“Islam doesn’t demand that men cover their faces before they go out, but its more extreme advocates place special conditions on how women dress outside the home. It’s a typical example of patriarchal practice, based on the notion that women should be under the control of their male relatives at all times, and it’s incompatible with any notion of universal human rights….
“In effect, a woman in a niqab is wearing a mask, signalling her deliberate separation from people unlike herself. It’s hard to think of another form of dress which is so highly politicised – or so rejectionist of mainstream culture. This is the point missed by liberal defenders of the niqab and the burka.”
Joan Smith in the Independent, 19 January 2010
Last week the Independent itself published an article in which Muslim women were given space to explain their own understanding of why they wore hijab (and, in one case, didn’t). But Joan Smith doesn’t bother herself with that sort of nonsense. She thinks she knows more about the motives and meaning of Muslim women’s preferred form of dress than Muslim women themselves do.
You might have thought that an avowed feminist would have some sensitivity to the idea that women could legitimately prefer to cover themselves because they find it demeaning to have men judging them by their physical appearance. Back in the day, there was tendency within the women’s movement, much derided by the anti-feminist political right, who preferred to dress in overalls and boots as a stand against the commodification of women’s bodies. But then, those women were mainly of Western origin and white, so obviously that was different.
Update: See also ENGAGE, 19 January 2009