For some time I have been following the global debate over whether governments of Western countries can and should forbid Muslim women from wearing various types of hijab, a head covering worn for religious purposes. Countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands have banned the wearing of hijab that covers the face (niqab and burqa) and it’s a topic that has been hotly debated in the United States.
The reasons that governments have used for outlawing hijab range from the need to keep varying aspects of their country secular, to the need to be able to identify individuals clearly for security purposes, to the belief that some or all types of hijab are oppressive to women. Personally, I have found myself vacillating from one point of view to another as the political climate in the Western world has become increasingly xenophobic and polarized.
I wanted to understand this issue in more depth and find out what people on all sides of the debate were saying so I started doing research. For me that is a combination of googling, reading articles and interviews, sketching, watching videos which ultimately turned into my making a painting. I was googling and reading during the same time period that the painting was getting underway so my thinking evolved somewhat as the painting went on. I read first hand accounts by Muslim women who love their niquabs and burqas as well as women who hated them. I read the account of a Catholic nun who shared the history of outlawing and allowing the habit and her view that, given the choice (rather than being compelled,) women, or their descendants, would eventually choose to give up the veil at a time when they felt comfortable to do so. I read articles criticizing the comparison of the habit to the hijab and articles comparing forcing women to de-veil to forcing women to go topless. I read the history of countries that have compelled women to wear a veil as well as those who have outlawed it. I also read allll the comments. After awhile I had the feeling I was sitting in the midst of a whirlwind of swirling opinions and battle lines that had been drawn around, and on, women’s bodies.
As a feminist I cannot deny that the idea of women being compelled by their families and religious communities to wear restrictive clothing in order to be pious, modest or acceptable grates on me. But at the same time that it seems oppressive and intense for families and religious leaders to be telling women to wear more clothing it feels equally oppressive and intense for governments to be telling women to wear less clothing. Ultimately I just believe that no religious leader, husband or government should tell an adult woman how much clothing to wear. It should always just be her decision to cover herself head to toe or to wear nothing at all. Yes there are ramifications for all types of dress but as an adult woman, she can deal with them. Putting this into practice is easier said than done, I know.
I chose to cut and paste some of the many various points of view I came across into this painting, which I am calling “The Veil: An International Debate.” My goal was not to put forth a specific opinion in this painting but rather to convey the debate as a whole. I chose to mix up the different voices to try and give a sense of both the numerous points of view on this issue as well as the sense of overwhelm I felt digging deeper into it.
What do you think of this issue or this painting? Leave a comment or send me a message to let me know!