Wednesday, 18 September 2013

As the niqab controversy shows, not all women are feminists

Cross-post from the National Secular Society 
By Anne-Marie Waters
As the niqab controversy shows, not all women are feminists
The legend that is Julie Bindel (who, I must confess, I have a teeny bit of a crush on) has this morning produced another brilliant article on the silence of so-called "feminists" with regard to the misogynist monstrosity known as the niqab. I must however pick up on one point and, while I don't dispute it, I think it is in need of some addition — and that is of course the matter of "choice". This is all we ever hear: "but I wear it by choice". Julie has rightly pointed out the absurdity of the notion that this is a genuine choice given the pressure both from community and from religious doctrine itself. But I have a question — even if it is a choice, so what? I choose to round up every niqab and burka on the planet and bury them in the deepest pit under the deepest ocean in the world — will this choice be honoured? Of course not, so what makes these women's choices so much more important than mine?
Judge Murphy, who should be ashamed that he capitulated to the bullying of one woman and turned open justice (not to mention one law for all) on its head, said there is an elephant in the court-room and he's right. But here's another elephant — women can be misogynist woman-haters too and we must not forget this. In fact, women's misogyny is far more dangerous because it legitimises the virgin/whore dichotomy and gives it a credibility that it simply wouldn't have if it stemmed from the mind of a man. In short, just because a woman chooses the niqab does not make the niqab ok — it remains a tool of subjugation and suppression, and it would continue to be just that even if every woman in the world supported it.
On Monday, I appeared on Sky news to discuss the stupid and dangerous legal precedent that had just been set. My fellow guest was a fully veiled woman who confidently argued that if women can wear skimpy clothes, they too can wear the niqab. Though of course I couldn't see her face, she spat out her contempt for mini-skirts and those who wear them with a deafening ferocity. I can't help but think that if pushed even slightly further, she could well be found to hold the despicable view that any woman who isn't covered in a black cloak is a whore and a slut who deserves every bit of sexual harassment (or rape) that she's got coming to her. Is this view ok because it comes from a woman? No, if anything it's worse.
In 'The Handmaid's Tale' — which I read only recently and wondered whether Margaret Atwood realised she was describing a present-day Islamic state — the masterful author portrays the futuristic nightmare of a Christian fundamentalist-dominated USA where women enjoy one of two roles: you guessed it, a virgin or a whore. The virgins are shrouded from head to toe and made all but invisible, while the whores wear next-to-nothing and live in a brothel with the sole function of providing sexual pleasure to any man who seeks it. Atwood so brilliantly depicts the role of women themselves in helping to bring this situation about. A small group of select females are given a morsel of so-called power (attractive in a world where they are otherwise powerless) and in exchange, they collude in the vile suppression of their sisters; legitimising, sanitising, and empowering misogyny so that it looks slightly less misogynistic. If a woman says it's ok, then is must be ok. Right?
That is exactly what is happening here. The bullies who demanded that the security concerns of a Birmingham College be brushed aside, and centuries of British judicial common-sense dismissed, are colluding in the oppression of other women and deserve to be held to account for doing so. It's their choice after all, so they choose the condemnation that accompanies it.
Another couple of points that need to be made are these. This debate is not about clothing, but visibility and invisibility. The state has no right to tell people what to wear, but it does have a right to demand that all are held to equal standards of behaviour and if the rest of us are unable to cover our faces, why is one group so special? It's not.
Second is the most ridiculous argument that the burqa/niqab are somehow comparable to high heels or make-up! Oh please, they're getting desperate now. I don't believe that high heels deem a woman heinous and unseeable. And women in high heels are still visible to a jury as far as I'm aware.
Let me make this clear — I love women. The bravest, strongest, wisest, and most compassionate people in my life are women. It is precisely for this reason that I hold something close to contempt for those women who connive against the rest of us by empowering and elevating devices designed to control us, and our sexuality. Equally, some of the bravest and most noble fighters for women (and for human rights generally) are, and always have been, men.
Anyone who stands up for the right of women to be treated as autonomous human beings is my ally, and those who oppose it are my enemy — this is the case irrespective of what genitals they possess.
It is worth remembering also that there were many women who opposed universal suffrage — where would we be if we honoured the choice of those women? Please, you so-called feminists, please keep this in mind the next time your politically correct cowardice prompts you to betray everything you claim to believe in.
Anne Marie Waters is the spokesperson of the One Law for All campaign and council member of the National Secular Society. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the NSS.


  1. Great post which I've just tweeted :-)

  2. Great post which I've just tweeted :-)