Happy-- I can't tell if your "Now see, that's just wrong" comment about Straw's opinion is sarcasm or you're serious.

Straw's is right, of course. We Westerners have a culture too, and we should insist on respect of that culture. So when your dealing with a Westerner Ms. Muslim Woman, take off your damned head cover as we find it offense and belittling to women, even if you think it's pretty spiffy. Brownfemipower is using her perceived victimhood as a sword rather than a shield. I'm surprised you even have time for her silly quibbles.

The Happy Feminist

I wasn't being sarcastic. I agree with you that westerners cultural practices are entitled to respect as well. But I fail to see how it is disrespectful of western culture for a woman to wear a veil in a western setting.

It would be disrespectful of western culture, I think, if a Muslim in a western country refused to interact with women who were wearing western dress. I have never had an experience like that nor have I been aware of an occasion when that has happened. Even in Saudi, which has pretty strict rules, western women are not required to adopt the veil and are only expected to dress modestly (i.e. long sleeves and longish skirts).

I don't take offense at the veil -- only its forceful imposition on women. And, if Straw's concern is his belief that women are belittled by the veil, Straw isn't helping by belittling the women further and chiding them for their clothing.

I thought Straw's comment was obtuse. Sure, the veil is a visible statement of difference. But when you are from a country that was once an empire spanning the globe, you are going to have people with differences living among you.

As for Brownfemipower's thread, as I said I didn't like how it went down, but the basic substance of it carried some important points. Some of them I thought were obvious (the veil isn't necessarily about humiliating women -- duh), although perhaps more obvious to me from having grown up in that part of the world. Other points were not obvious to me at all, but I think were interesting and important beyond just Amanda's photoshopped picture.


I have a number of problems with Straw's whole commentary, BUT notwithstanding his problematic statements, I DO have similar problems with the whole veil thing.

In the first place, I have lived abroad too. And one of the things I learned was that it was up to me to adjust to the cultural norms of where I was living, not to expect everyone else to change to accomodate me. In that respect, were I to travel to Egypt or some similar place, I would wear a head covering (just as I have worn skirts rather than pants in other places etc). So I fail to see why the reverse respect is not accorded here when in places that do expect to be able to see your face.

My second, very major objection, relates to the covering up of the face. I AM DEAF. I WILL NOT UNDERSTAND SOMEONE WHO INSISTS ON COVERING HER FACE. I am not alone. In the U.S. there are conservatively about 30 million hearing impaired adults, not all of them women.

I do try to make allowances for all kinds of different cultural norms, trust me. But that allowance is made much easier when I see some similar effort being made on the other side as well. Keeping the covering on, especially if it covers the face does not convey that spirit at all.

It's a very tough intersection of points between tolerance, different cultural norms, adaption, respect for others (that has to go both ways) and so on. I do not know what the solution is.

Leaving aside the issue of covering the face (which will always present communication difficulties for people like me for reasons entirely independent of all this) the main problem I have with covering the female body up is this: if I knew that there was no pressure, no requirement, nothing whatsoever for women who still chose to wear a head covering, then I'd have no trouble with it. But when I read that women are being killed for not wearing some type of externally approved covering, I cannot see the dress in neutral terms. And I think as long as that's true, it cannot be so seen.

Bitch | Lab
Bitch (hey I read somewhere that you like being called just Bitch!)

LOL. It never mattered to me terribly much in the beginning. The ppl who read me, had been reading me for years, so the naming of the blog and its design and imagery were all this huge insider's joke. but of course it was the internets (tm) and ppl started reading who hadn't read me for years -- and the reactions were fun.


>>> Happy wrote: But I fail to see how it is disrespectful of western culture for a woman to wear a veil in a western setting.

You don’t think it’s disrespectful in a free society to wear symbols of oppression? I disagree. To me it’s as offensive as a guy walking down the streets of a New York Jewish neighborhood with a swastika branded on his forehead, or children trick-or-treating in Alabama on Halloween in KKK costume. You see, I don’t care if Muslim women don’t think of it as an oppressive symbol. That’s their problem when they choose to enter a western setting. If they want to respect our values (do they really?) then lose the symbolic head covering or stay indoors.

>>> Happy wrote: …the veil isn't necessarily about humiliating women

Oh right. And the flag of the Confederate States of America isn’t necessarily about keeping the black man down. I mean, it's only a celebration of southern “culture,” right? Your liberal inconsistencies are firmly in place, Happy.

>>> Happy wrote: Straw isn't helping by belittling the women further and chiding them for their clothing.

Oh yes! Heavens forbid he offend any Muslim women. So insensitive of him.

Lindsay Beyerstein

The Taliban made the burqa a powerful symbol of women's oppression.


The US spent years trying to overthrow the communist government in Afghanistan. The US mostly backed the Taliban's opponents, but the fact remains that if the US hadn't been so keen on fighting the Soviet Union by proxy in Afghanistan, and later just fighting the government of Afghanistan, the Taliban might never have come to power.

So, the Taliban made the burqa synonymous with coercion, violence, and misogyny, and the US helped the Taliban come to power.

What does this have to do with Photoshopping a burqa onto Jessica Valenti?

If we agree that the burqa is a symbol of oppression, doesn't the US's role in bringing about the forced cocooning of Afghan women make Amanda's analogy all the more apt? Her point was that American moralists are a lot like the Taliban in many ways. The historical fact is that American moralists actually helped cause the Taliban takeover.

The takehome message of the cartoon was that these repressive ideas about women's bodies pervade the entire world and that you can't just "other" the US or the Taliban and insist that woman-shaming in George Bush's America is qualitatively different from woman-shaming under the Taliban.

Lindsay Beyerstein

The veil is not the same thing as a burqa. These are burqas. These are different hijabs from around the world. The vast majority of Muslim women who cover their hair don't cover their faces. Even Iran doesn't legally require women to wear a face veil with their hijab. (I'm not excusing any kind of legal compulsion, but it's important to remember how extreme the Taliban's policies are compared to the rest of Islam.)

Burqas are portable tents with screens over the eyes. They are like diving bells. You can drive in a veil, you can direct traffic in a headscarf, you can lead a guerilla army with your hair covered. Burqas aren't just a fashion statement, they are a form of physical restraint that is designed to be incompatible with an active role in the public sphere. Imagine trying to work in a lab, or supervise a construction project, or plead a case in court wearing a burqa.

I don't think the creators of this graphic appreciate the irony of choosing Rosie the Riveter in a headscarf to epitomize the burqa-free way of life.

The Happy Feminist

Richard, wow. This is mind-boggling. Consider this:

-- First, do you really think that the veil is always a symbol of oppression? What makes you such an expert on veiling and its cultural connotations? Why do you assume that the veil means oppression to the women who wear it wholly without coercion? Is a veil inherently oppressive? Might some women find it more comfortable out of habit? Or out of modesty? (As a modest dresser myself, I don't find modesty oppressive unless it is coerced or held to be a moral imperative.) Might some women prefer the veil because of the privacy it affords?

-- Second, don't you think you are being a little paternalistic in your attitudes towards women who wear the veil? Would you try to dictate western women's behavior to them if you decided that they were engaging in customs that are oppressive to them? For example, would you tell a western women that you are offended if she styles herself as "mrs." because it connotes that her status is only "wife of" and all the second class citizenship that entails? Why is this any of your business?

-- Third, don't you think forcing someone to dress how you choose is in itself oppressive? I mean to me when I think of veiling as oppressive, it is because women are being FORCED against their will to veil. Forcing someone against their will not to veil seems equally oppressive. It would be like me being forced to wear a thong on a beach in Rio even though I would feel naked and uncomfortable so.

And the flag of the Confederate States of America isn’t necessarily about keeping the black man down. I mean, it's only a celebration of southern “culture,” right? Your liberal inconsistencies are firmly in place, Happy.

Who is being inconsistent? You're talking about YOU being offended by the people you deem to be oppressed! That's just plain weird! I honestly don't get it.

(And the final irony is: I think you may be saying what people on the Brownfemipower thread thought I was saying. But I never said anything remotely like this, nor would it have crossed my mind.)

The Happy Feminist

Lindsay, that is definitely how I read Amanda's picture and that was the point I was making on the Brownipower thread, the point which seemed to anger people (and a lot of other people were making that point too at Pandagon and elsewhere). And I still think that is a legitimate reading of the picture. I think it is the reading that matches Amanda's intentions and makes the most sense in context of the Althouse matter.

But, the more I think about it the more I can see that if you're a woman who chooses and identifies with the burqa (or some other form of traditional non-western dress), you're going to read the picture differently. And it might feel like the picture is ridiculing your preferred form of dress and by extension ridiculing you for going along with that form of dress. I don't think that's a totally off-the-wall conclusion to reach which is why the shorthand burka = total gender oppression can insult the very people we think are being oppressed.

CAVEAT: I know there are women, including feminist women, who choose other types of veiling besides the burka. I actually do not know whether there are women who voluntarily choose the burka but I assume there are for the same reason Muslim feminists have at times adopted other types of veiling.


Jack Straw specifically mentioned the face-veil. I agree with him. I think that covering your face in public, in the West, can make other people feel uncomfortable and even insulted. I don't think it's necessarily meant as such, but communication standards around here are just not the same, in my opinion.

I wrote an essay about this here.

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