Many news outlets are poking fun at an outdated 1799 France law that prohibits women from wearing pants, which has been overlooked and is technically still legal. France president Nicolas Sarkozy has asked the parliament to go through old French laws like this one and rework them as needed, and a bill has been submitted to repeal the ban on pants for women. This small, light-hearted milestone, however, comes on the heels of France's proposed ban on another type of dress- the face veil.
Several months ago, the French parliament proposed a bill that would partially ban any veil the covered the face, which includes the burqa, the cultural Islamic dress worn by women which either partially or completely covers their bodies. This bill was proposed after Sarkozy stated in June 2009 that burqas were "not welcome" in France and that the issue is one that deals with women's freedom and dignity.
France has a population of about five million Muslims, fewer than 2,000 of which wear the veils. The proposed bill would not force women to remove their veils, but they would be asked their names and addresses and then issued a warning and fine. The ban would also apply in public places like hospitals and schools, on public transport, and anyone who attempts to receive public services.
The ban on women wearing pants was an attempt for the French government to impose what they thought was best for women, and over two hundred years later, history seems to be repeating itself. This time around, France believes it is doing so for the sake of women, but it is a feminist plea in sheep's clothing. Creating a ban like this one is shortsighted, and if the parliament truly cared about the deeper issues behind other cultural modes of dress, they should tackle the causes of these women's supposed subservience rather than their effects. Muslim women who choose to dress with burqas should not be the ones to suffer under this new proposed law.
Many kinds of feminisms exist, and I believe that Western feminist ideas should not be imposed onto other cultures. Belgium has already recently enacted a ban on veils, and I only hope that France will see that their attempt at defining what a free woman looks like is the kind of antiquated practice that would have happened in, say, 1799.
Bottom Image via Rueters.com/Regis Duvignau