Controlling How Muslim Women Dress Is Just Another Way Of Men Policing Women’s Bodies
France’s relationship with Islam is deeply controversial. The country has experienced numerous devastating attacks which have torn apart the relationship between the State and Islamic communities, along with drastically questioning the State’s capacity to effectively grant inclusion and therefore fraternité among its citizens.
As for now, the Government doesn’t seem to have found its place between actually being coherent with the principle of laïcité, which frees the Republic from religion through a distinctive separation between the two, and not over-condemning the public display of religious symbols and clothing.
Article One of the French Constitution demands inseparability, secularity, and social democracy. It also calls for equality of all citizens before the law, without any distinction of origin, race, and religion. The French State proposes itself as a decentralized-working institution that shall respect all beliefs. The Government guarantees religious freedom and frequently intervenes to protect such freedom. In schools, pupils are asked to keep the wearing of religious symbols to a bare minimum, while schools are asked to offer teachings completely free of any influence from religious beliefs. Recently, the French State has started doing everything in its power to eradicate and fight any form of Islamist separatism. Controls over the Islamic community have been strict and harsh, and have progressively increased, putting aside the tolerance in favour of the principle of laïcité.
It cannot be denied that the term laïcité allows for a sort of undefined grey space in which the Government seems to be allowed to scrutinize and rigorously control its citizens.
This week, the Senate has approved an amendment that bans the use of Hijab for girls under the age of 18 while in public, and that precludes veiled women from accompanying their children on school trips. The amendment still needs to be approved by the National Assembly, which is quite unlikely to happen, but it has once again brought up the fact that men do have countless ways to propose their control over women’s bodies. It’s them who ultimately lead the discussions and establish what is legitimate and what isn’t. And this is by no means any different from the other conversations concerning women that have been going on for the past 50 years.
Society is binary. We have day and night, black and white, public and private, yes and no, male and female, and finally intimate and political. Even if this vision is now barely tolerated, it is still laying at the heart of our world’s functioning. And it’s painful because anything that cannot be easily labelled, figures as disturbing and breaks into public debates regardless of having been allowed to do so or not.
Abortion, violence, pregnancy, periods, pronouns, sexual orientation, gender transitioning, and race are all strictly personal matters, that you would hope to bring up only when it feels right for you. Has it ever happened? No, it hasn’t, because they are political. They become part of the discourse when they start hitting and concerning cis men too. Before that happens, people go on with their lives pretending they don’t exist.
“If you ignore it, it will go away.”
I hope this doesn’t sound new to you, but when something concerns white cis men, it is political. Whether you as a marginalized person for any reason allow it or not, the debate that for you concerns the intimate swiftly escapes from your safe zone and almost immediately gets public and exposed to political debates.
Women’s voices are still struggling to be heard unfiltered even when they bring up their own grievous stories. They still come out mixed up with judgment and fear, they receive the request to be polite and they often collide with society’s will to cut out the most unsettling parts. Hence the very popular choice of silence instead of voicing violence, racism, and homotransphobia. Marginalized people do prefer keeping silent than seeing their stories thrown in the public sphere with little chance of a truthful narrative.
The French Senators have categorically refused to acknowledge that not all Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab, and that many of them do have the power to make decisions regarding their clothing. Too bad for them, right? How stupid they were to think they could put into action their personal choices and freedom of their bodies.
The French Senate truthfully represents the country’s conservative and male dominant society and their impellent need to constantly remind citizens that there is only one single way to truly be French, especially in the public sphere. In case you don’t meet such standards you don’t really have the right to call yourself “French”. You are asked to submit yourself and wait for the verdict: is your person going to affect the dominant French culture?
After all, what the motto says is liberté, égalité, fraternité. It would have been a completely different story if it said sororité instead.