Burkinis and the male gaze: a thinly veiled discussion

The French burkini ban is a completely ridiculous statement of prejudice and intolerance towards people who are different, in this case, Muslim women who choose to wear a bathing costume that also protects their modesty. It is a perfect recruiting sergeant for Islamic State who will make great capital from the idea that the West does not wish to accept Muslims and therefore it is important for Muslims to aim for a higher purpose, as it were. Part of the problem in this debate is that discussion on the wider role of the niqab or a headscarf among women in Islam is entirely removed.

The current focus is on persecution and repression at the hands of the French state, and rightly so. However, another level of this debate is the question of whether it is incumbent upon a Muslim woman to cover their heads altogether. While there are forms of misogyny and patriarchy in relation to dominant white men telling vulnerable minority women what not to wear, there is also the role of minority Muslim men who have a certain approach with regards to what their womenfolk should or should not wear that needs to be contested.

My own view on the matter is that whether or not there is a debate as to the requirements of Muslim women to wear the headscarf, I support the decision of a Muslim woman to do so. A liberal society that is secular and multicultural should be able to absorb these differences adequately. However, I also fundamentally support women who do not wish to wear a headscarf, whether because of a decision made on their own or as a result of external influences such as dominant male members of the family or the community. In short, no man should tell a woman what she can or cannot do, Muslim or otherwise.

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