So what do you say to women who say they are discriminated against in a society that doesn’t want them to cover themselves from head to toe according to certain Islamic codes? The same religious codes that indicate a fear of the female body, including the female face. Here is an instance where women are their own worst enemies. They’ve started a TV News station in Egypt so they can broadcast current events fully veiled in what is called the niquab.
I heard an interview on NPR/BBC News with one of the ladies involved and when asked why they just didn’t go on radio the justification was that they needed to be seen–but not seen because they are covered in head to toe cloth. In other words they feel they must make a statement by hiding themselves under the niquab. In this same interview the woman said they would be doing demonstrations of cosmetics on the TV channel–with women fully veiled!
Here’s the actual statement being made by wearing the niquab as a female news anchor: you’re a joke.
TV News is a visual medium and we watch TV in general to see faces. We read all sorts of facial cues, find delight as well as distaste in expressions and look for trust in certain anchors by their mannerisms. We certainly may be fooled since any news should be examined for its own merits, but there’s a reason we watch the news versus reading or listening to it. In addition, news shows us women wearing Western dress, Eastern dress and other cultures (are there going to be big censor bars over all women who aren’t wearing the niquab? How disrespectful is that to women of other cultures?). Putting on a news broadcast in veiled garb makes this production into a laughable joke. It’s almost the polar opposite of Naked News which is also a joke, though an entertaining one, where women strip while reading the news and completely expose themselves.
Here’s another reason why this is stupid–because the niquab is stupid! I don’t care if it is religiously based, it’s fear of the female body and it looks damn uncomfortable. Women shouldn’t have to hide themselves. There are plenty of issues needing to be addressed with aggressive men, but even showing the eyes of a woman means a man can fantasize, our imaginations are like x-ray vision. The question for society is how do we control what may be normal: evolved urges for men to make sexual advances. There’s a time and place for it and there are also rules– “No means no,” for example. Unlike Christianity or Islam, as an atheist I believe a woman should be able to walk down the street naked and not have to fear being raped. Certainly she understands she’ll draw attention to herself, but why should there be any justification for her being attacked or grabbed simply because she’s nude? Men can lust after her, go home and make a deposit into a tissue, etc, but they’re not allowed to force her to have sex. We are beyond that, or rather we need to be beyond that.
On an article on Yahoo News (Reuters) an anchor for this new news station is quoted as saying, “It’s unfair to deal with veiled women as a standard religious housewife. No, she can be a doctor, a professor and an engineer.” Um, no she can’t dressed like that. Obviously, Muslim female doctors can take on an exclusively female clientele, but they would remove the garb for other females (I would hope?). As an engineer she could also remove the garb as drafting and computer-related activities don’t include a need to be in front of men. As for a professor, she could exclusively teach female college students. For TV, no, the rationale doesn’t extend to where anyone can watch and a visual medium that was built upon seeing “faces.” To be taken seriously as a TV journalist you need to show who you are. You need to be a personality, not a religiously kept pet of patriarchal Islam.
I am all for freedom of religion, in private or public discourse, but when it comes to your job there are times when you can’t have your religion accommodated. TV News is one of them when it comes to dressing for the position. Egypt is embarking on new freedoms and unless “niquab news” is fully supported by donations (according to the BBC interview, a man is currently funding the venture–surprise, surprise) it will never be able to compete with other Egyptian broadcasts and will fail. No one is saying that women have to be indecent (a subjective term) on a news broadcast, but full garb is really just an exposure of one ridiculous aspect of Islam taken to the extreme.