Friday, October 20, 2006

Tony Blair: The Fashion Police

Is it just slightly disturbing to anyone that a Head of State would make a pronouncement on women’s fashion? Is it even more disturbing that he would make a pronouncement on fashion that supports a woman losing her job for exercising her freedom to practice her religion? That’s what Tony Blair has done.

In a nutshell Tony Blair is supporting others in the idea that Muslim women in Britain should not be wearing face veils. Period. Some choice quotes:

“You can’t cover your face; you must be seen,” Mr. Prodi told Reuters. “This is common sense, I think. It is important for our society.”
Is it me or is this as frightening as being told that you must not be seen? And when pronouncements like this are made from on high, where do we draw the line? Personal freedom is paramount. In situations and countries where Muslim women are not free, that’s something important to speak against. But Muslim women who are deeply religious and follow their religion by covering their faces are exercising their personal freedom and it’s important that we all respect that.

"The discussion spills over into Britain’s broader embroilment in the campaign against terrorism and the war in Iraq. Mr. Blair and others say Muslims must do more to police their own ranks,"
So is covering one’s face about to become part of the ever growing list of things that make one a suspected terrorist? I’m sure that will prove fruitful.

It’s one thing to oppose the burqa or to refuse to travel in Saudi Arabia where women are essentially imprisoned. But it’s quite another to tell a woman that because we think she’s been brainwashed by Islam or is following its teachings to the extreme, and therefore conforming to an unnecessary level of modesty, that she should be willing to show men her full face whether she’s comfortable doing so or not.

Some women post pictures of their breasts on the internet, which is something I would never do. Unless, perhaps, if I had a rack like Catherine’s, then I might. But when the era of nursing two babies came to an end… well I don’t have to explain to most of you why I don’t flash my boobs here. Though my three year old is still very much into groping them, so I guess they’re not all bad. Ever since he weaned over a year and a half ago, he has obsessed over them, in fact. He will say, “Let me see if there’s any milk in there Mama.”

And I’ll say, “Mama’s milk is all gone.”


And in good feminist form I’ll respond with, “Do the words sexual harassment mean anything to you mister???”

Which is met with a blank stare followed by, “Let me SEE if there’s any milk in there.”

(Perhaps he intuits that even though this is technically my “workplace,” I have something closer to slave-status than employee-status, so perhaps I’m not protected by such laws anyway). I have tried everything to get him to stop patting them and talking about them, but nothing works. I asked my husband, “Isn’t this sort of disturbing?”

And he said, “Well… not as disturbing as it will be if he doesn’t stop by the time he’s twelve.”

Oh sorry… enough about boobs, this is supposed to be a serious post!

Perhaps my unwillingness to wear pants that show my butt crack are a result of my Catholic brainwashing. Or my feminist brainwashing. Or my crazy right wing midwestern heritage brainwashing. Who knows? But should I be told by the leader of my country that I must reveal that which is a private matter to me in order to fit in with the rest of the butt-crack flashers at the mall these days? Conversely, to some conservative Christian women I’m immodest in my jeans. I might think it’s silly for them to only wear long dresses, but who am I to tell them they shouldn’t?

Modesty (or lack thereof) is a highly personal issue, and has everything to do with a woman’s comfort in her own skin. We really don’t need to tell a woman, who feels uncomfortable showing her ankles to a man who isn’t her husband, that these matters are no big deal. She needs to be true to her own self.

Presumably if a woman lives in Britain, she has physical freedom to at least some degree. If her spirit leads her to rebel against the veil (and don’t get me wrong, the veil concept pisses me off too – I’m not defending it here) then certainly she can. And if her spirit leads her to conform, then we need to respect her autonomy as a woman and leave her alone. Furthermore, can these guys think of nothing more important going on in the world to worry about than to waste their time being outraged by a few women who choose to cover their faces in public? Who are they hurting? And who cares?


Jill said...

I think the French issued a similar edict relative to muslim school girls. Ridiculous. So much for pluralism, huh?

Isn't Blair kind of a desperate man these days, anyway? The curse of all his George Bush lovin'. I guess this is more evidence of his desperation.

Food Mum said...

Sounds like he's definitely lost the plot or else his advisors have - he's been away from the real world so long you can't expect him to be in touch with what real people are thinking any more - that rarefied political air is bad for the brain!

mad muthas said...

i think the issue concerned the woman's ability to carry out her job effectively. in her poersonal and private life she could do as she pleased and no-one would or should dispute her right to wear the veil if she wanted to. but she was working with young children as a teaching assistant in a school. in that sort of job where a) she would need to communicate particularly clearly and b) she is, whether she means to or not, offering a role model to the children in the school, i think that the question of appropriateness was quite valid.

Kate said...

Unfortunately we still live in a male-dominated society where they make most of the laws, so it doesn't surprise me in the least bit that yet another male wants to dictate a woman's rights. I agree with you, I'm not into the burqa either, because that represents the epitomy of a mysoginistic society, but c'mon, is it really a threat in Britain? Tony Blair is so far up W's butt he obviously has yet to come out for air, as evidenced by his ridiculous preoccupations.

Anjali said...

Good points, Stacy. Someone needs to tell Blair that the terrorists that flew the planes on 911 didn't have their faces covered.

As to your breasts, I can only offer my deepest sympathies. Since I am still nuring my two-year old, I know too well your sorrows.

Annie A. Petersen said...

Blair now shows his true face, a timid biggot like his buddy, Bush, always outraged by things of minor importance while the world is burning all around them.

Lisa said...

Within our state, you must show your face for travel documents and Driver's license pictures. I agree with the person above who stated that it needs to be addressed on a case by case basis. If you are working as a speech therapist maybe wearing the veil would inhibit your ability to perform your task. But is that the government's job to dictate? No. It's the employers job to dictate those things...except then it would be discrination based on religion which is illegal. So...we go back to the government yet again.

Also, what happens when we have facial recognition within our airports and bus stations? A fair percentage of suicide bombers ARE women. Wouldn't facial recognition be unable to do so through a veil? Wouldn't that make it even EASIER for terrorists.

There's lots and lots of things to consider with this one...but honestly Blairs way of handling it is a little obtuse.