It was fair to point out social and economic factors that discouraged women from any other occupation. It was even fair to point out social factors that predisposed women to make that choice. But it was never right to suggest that women who chose to embrace a traditional wife/mother role were some sort of traitors to women’s liberation.
And of course, shaking their heads all along at this ruckus, were the women who never had any choice but to somehow both earn a living and raise kids.
A debate has arisen since France started talking about banning public wearing of the burqa. France says they’re concerned about maintaining secularism and equal rights for women. Is this the same France that condemned the US recently for attempting to extradite a child rapist?
CNN’s “Belief Blog” has up a video article about women in the US who choose to wear the niqab or hijab. It interviews women who say if they didn’t want to wear Islamic face veils, then they wouldn’t, because it’s not required. One woman, Nadia, chooses to cover her face and body because it’s a way to cover those body parts “you don’t want seen by people who are not in your close family… You don’t need to see my whole body to know me. You can just speak to me.”
What a novel concept. In societies like mine, what I wear and how I look in it is constantly assumed to say something about my sexual availability/desirability to the master gender. Every time I attempt to engage socially with another human being, there’s a risk that their ongoing inner dialog about how my body looks will drown out everything I have to say or offer. This woman uses these Islamic garments to force people to either go deeper or leave her alone.
Aliya feels the same way about a hijab forcing people to engage her on an intellectual level rather than a body-appraising sex-object one. But she elects not to wear the niqab or full burqa because she feels it would hinder her professional aspirations (I assume she means by making her stand out more from her peers than the hijab alone).
These women born and raised in the U.S. have been lectured by random strangers at grocery stores about how “we don’t do that here.” Of course, this demonstrates that no matter what a woman does, some people are going to judge her appearance. But there’s nothing we can do about that alone. How different is the choice to wear covering religious garments from the choice to wear a mumu, or spandex exercise wear or whatever else a woman chooses to wear? When comes the part of equality where we get to stop being judged like cattle at a county fair?