Face Veils, Pink Taxis and White People

The other night I was hanging out with a male friend who kept checking me out. No, really checking me out. Looking at my body in a way that made me wonder if I was actually what was for dinner. I kept checking my clothes: nope, no nip slip, no real cleavage even. WTF? Needless to say, it made me really uncomfortable.

This morning, I pop open the interweb and read how France is moving forward to ban Islamic women’s face veils based on it being a “symbol of the repression of women, and… of extremist fundamentalism.”. Really? Okay clearly this is more about Islamophobia than France’s concern for women’s rights, but for a second let’s explore this idea. Now, I’m not Muslim, nor do I have any investment in veiling. But I do have an interest in women being able to wear whatever the hell they want to, without the government mandating what’s acceptable. Not only is this insulting to Muslim women, as if they need the Big Bad French government to step in and protect them from their own culture’s repression. White people save the day again….

Aside: This just makes me think of this hilarious Youtube video called White People to the Rescue, which I’ve posted a link to below.

But back to my point, maybe these women are capable of seeking their own way to fight oppression. Or maybe it is HOW they are fighting oppression–which is a view I find is rarely explored. I made a short doc about Arab women in NY right after 9-11, and  in it one woman said she started veiling because she felt disturbed by  men constantly ogling her on the streets of the city. Once she started wearing it, she felt the harassment was way diminished and she could move through her day feeling free.

Check out the recent appearance of  women-only pink taxis in Kuwait, equipped with magazines and mirrors, so that women can feel safe being ferried around by other women. In fact, there are women-only forms of public transportation in a number of countries including Brazil, Mexico, Japan, India and Egypt. And if they had them in NYC I might be tempted to take them, especially during the summer. The truth is that I wouldn’t mind having some women-only public spaces, beyond salons or spas.

And  no, I’m not saying all women find veiling freeing, or that segregated transportation is the ultimate solution. It just feels like it’s back to the Madonna-Whore all over again. Islamic women are the helpless victims to be saved or protected by men inside and outside their culture. And in the meantime, men around the world seem to think it’s okay to harrass women to the point that a dozen countries feel the need to separate men and women on busses and trains.

Obviously it’s a lot more complex and nuanced than the way it’s playing out in France and elsewhere and I don’t know what the answer is, but men in both the East and West clearly need a lesson on how to behave towards women.

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One response to “Face Veils, Pink Taxis and White People

  1. Westerners are just friggin obsessed with hijab. I went to a movie about Syrian youth this past fall, part of the Arab Film Festival, and during the post-screening q&a it was the only thing everyone in the audience wanted to talk(/shout) about…even though it played only a negligible part in the documentary. It is a nuanced issue, like you say, but like we do with everything else, westerners like to load up and project our lopsided opinions onto the most immediately visible target. Stewpid.

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