“History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket” Alan Bennet
Why are people so obsessed with the way women dress? It’s a subject that fills glossy magazine pages and pops up in newspaper articles. When a woman is raped commentators remark that she shouldn’t have worn a skirt that short, when a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf has bags of flour thrown at her on the high street, it is her fault for provoking people. After all, with all these terror attacks, how dare you identify as Muslim. I mean she could be hiding anything under that scarf.
Most people have heard of the burqa bans in Europe, most notably in France and Belgium. More recently there have been attempts to ban the burqini in areas of France in an almost retaliatory manner in the wake of the Nice terror attack of July 2016. In the eyes of many policy makers these outward displays of religion challenge integration and acceptance of their way of life.
There are many threads to this yarn. Notably, the way any Muslim head covering has been used a political symbol by policy makers, journalists, politicians and in many instances hard line racist groups. There are the religious groups that cite the wearing of a burqa as having deep roots in Islamic history and therefore stating the precedent for wearing these garments. Many journalists cite the way these items of clothing make us less secure; I mean it could be a man under there couldn’t it?
The one consistent thread throughout the debate surrounding Islamic dress, such as the burqa or niqab, is that it is mainly men dictating what women should or should not wear. History shows countless examples of women being vilified by men, and occasionally other women, for breaking the conventional codes of dress of the time and place. The notion of preventing Muslim women from wearing a garment of their choosing smacks of further control over a minority that is seen as problematic by policy makers and governments. It’s almost as if policy makers believe they can protect Europe from further incidences of terrorism by stripping women of their garments, as policemen demonstrated on beaches in the wake of the brief burkini ban.
People have become intimidated by an item of clothing. The media and governments that condemn it achieve this climate by suggesting these forms of dress are foreign and represent certain dangers, namely terrorism or radicalisation. The hijab features in Prevent training and images of the burqa are regularly slapped on newspaper pages relating to stories of terror, subordination and oppression. Who knew cloth could present such a threat to our security and sensibilities? By and large one has to wonder what would happen if the men in this debate concerned themselves less with women’s attire and focused more on actual threats.