I’ve been more than slightly bemused by signs at anti-Trump protests lately. More than once I’ve seen signs, held up by Liberal feminists which suggest that the Islamic veil is ‘liberation’ or ‘empowerment.’ You may be slightly surprised by this but I agree! And even though I would never wear one myself on a daily basis (I live in the Middle East) and I sometimes doubt its appropriateness in Western societies, I would not be keen to see a state-enforced ban. So why my bemusement?
In the context of Western societies where women have the choice to wear the veil, they still do. In the context of Islamic societies where women have the choice to wear the veil, they still do. There is an element of choice, you may want to argue to what degree that element runs true, but there exists a choice to wear the veil and many women make that choice. Islam is a socially conservative religion and socially conservative women dress in a socially conservative manner. It’s true that socially conservative women do feel empowered and liberated by dressing in this way (though obviously not in the ‘second wave feminism’ sense). Where there is consent the veil is empowerment and an expression of one’s religious faith – it’s simply conservative women dressing conservatively. It is not within the interests of even the American Right to part conservative women from their conservative clothing.
There do, unfortunately, exist a handful of countries where the veil is not consensual. This is most certainly not empowerment or liberation. The reason I feel I can state this with authority is because of the ways the veil manifests itself when it is consensual and when it is not. The most stark contrast is that women in countries where the veil is consensual are never permitted to show their full faces leaving only an eye slit. In countries where the veil is consensual, the muslim women who cover their faces entirely are in the clear minority. The insistence that women cover their faces is inherently oppressive, impractical and a deliberate attack on the notion that women are autonomous individuals. Furthermore, in countries where veil wearing is enforced the veils and the full abayas are much less likely to be decorated or patterned in any way. In countries where the veil is a matter of choice even the most conservative women only start covering their full faces after they are married. The degrees of coverage in countries where there is an element of choice vary significantly too, ranging from just a headscarf coupled with modest western clothes to the full niqab with just an eye slit. Allowing choice creates huge variety in expression.
So what am I bemused about? I think it stems from the conundrum of since when do Liberal feminists defend the choices and preference of C/conservative women? And why are Liberal feminists so keen to defend the choices and preferences of conservative Islamic women but never quite so keen to defend the choices and preferences of conservative Christian women? Those questions are probably left to another article each to themselves. But for now, when it comes to the veil – like many things in life – consent is key.
Sara is a journalist, art apprentice, and neo-decadent poet. Follow her on Twitter: @Sayde_Scarlett
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty