In a post that pairs the First Amendment with fashion statement, blogger Hugo Schwyzer examines France's proposed burqa ban and argues against robbing women of their liberty to dress as they choose -- in a burqa or a bikini.
In "Of burqas, mini-skirts, and whopping presumption," Schwyzer writes:
"Reading coverage of the burqa story in the mainstream and feminist media, I’m struck by what a number of other feminists have also noted: the degree to which those who claim to be acting on behalf of women seem to be certain that they know what women are actually thinking."
Relying on his years as a professor of feminist studies at a Southern California campus, Schwyzer shares the experience of watching his students react to women who are noticeably under- or over-dressed in comparison to the norm.
What happens? Presumption, he says. Assumptions of motivation. And while he doesn't quote Oscar Wilde --"When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”-- Schwyzer frames an interesting argument in support of self-determination and feminist expression. He reminds us that it's a woman's right to decide what she puts on her body, even when that choice conforms to a value system traditionally identified as male:
"On a public street, the right of a woman to walk unmolested and unchallenged in a burqa or a bikini is worth protecting. And when we see that woman, we do well not to rush to judgment about what particular constellation of religious and psychological influences led to her sartorial choices."
What so charms me about the good professor's post is the link he makes between the skin-deep fashion statements women make every day and our brains and intellect. As Schwyzer frames the discussion, in France, neither burqa nor bikini may be simply and always dismissed as a tool of patriarchy, either imposed or ingrained. Don't forget, he reminds us, a woman's potential for deep and sincere religious feeling, manifested by taking the burqa. Or self-confidence in her body, communicated by wearing a mini-skirt. Presuming to think or feel for women, he writes, could be evidence of a far greater problem:
"One of the hallmarks of an illiberal, anti-feminist society is that it sees women’s bodies as threats. A society horrified by a display of self-confident sexuality is no better and no worse than one scandalized by the equally public display of deep piety. Religious feeling, like sexual feeling, is in some sense private — but it also is so much a part of us that it is unreasonable and bigoted to ask us to conceal it entirely when we come into the public square."
For his eye-opening thesis and excellent prose, Hugo Schwyzer is our BlogHer Voice of the Week.
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