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Tangent: Muslim women have right to wear whatever

Kansas condones cover-up

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  • Maggie Lucas

A Muslim woman in Toronto is fighting for the right to wear her niqab in court when she testifies. She is appealing a lower court’s decision that she cannot.

There other places where Muslim women are being evicted into 2010 in the supposedly free world, being forbidden to wear a face covering to go to school, or enter public buildings. In April a Belgian court banned the wearing of burkas and niqabs in public. France has recently approved this kind of legislation. Quebec has introduced sweeping legislation that effectively bars Muslim women from receiving or delivering public services while wearing a niqab.

Backstory: My mother had a subscription to Ms magazine from issue one, July 1972. She had four daughters and no sons, so there was no division of child labour in her home. We lived in Ottawa; with embassies from around the world we would see women wearing a niqab or burka or tobe probably more often than say, folks in Halifax.

Any time she saw a woman dressed so, my mother began ranting and fuming about these women being subjugated, under their husbands’ thumbs, forced into submission, etc., etc.

I went along with her. Of course these women should be free to wear tie-dyed T-shirts and bell bottoms, the right I had as a citizen of the free world.

After I spent a year in Egypt, Sudan and the south of France, in 1974—75, I changed my mind.

In Egypt and Sudan I was often at gatherings where men and women were separated. At first I usually went with the men, a chance I had as an outsider. Later on I would go with the women, and it was in those female-only enclaves that I would most clearly see each woman as an individual: funny or grumpy or shy or opinionated—whatever.

The south of France did the most to change my mind. At the beaches of Nice, Cannes and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat most women were young and slim and topless. In all the cafes, women wore only tiny bikini bras and sarongs, or simply sat and scarfed down their Croque Madames and Ricards in their bikinis. It was what was done.

I sure didn’t. I come from a place where women do not sit in restaurants in their bikinis. I would be uncomfortable anywhere in a bikini. And topless? Please. I feel strongly that away from the beach, cottage or lawn mower, everybody should keep their shirts on.

No one agitated for me to assume a state of address I would be uncomfortable with, for whatever reason: religious, body image, habit. I would have felt like a skank, no matter if everyone else was doing it.

If you have spent your adult life wearing a shirt in public, you don’t want to go without one. If you have spent your adult life wearing a face covering in public, you don‘t want to go without one. Having your default sartorial splendor legislated away must so totally suck.

Kansas, herself
  • Maggie Lucas
  • Kansas, herself
It was just for a lark, and for just an afternoopn, but I have worn a burka. Worn it in public and worn it driving. Not in Sudan or Egypt—on Maynard Street in Halifax. Maggie Lucas, Halifax photographer and artist was curious about what it would be to wear a burka, and to photograph women in one, so she ordered one from Pakistan, and I had the chance to try. My glasses wouldn’t fit very well under the face grill. You couldn’t tell where I was looking. You couldn’t see one thing about me except maybe a vague idea of my height (and that would be if you knew how high my heels were). But you know what? I could see you.

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