French legislators are considering introducing legislation to ban the burqa in their country, in the name of respecting women. The burqa, these politicians argue, is a “prison” and “degrading” to women.
I’m personally of the mind that calls for women to cover their bodies because the female form is somehow inherently tempting or representative of sex are misogynist, regressive and certainly out of line with the most basic tenets of feminism. But women make choices about the way we dress for all kinds of reasons — sometimes to follow a religious tradition, sometimes to be perceived as attractive, sometimes to be invisible, sometimes to just cover our bare asses. Most of our motivations aren’t feminist or anti-feminist. When it comes to religious requirements especially, we know that outlawing certain garments in public doesn’t make women shed the offending item of clothing; it just makes women refrain from public interactions.
And that’s precisely what will happen here. Outlawing the burqa won’t make women who cover themselves decide to walk outside in a sundress; it’ll just mean that women and girls won’t leave the home as much. The women who are supposedly victimized and imprisoned by some pieces of cloth will instead be prisoners in their own homes and communities.
It’s also no shock that the offendingly modest piece of clothing is one worn primarily by immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.
Empowering women doesn’t come from limiting what women can and cannot wear in public. It comes in part from giving women — all women — wide access to the public sphere. You don’t have to like the burqa to realize that outlawing it will have a hugely negative impact on women.
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