Thursday, the Australian parliament declared that Muslim women wearing burqas, when visiting the parliament building, will now be required to sit inside enclosed glass galleries – for national security reasons, obviously. Australia’s prime minster has since asked parliament to “rethink” their position, but in the meantime, passionate people on both sides of the issue took to Twitter to weigh in. A common refrain in the discussion was that burqas were like any other type of religious garb – like habits, for instance, and hence the tweets.
What women and girls wear is a multilayered topic, even more so when those women and girls are part of a particular religious tradition. In these instances, we use a woman’s clothing to determine how devout she is, how virginal she is and – once she’s married – how maternal she is. Now, in Australia, a Muslim woman’s clothing is being used to determine how likely she is to be a terrorist.
In the secular arena, we’ve made some progress on this front; we’re at least having discussions about how what a woman is wearing is not an invitation to rape – and some people even seem to believe it. But when it comes to religious clothing, I think we’re slightly more myopic. Not all of us, certainly. But a lot of us.