Posted by: Renee | July 18, 2008

Take Your Veil Off

Via the F -Word blog comes the story of a 79 year old woman who felt that she had the right to rip a veil off of a Muslim woman. She received a caution by police for aggravated racial assault.

This of course is not the first time that a Muslim woman has been assaulted in this way.  Despite the fact that many will acknowledge that they are vulnerable bodies in our society, it has been deemed appropriate to physically attack them for wearing the burka or the abbya in public.  Whether or not we agree with their “choices,” (note it is not always a choice) as women we need to learn to support them.  We need to learn to respect cultural, and religious differences without imposing western ideals.

One of the things that bothers me about this, is the idea that Muslim women are particularly oppressed by the abbya without critiquing the so-called freedom of western women  Yes we are free to dress as we chose, but how often are those choices made without internalizing the male gaze? Why is it that we freely choose to wear things like high heels despite the fact that they are so harmful? We make these choices because we are not liberated.  Daily western women subject themselves to various tortures, and yet when we see a woman dressed in a burka we conclude that she is uniquely oppressed.  During the Iranian revolution women donned the burka as a sign of social protest, it was a rejection of all things western. Simply because something originates in the west does not necessarily make it liberating, or woman positive, just as something that is culturally different does not mean that it is necessarily anti woman.

The idea that women dressed in the burka are always oppressed is nothing less than western  cultural imperialism.  It is the reinforcement of a dichotomy, west equals good and east equals backward.  The project of saving Muslim women detracts us from the fact that oppression is a global phenomenon.  Just as women face injustice in Egypt, or Palestine, women daily negotiate degradation in western countries.  If we truly want to be a role in the emancipation of women we need to stop feeling that we have the right to intervene when we have not been asked.  Yes the subaltern can speak, and we should be listening.



  1. “Simply because something originates in the west does not necessarily make it liberating, or woman positive–”

    I wish more people realized this.

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