I am seeing a lot of anxiety provoking posts about European ( subtext white) women being vulnerable to rapes perpetrated by “refugees”, or other perceived attacks on women’s rights from migrant , refugee or simply Muslim communities. Sweden is a particular focus and it seems to be driven by a (wilful?) misinterpretation of how Sweden collates its data. Don’t take my word for it. Here is some detailed research not something you will read in the Daily Mail. Is Sweden really the rape capital of the world?
Often this is followed by a seemingly innocuous plea that immigrants usually as “they” must abide by the laws and values of the “host” country. So what does that mean? It does warrant some unpacking when the expression of concern, about the treatment of women, is contextualised to the refugee crisis or conceived of as solely a Muslim/ Islamic or Asian problem.
As a feminist who went to school in Dewsbury ,with its large Muslim population, I am familiar with the deployment of feminism as a cloak ,conscious or otherwise, for racism. I have never met so many men who discover they are a feminist at the point they “identify” Muslim oppression of women. The same commentators do not usually have a history of concern about the violation of women’s rights.
So let us just look at the history of some of “our” laws and culture.
Whilst France is banning the Burkini you don’t hear much about a law on its statute books banning Parisian women from wearing trousers. This passed during the French Revolution..(that “fraternity” really meant to exclude “sisterhood”) 200 years later it was still on the statute books.
Research on the criminal status of rape within marriage in western/ European countries is quite illuminating :
It was still not a criminal offence,in some European countries, in this century. Conviction rates suggest we are still not clear about a woman’s right to her own body within marriage. Latest Archers storyline is interesting on this: the internalised notion that women are property within marriage makes the crime hard to see, even by the victim.
Reclaim the night walks emerged, in Leeds, in response to police advice that women should live under self-imposed curfew during the murderous rampage of Peter Sutcliffe. His victims were divided into the “innocent” and “prostitutes” thus erasing the latter category’s humanity and implicating them as “guilty” in their own deaths.
Slut Walks emerged, in Canada, as female students were told they needed to police their dress and drinking to avoid being sexually assaulted. This during an epidemic of campus rapes. Again this feeds into the “asking for it” narrative. Another reason for the woeful statistics on both rape convictions and sentencing
The “page three” phenomenon put women’s breasts on display as “sexual sweetmeats” in “family” newspapers. Yet, it seems, rarely a day goes by without a woman who is breastfeeding being asked to cover up. We are both enjoined to display but also punished for not covering up.
You may be aware of the “Free the Nipple ” campaign. It seeks to remove the “stigma” associated with its exposure and attack dress codes that demand we cover up. This requirement to cover the nipple is cultural since there are communities that do not require it and bare breasted women are the norm. Now imagine for one moment that the movement was successful and it became accepted practice in the UK? Perhaps we legislate for it to prevent some women being forced to cover up. I would not judge any woman for embracing this new “freedom” but I , personally, would not be able to transcend the values inculcated in me. I could not do it.
So let us go back to the issue of the woman in the Burkini who was asked to remove it, on a beach, by the police. Picture me being asked to remove my bikini top because I am not in compliance with the new “free the nipple” edict. Does not look very liberating seen from that perspective does it? It really begins to look as if it is beyond our wit to have a debate about the policing of women’s bodies that does not end with yet more policing.
So it seems to me that a movement to rebel against the wearing of the veil, hijab etc must be allowed to emerge from within the community. Imposition from “outside” looks imperialist, racist and it backfires. The spectacle of the likes of Kelvin McKenzie denying a journalists right to report on a seeming jihadi inspired attack , because she was wearing a hijab ,was unedifying
This post is not about accepting cultural practices which oppress women. It is not intended to accept everything that is justified by, often, spurious religious claims. It is just to ask for a bit of reflection when you see a claim that links only ONE religious, or ethnic group, to the repression of women’s rights. Any religious or cultural practice which has a negative impact on women should be challenged. So too should those using feminism as a means to stoke racial tensions.
For some reading on this I highly recommend Edwy Plenel: For the Muslims. Islamophobia in France. It reprises Emile Zola’s brave intervention in the Dreyfus affair in the 19th century (For the Jews). Seems we have to be ever vigilant.