US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What not to wear--by law

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

France's Senate today passed what can only be described as a stupid law, one that I hope sparks mass civil disobedience. Targeted primarily at Muslim women, the law bans veils that cover the face, which will effectively ban wearing the burqa in public, imposing a E$150 fine, and a much larger one plus imprisonment for forcing a person to wear one. The French public supports the measure by a margin of four to one.

I don't usually appeal to beauty queens in making a feminist argument, but I think Miss Australia got it right as a finalist in the Miss Universe pageant last month: When asked specifically about laws such as France's, Jesinta Campbell, and I am paraphrasing here, said that contestants wore bathing suits on for the pageant by their own choice, and women who choose to wear burqas should as well. I gave her extra points for forward-thinking feminism in a decidedly non-feminist forum.

Of course I don't think women should be forced to wear burqas, but I certainly think they should be free to wear them if they choose. But making a law against the burqa, rather than discouraging it, will more likely inspire a new fashion movement. France's legislators are doing themselves no favors by intervening in what is a matter finally of personal choice, and they are damaging the feminist movement within Islam, whose women should decide for themselves what emancipation looks like.

I think it interesting that two thirds of Americans oppose laws that restrict what women can wear in this way. In this at least, I think America is better than France.