The Headscarf Controversy


There is a contrasting perception of headscarves, where many in the West are quick to assume any feature-hiding attire is designed to suffocate identity and stifle women’s rights. This quick judgement led the country of France to ban face-covering in 2010, colloquially called “the burqa ban,” and this law has been heavily criticized and is viewed as widely controversial, with one activist calling it “an attack on freedom.”

This conflict arises from the increased tensions, and mostly just the misunderstandings associated with a clash of different people. With Muslim immigration on the rise, specifically now with the spike of Syrian refugees, immigrants are put in the situation of trying to adjust to a new place without entirely assimilating and losing their culture. But Western people don’t understand their culture, and that scares them. Extremism associated with their culture or religion can spark overgeneralizations, which leads to discrimination. A woman was not given a job at Abercrombie because the company mistook her headscarf for a “fashion statement” and believed it violated the dress code of “no headwear at all.”  The girl sued, and eventually won her case in the Supreme Court, 8-1. Justice Scalia said that “the company’s decision not to hire her was motivated by a desire to avoid accommodating her religious practice.” It was ruled as employment discrimination.

“This [decision] is really easy … Title VII forbids adverse employment decisions made with a forbidden motive, whether this motive derives from actual knowledge, a well-founded suspicion or merely a hunch … An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.” – Justice Antonin Scalia, majority opinion


Caroline Fourest argues intensely against headscarves, seeing them as anti-feminist and a force of misogyny. But as oppressive as it is to tell a woman she has to wear a hijab, it is equivalently oppressive to tell a woman she is not allowed to wear a hijab. Ironically, Fourest founded a French journal called ProChoix (Pro-Choice), but does not support the Muslim women’s right to choose to wear a headscarf or burqa.

On the eve of the French headscarf ban, as illustrated in “Politics of the Veil,” feminist political scientist Janine Mossuz-Lavau wrote an appeal against the law. She said that though she believed the veil designated a woman as a “source of sin” and a “potential whore,” she believed the only way to bring about sexual freedom and liberation was to allow women in headscarves to be educated. According to a study she had done in 2000-2001, Mossuz-Lavau found that the only Muslim women she interviewed that had “transgressed [Islamic’ norms and who had sexual relations before marriage were students and managers with advanced degrees.” Therefore, the crux of her argument calls that education is the key to liberation.

When Muslims immigrate to the West, it’s not like they’re on Rumspringa. Many have been forced out of their homes or driven out by an oppressive and dangerous group like ISIS. Others have beens settled in the West for generations but still treated like outsiders. A mass Islamophobia has formed out of the public fear in the wake of terror, and this is sparked the unfair treatment of and discrimination against innocent persons around the world. For us to truly help women and attempt to disable the patriarchy, as Fourest so desperately yearns for, we must not judge other cultures but try to understand them.



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