Guest post: Children have a right to a diversity of opinion and experience

Originally a comment by Seth on Like the lights being turned off.

Recently I spoke with a friend of mine who happens to be a Muslim woman; she does not wear hijab, though every few years she struggles with the urge to cover her hair, because some part of her feels it’s essential to her religion. But she told me something curious about some of the ‘cultural’ reasons for wearing the niqab, which arguably predate the invention of Islam; basically, some Muslim women take to the full-body veil because they feel they are ‘too beautiful’ to go through their daily lives without sexual harassment from all of the men around them.

Thus we see in microcosm something that Christopher Hitchens condemned for religion in general; it is at once the height of abjection and servility, combined with the quintessence of arrogance and solipsism. Men are the favoured of God, entitled to all of the power and property and respect, but they are base animals who cannot be expected to control themselves if they see the curve of a woman’s chin; it’s the wretched woman’s fault for putting herself in ‘civilised’ company, distracting from the business of the day, for being too beautiful and perfect a creature to do anything but be admired in the home of the man who owns her. This utter debasement of men and women (with its concomitant erasure of non-cis, non-heterosexuals) is present in all of the major religions, but it is rarely so blunt and transparent as we find in Islam.

I am glad that I live in a country where a woman can wear the niqab if she chooses…but I’m much more concerned with providing women the space and freedom to take it off if they choose, as well. I wish there were women’s shelters designed specifically to accommodate women and their children fleeing religiously-inspired abuse (no matter what religion), spaces for women to take refuge away from the patriarchs who seek to enforce their control by force. And I believe that all children must attend a public, secular school, where they interact at least a few hours a day with kids of every gender, kids whose parents aren’t the same religion, or colour, or economic status. Children have a right to a diversity of opinion and experience, a right that trumps any self-proclaimed right of parents to cloister them into only one worldview. These measures are by no means sufficient conditions for the dismantling of sexism inherent in religion, but I believe they (or something like them) are necessary.



  1. Blanche Quizno says

    This is really weird, and it struck me as weird at the time. My kids were attending this charter school that had several different locations, and on the day in question, staff from all the satellite offices were here for a big staff meeting. One of the women was clad all in black, only her eyes visible. The difference was that, instead of a tent-like burqa, she was wearing loose, silky black pants and a long sleeved, belted tunic-like top. Or else the top was tucked in. Who cares?

    Anyway, as I was going out to my car, she was going to her car ahead of me. And she was walking in such a sensual manner that I remember it even now, years later – walking kind of slow with almost exaggerated hip swings, languid, suggestive. I can’t remember ever seeing a woman walk like that in public or in a professional setting.

  2. says

    Yeah, I remember the Manchester Mela (a pan-South-Asian music and dance festival) where there quite a lot of young women in hijabs which were … well, not exactly sensual as in Blanche’s example, but which could only be described as a magnificent crown of bright, attention-getting fabric. I was impressed by their ability to obey the letter of their religious headgear instructions while totally defying the spirit.

    But I sense that we are already being drawn into a digression 🙂

  3. Routemaster says

    There was a photographic exhibition at the South Bank, here in London, a year or so ago, IIRC, of girls’ and young women’s hijabs, which showed them being used as fashion items. They’re functioning in two ways, at least: acting to protect women from men’s insatiable sexuality (this is how we can distinguish Islam from Christianity, where women’s sexuality is insatiable); and as a marker of cultural identity, exploited for fashion.

  4. Dunc says

    @3: Yeah, once you’re getting into designer hijab (I’ve definitely seen Calvin Klein and Louis Vuitton), you’re dealing with fashion, not religious observance.

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