Friday, June 26, 2009

France Tells Women What Not to Wear

Move over Trinny and Susannah. French President Sarkozy now tells women what not to wear.

He has come out in opposition to the burkha. He said last week that "The burka is not a sign of religion. It is a sign of subservience. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic."

The burkha is the name of the cloak like garment worn mainly by Afghan women. It is the one with the mesh area over the eyes and you mostly see it in this shade of blue:

I am not sure if president Sarkozy is talking about the burkha or whether he is just using that word to describe any face covering garment worn by Muslim women. The niqab as shown here is a lot more common than the burkha and can be seen on women here in Australia, often in black.

The BBC actually has a series of pictures describing the different types of dress worn by Muslim women here:

I am not a fence-sitter on this issue.

I feel very strongly that all people should be free to wear what they like.

Be it skanky mini skirts & uggs, burkhas, or sheitels & tiechels.

I am not intimidated or offended by women who choose to cover their hair or their faces.

In Australia we are very lucky. Our government does not tell us what to wear. I do feel a great sense of sadness for women who live in other parts of the world where they do not have the same right I have to choose my outfits.

Yes since having my Tinker and becoming a new body shape I have no idea how to dress to look good and I tend to choose some shocking ensembles, but I choose them. Nobody tells me what not to wear. Perhaps they should, I might look better!

On a serious note, I’m disappointed and saddened that the president of a supposedly forward thinking country would make such an archaic statement. How dare he tell women what they can and can’t wear.

Yes I know France has long been the centre of style and what I'm wearing right now is probably a bastardised cheap version of what some designer sent down the runway last season in Paris, but I think Sarkozy is wrong, wrong wrong.

The argument many have adopted against this type of dress is that it isn’t a choice for the women. That they are being told to dress like this. This attitude infuriates me. Just because you do not like the look of the niqab why do you assume other women have been brainwashed or forced into wearing it?

Is it because our culture is all about looks? Why can’t we look beyond our own values and imagine a completely different perspective on appearance? Is it so hard to get our heads around the idea that some women do not want to be seen when they are out and about? Is it so hard to imagine? You might not agree with it, but why can’t you just accept that some women choose this for themselves?

So many people say it is because they are brainwashed. Muslim women are damned if they come out and say it is not their families forcing them because people then say they must be brainwashed. I find that really offensive.

I really hate tattoos. I can’t imagine ever wanting to pay money to have pain inflicted on my body so that I can be stained with ink. I know plenty of women who do pay money for this, they love their tattoos. I find it an awful concept but I do not think they have been brainwashed. It isn't something I could ever choose for my body so shuld it be banned on that basis? No.

I just think women who choose to ink themselves have different ideas about what looks good and what suits them. They want to do different things with their body, and I am so happy that our free country allows women to make these choices.

There are Muslim women who want to get about covered head to toe with only their eyes showing. So what? Their bodies, their right to choose whether to show them or hide them. Yes it can be confronting to walk into a shop and see a lady looking a lot like a ninja but that’s life. We don’t all want to dress the same. Alannah Hill gets about made up like a geisha doll in a frou frou nightmare, that can be confronting as well but it is her body so please let her clothe it as she sees fit.

I guess to me, wanting to tattoo your body is as foreign a desire as wanting to wear a burkha. I love that my society lets me choose. I wouldn’t like to live somewhere that didn’t afford women that freedom.

What about nuns in full habit? Nobody ridicules their choice to cover everything but their hands and faces like images of the Virgin Mary. Would Sarkozy say that the habit is a sign of faith or a sign of subservience by a victim of brainwashing? No. Never. Hypocrisy stinks.

What are your thoughts on this issue?


  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you. People should be allowed to choose for themselves. If they aren't hurting anyone, what's the harm?

  2. This is a really tough issue! While I believe that many of these women are being forced to wear these garments and live below their husbands in subservience, I also know that there is no way to investigate every single family and decide if it's choice or threat that keeps these women covered. To declare that a certain very important part of another people's culture is not welcome in your country, is to say that those people are not welcome in your country! It's also, as you point out, stepping on woman's freedom. Unless there is a reason to believe she is being abused or mistreated in some way, signs of domestic violence or if she expresses the desire to leave her husband, LEAVE THEM ALONE!

    My husband likes me to wear my hair down, he likes me to wear dresses because he feels I look good in them, he likes it when I'm feminine and well cared for and modest. I do this because it's what he likes AND it's what I like and in a marriage its an act of love to please your spouse! Why can't we understand that in someone else just because they don't do it OUR way?

    I will be praying for these women who face the choice of staying in their home or going against their own personal beliefs just to step outside their door.

    Shame on you president Sarkozy. This is not for you to decide.

  3. very, very well said. i'm in the middle of indiana, usa. couldn't agree with you more. thanks.

  4. I am with you. Very well written and informative. Bravo. However I assume Sarkozy has come out in opposition of the Burkha in defense of the woman's right to choose. He is assuming no one would choose the Burkha.

  5. Mr.Sarkozy is only talking about burka.
    There are hundreds of women in France and across Europe who are forced by their husbands or fathers to cover themselves head to toe in public.
    They are victims of different type of family abuse, especially in the countries with big Muslim communities.
    Of course there are also women who are wearing the burka or niqab as a free choice. It is well known in Europe that first generation of immigrants Muslim women do not agree with burka or niqab. It is the new generation! And this is telling everything.

    I would like to hear your opinions after you will take your kids to kindergarten or school and you will not get the privilege to see the teacher face, only her eyes and hands. Neither your kids. I would like to hear your opinions after you have a chance to talk with at least two women wearing a burka or niqab. Or after you are going to the bank and give the woman teller wearing a niqab, access to your bank information.
    Unfortunately situations like these are all over Europe, from England to Germany to Sweden to Austria to Spain.
    France and Netherlands are the only countries who had the courage to step up. Netherlands banned the burka from universities for anyone else who enter the grounds. It was a good thing and relief for everybody.
    You will never see these situations in Australia, Canada or USA, because they will never get a job or be accepted to universities.
    As much as the Americans want to see all their visitors’ fingerprints, so do Europeans want to see the faces of women who choose to leave here.

    It is funny that all the negative comments to Mr. Sarkozy suggestion are coming from people who do not live in Europe, or they have not been here in the last 10 years.
    Things are seen differently from Australia and USA. They are so far away from European reality! Europe is not what you see 10 minutes a day at CNN and Fox News.
    You are talking about how lucky you are that your government does not tell you what to wear. Mr.Obama said the same thing when visiting Egypt, in USA the government does not tell women what to wear.
    What a joke. How hypocritical.
    Yes, it does not say in Constitution what to wear. But your boss and HR manager is telling you are not allowed to wear jeans and open toe shoes at work, your hair can not be a combination of purple, orange and green colours, your jewellery are too big or too shinny. There is a dress code for everything, for office, for dinner, for Xmas party and for going with the kids in the school trip.
    Comments from across the ocean are related to human rights. Another joke! Where are human rights when you have to take your shoes off at the airport, and you are not allowed a small bottle of water for your kids in the airplane?
    I would love to see the Americans reaction at Disneyland, when a group of 10-15 women covered heat to toe enter the park.

  6. About a year ago I read "A Thousand Splendid Suns" (borowed from my sister while I sat by my twins in NICU, so I'm sorry I can't recall the author's name). It was about a woman in Afghanistan forced by her father to marry a man she didn't know. He insisted she wear the burqa. At that time she welcomed it because it shielded her from the neighbours she found intimidating and hard to deal with. She didn't have a choice, but for her own reasons it was not unwelcome.
    Shame on Sarkozy.

  7. Actually Serena, I have lived in Europe.

    In France. I lived in a rather poor district of outer Paris where you find predominantly HLM type housing and there were many Muslim people living there at the time. From Africa mostly Tunisians… So your assumptions are off the mark there for starters.
    Further to that, I live in Sydney where half of Australia’s Muslim population can be found.

    I grew up in an area that bordered the most Muslim-central suburb in all of Australia. I went to primary school with girls who wore the hijab and whose mothers wore the niqab with only their eyes showing.

    Of course it is confronting at first, anything vastly different to your own appearance is a shock and I can’t say I’d be pleased if my daughter suddenly took on the appearance of a ninja with mesh over her eyes but that is not to say I think women should be prohibited from making that choice.

    You also said “You will never see these situations in Australia, Canada or USA, because they will never get a job or be accepted to universities.”

    Actually you are wrong there as well. I went to university here in Sydney and we had a massive number of international students. Girls in full niqab with thick black gloves and men in thobes in my lectures.

    Only last week my mum took her car in for service at her friend’s mechanic shop in Lakemba and she commented on the large number of ladies wearing niqab. It is not a foreign sight in Australia as you seem to make out.

    You mentioned CNN in a way that inferred we have no idea. I think you will find that Australians are one of the most well travelled people in the world.

  8. Serena: Actually, if your children went to school with that had a munaqaba (word for woman who wears a face covering) at her school, your children, would indeed see her face. So could you, as a woman, at any time, if there were no males over ten years old around. I also know more women who wear niqab who have univeristy degrees and are doctors and teachers, than I do, those who wear no covering, as these women tend to take it that every aspect of their religion is important to follow, and the Prophet Mohammed tells all Muslims to seek knowledge from the cradle to grave, saying that no man possibly knows enough.

    I work for a charity for the women in Afghanistian to educate---but not overide---their religion. Out of the eight hundred munaqabaat (munaqabaat is plural for the women who wear niqab) I know I only knew ONE woman who didn't choose the niqab on her own when she came to the West. She came from a very cultural Pakistani family, the honor-killing type, and they hardly practiced anything of Islam. She found a government program and got away from her sicko family, all praise be to God. Those kind of programs being available and known about are more effective than any hateful bans.

    BTW, I am a Muslim woman whose family disowned her for wanting to wear niqab. I can testify it has nothing to do with pleasing one's husband (it makes my husband's saftey questionable) OR being forced by one's family.
    I have only in all my life, known one girl who has forced to by her family to cover her face. She was from Pakistan.

  9. In France, 10% of the population are Muslim. In Australia only 2%. There are 53 millions Muslim in Europe, 16 millions only in European Union countries. With all the afferent problems: freedom of speech, family abuse, non-integration, arranged marriages, polygamy, honour crimes. I am not saying that there is not a lot of Muslim who choose to leave a normal life in western countries. But the percentage is half and half, and that’s sad and alarming in the same time.
    I am not saying that Australians do not travel. I meet a lot of Australians in Europe and North America. As well as I meet a lot of north-Americans in Europe.
    But, what I am trying to say is that they are tourists, ignorant tourists. Do not tell me that Australians and Americans tourists are coming to Paris to see how the Tunisians and Algerians women live in 19th arrondissement. Their travel guide tells them to stay 15 miles away from this zone. There are only few of them who are coming to Europe to see the reality, let’s be honest.
    And if you lived in Europe, in Paris, I am absolutely surprised that you don’t know what I said in my previous post: the first generation of Muslim women are against cover head to toe, most of them are wearing only the hijab or shayla. It is the new generation, a new fundamentalist current. We all know that fundamentalism it is not healthy for society.

    I did not ask how you will feel to see your daughter wearing a niqab. I am asking, how you will feel if your daughter teacher is wearing a niqab? How these ladies, who are saying shame to Sarkozy, will feel if their kids’ teachers are wearing burka or niqab? Maybe, you as a woman will be able to see her face, if she invites you to her house. But your husband, no! Nor your boys.
    I am pretty much sure that National Guard will be around Disneyland if inside will be 3-4 women covered head to toe.
    I saw women in niqab in USA and Canada, but I never seen them working in public services, neither in schools. I saw students wearing niqab at McGill’s in Montreal, but not as teachers, assistants, and librarians or in cafeterias.

    I have 5 women colleagues who are wearing niqab, they are all young, born here and they are not happy that they have to wear this dress. Their mothers didn’t have to. They have sisters who had the luck to marry more open mind men and they don’t have to wear the niqab. They agree with Mr. Sarkozy attitude, but they will not say it loud because they are scared. They wish the Parliament in our country will do the same for the hundreds of women are forced into something they do not believe in.

    As I previously said, burka was banned in Netherlands universities since 2008 and nobody said anything. It was a welcomed decision. So why France’s decision is so criticised by people who do not live in France, it is hard to understand!

    Judy Ross- the author of A thousand splendid suns is Khaled Hosseini, and afghan who today lives in San Francisco. If this all you understood from his book – that burka was welcomed - , I suggest that you also read The Kite Runner, same author.
    There is a war going on in Afghanistan. There are soldiers dying every day. One of the reasons of this war is also so Afghans women do not have to wear burka, can go to school and get jobs!

  10. Serena, it might be uncomfortable for us to deal with people of a vastly different culture, but does that make it right to ban them?

    It is also VERY uncomfortable for the men of these families to deal with all of US. They like to practice modesty because it gives them a better chance of maintaining moral purity. Good for them! I like it. But I shouldn't be banned from wearing blue jeans and a tank top because they consider it "too revealing."

  11. Serena, that was far from the only thing I took from Khaled Hosseini's excellent book, but merely one very small factor which was relevant to this discussion. Thank you for reminding me of the author's name, and the title of "The Kite Runner", which I would also like to read.

  12. No, it is not right to banned. I never said that.
    It is a middle way to give women the right to choose. And most of the women do not choose burka or niqab, they are forced in to. This is what you do not understand.
    You concentrate in the fact that a president wants to stop women from wearing what they want, but this is not the case. If this what you see or hear at your tv station and in your newspapers, it is wrong.
    Go to France, go to Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, talk to these women and you will have your answers!

    And talking about being banned from wearing blue jeans and tank tops, makes me laugh only when I am thinking at all these dress code protocols we have.

  13. Judy Ross, The Kite Runner is a beautiful book but very disturbing.
    Mr. Hosseini has also a foundation

    He is against burka too :).

  14. Pixie, do I have the right not to believe when you are saying that in all your life you knew only one girl who was forced to cover her face?
    And,oh yes, she came from Pakistan.
    Why am I not surprise about your statement?

    Because if I believe you, that means that all the womens who I see every day walking into my office are liers. If I believe you, that means that all the reporters and their documentaries are liers. It means that people like Salman Rushdie, Khaled Hosseini, Amin Maalouf are liers. It means that the young girl Neda died for nothing in Iran, as well as all the young people there.

    Pixie, the women who are wearing burka in Europe are mostly followers of Salafism, which we all know is a fundamentalist strand of Islam.
    And as I said, fundamentalism is not healthy for society.

    I am not muslim, christian, jew or budhist. I am not american, french, german or arab.
    I am a citizen of the world and I believe in God.

  15. Serenea your comment doesn't make sense to me.

    You said:
    "You concentrate in the fact that a president wants to stop women from wearing what they want, but this is not the case"

    If the president bans the burkha/niqab then yes he is taking away the woman's right to choose whether she wears it or not.

    If a lady wants to wear it then she will be breaking the law if she does, won't she?

    You are assuming every woman who wears it has been forced against her will.

    Don't you think some women want to wear it? Is it so hard to imagine?

    Please stop accusing me of gaining my knowledge from the news media. It is really patronising and irritating.

  16. I remember being at the Sheraton on Langkawi Island, Malaysia, with my husband and children. In residence at the same time, were a young Muslim couple with two gorgeous little boys.

    The woman wore a black Niqab. The man wore skimpy singlet tops, cut off jeans and a cowboy hat and spent the entire holiday walking around like he was in a clip for a music video, jiggling his pelvis and making eyes at Western women.

    My heart broke for his wife who looked miserable (yes, I glimpsed her face several times when we lifted the fabric to eat).

    This occurence has only been the tip of the iceberg in the experiences I've seen with SOME Muslim men in my voyages around the world. I could go on and on and on, including being thrown out of cab by a Muslim taxi driver in London because I told my friend, seated in the back with me, that my father a loser (he IS a loser).

    On another note, I've known many wonderful Muslim people and have beautiful experiences with them, particuarly in Malaysia, men and women alike.

    In my opinion, YES I think SOME Muslim women, particularly in SOME areas and SOME relgious doctrines are absolutely and utterly oppressed(and history is an utter and obvious attestation to this). And YES - to me, personally - I think the burka IS a sign of oppression. But that is just me.

    BUT... I also don't presume to know that much about Muslim women and what goes on inside their heads to decree that all of them are brainwashed into burkadom.

    My summary? I think some women are forced to wear burka, and I think some women make that choice of their own free will. I don't think we can presume it is forced upon everyone, nor do I think it is anyone's responsibility to tell anyone whether or not they can wear one. I certainly agree with Monsieur Sarkozy's sentiments, but his omnescient decree is certainly off the mark.

    Of course, as we all know, the burka is a very microscopic part of the issues surrounding many Muslim women.

    Speaking of free will, what I DO love is that you've brought this up - so important for women to express their own beliefs on this.


  17. Ummmm, I have no comment on this issue...I live in the USA and wear what I want. Actually I just stopped by to ask you to visit my page today, I have an award for you...

  18. When you walk in a bank, we really do need a decent pic of you for security reasons.

  19. I personally think Sarkozy's intentions may have been well-meaning, however I firmly disagree with his decision to ban the niqab. However it cannot be denied that many women who wear burqa and niqab are forced to do so and that this is a result of fundamentalist oppression. The issue is rather a conundrum, but I don't tink that the solution is to ban religious dress.

  20. So many interesting comments here, thanks everyone. I find this a really interesting topic. I have been doing some more reading abut it. I wanted to read something written by a woman who wears the full face covering and why she chooses that for herself. I found this:

    I really love learning about other cultures so this has been a great discussion!

  21. The burqa is far removed from a question of choice about being allowed to wear something and not being allowed to.
    The burqa is a sign of us collectively questioning the "moral purity" ( I use the term because another reader did.) of Muslim women. Do we all honestly believe that unless covered from head to toe in yards of swirling fabric, the woman is out to lure and seduce all males in the area? And how is it the woman's fault if the man around cannot control his basic, ugly and primevial instincts enough to live a decent and civil life with clothed but unshawled women?
    History has shown that the burqa originally evolved as a lose robe worn by the bedouins(nomads) of the Arabian deserts in order to protect themselves from the heat dust and swirling winds. Like anything else, over the course of time, the significance of a practical piece of clothing has morphed and become a religious and ugly issue.

  22. I believe that muslim women should have the choice. WHilst many are forced to wear the niqab or burka, many on the other hand are happy to wear them.

    Unless we see some statistics of muslim women who are forced to wearing a niqab, we cannot say MOST of them are unhappy about this attire.

    I know many have little or no choice in the matter, in extremist societies. In the Koran, it is not required for muslim women to cover their faces. Nor is the woman allowed to cover their face during Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

    So I for one, do not believe its necessary to cover the face, but in the society i live in, young women cannot even walk on the road due to harassment from other men. Yes, its disgusting where men watch our bodies as we walk on the street, and how they harass us. So covering the body is, in my opinion, one way to avoid that.

    Sexual harassment is not uncommon. We do not have the rights to take each and every offender to court. It is simply impossible. So it is the women's choice to cover their bodies to protect themselves against this type of abuse.

    In the old times, not many streets are safe for women, so as protection for women, covering their body was a form of protection to not attract sexual predators.

    I feel that when the islamic foundations were laid down, this was one of the major reasons behind the rule.

    Ofcourse,times are changing, women have more protection now in developed countries. But if they want to wear the hijab to feel comfortable, and as a choice in submission to religion, it should not be banned.

    Great article. Its wonderful that most people are open minded about muslims now.