Sunday, October 05, 2014

Sunday Essay – the niqab, Cory Benardi and questions of feminism

The on again off again ban on wearing a burqa in Australia’s Parliament House has, rightly, drawn a degree of ridicule. It wasn’t quite a ban in the end, more a placement of such wearers who had passed the normal security checks on entry to a glassed in portion overlooking the chambers more normally occupied by school children.

I actually have a degree of sympathy with Mr Abbott’s earlier comment where he expressed discomfort with the outfit on the basis that he found it fairly confronting. While the niqab is more commonly worn in areas in which I live and work, the effect is the same. I don’t know where to look! I want to stare, but know that I shouldn’t. However, that has nothing to do with security, simply curiosity and a degree of embarrassment. If someone has passed security to enter Parliament, that should be the end of the matter.

For those who haven’t heard of him, Senator Cory Bernardi is a Liberal Senator from South Australia. In a tweet after the recent terrorism raids, Senator Bernadi wrote: Note burqa wearers in some of the houses raided this morning? This shroud of oppression and flag of fundamentalism is not right in Aust. To Senator Bernadi, the Burqa is reportedly a "symbol of female oppression and Islamic culture", carries security and identification risks and is "un-Australian".

I am no longer a feminist, something I had been (if not under that title) since at least my early twenties. This included reading and understanding Betty Friedan’s Femine Mystique a few years after its publication. I grew up in a world of strong women, if usually still in within traditional roles. To a degree I both struggled with and welcomed the changing perceptions of women’s roles over the first decades of my working life. Then came fundamental disillusionment,

That change is another story. For the present, I find myself in agreement with my feminist friends that Senator Benardi’s comments on the burqa as a symbol of female oppression is deeply hypocritical. I am sure that Senator Bernadi does not see it that way. He strikes me as an honest man with deeply held views. But his other views strike, or seem to strike, at the questions of women’s choice. How can you say that the burqa is a symbol of oppression when you wish women to adopt particular views or conform to particular standards?

I may be wrong in all this. For example, Senator Bernadi might, perhaps would, argue that he is applying general views and rules that apply to all. Yet the application of those rules would seem to have gender specific applications. How, then, is he different from Muslim fundamentalists beyond a question of degree?


Evan said...

Cory against fundamentalism, my my. Now there's a headline.

I have an idea that while gender is certainly an issue that the prejudice in favour of the public and against the private is the bigger story. Men entering previously female dominated areas of employment hasn't lead to an increase in their prestige or pay rates. Which would be the case if gender was decisive. What do you think Jim?

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I'd imagine old Cory doesn't find men in mediaeval dress (priests and the like) to be confronting and fundamentalist and symbols of oppression.

This seems to me to be simply grandstanding at an easy target. (How many women clad in these garments actually go to Parliament House? Not many I should think.)

And meanwhile Ebola spreads...


Jim Belshaw said...

It is a nice headline, Evan!

You raise an interesting point in regard to the pay and occupation question. I think that's it's correct that the entry of men into traditional female occupations hasn't affected pay structures in those occupations. However, there is another issue that puzzles me, and that's the continued importance of female dominated areas of work.

Why are certain areas still dominated by women or, for that matter, men? I can understand it in some cases, but there seems to be more in play than the normal discussion would allow. I actually work at the moment in a female dominant area. There hasn't been a male appointment in several years.

I hasten to add that I am not suggesting sexism, but I don't fully understand the dynamics involved in regard to both applicants (most are women) and selection choice.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, Sue. As you say, and Ebola spreads.

I don't actually understand Senator Bernadi. His way of thinking is just to alien for me to comprehend. Wonder what his wife thins?!

Evan said...

Hi Jim, I think part of the story of recent history is the increasing role of money in our private lives and the outsourcing of the private (eating in cafes, buying fast food, domestic gardening and cleaning) - the 'woman's world'.

As to Cory, hang out withe some conservative right-wing Catholics (say a steady course of reading Chris Pearson - antacids close by) and you could probably feel your way into his world. (I don't know if he's Catholic but it's that kind of thing).

It's a stance of guardianship legitimated by 'nature' ('natural law') in the jargon; which allows a good deal of real politik in the strategies (strangely enough I think).

Bill Pilgram said...

Jim - Having sat on many interview panels for the public service (often as the male independent) it was fairly obvious from the outset that women prefer to select women for jobs. My experience on male dominated panels was that when it came to selection between candidates it was a coin toss between male and female. And I noticed that men were much more awkward in interview panels where the majority were women. In so much as they were trying to be gender neutral in their answers often to the detriment of what they were trying to say. Also I felt that women connected much better with female applicants. This is not to say that the women were not selected on the grounds of merit but in an interview situation impressions play a big part in recommendations. My experience is that as more women rise through the ranks there are more interviews predominately conducted by females.

John Stitch said...

The government has a lot invested in knowing where we are and what we are doing at anytime. Someone said that this is the first generation for which there is no privacy. In view of this banning the Burqua makes a lot of sense.

Jim Belshaw said...

One of the things that interested me as an historian, Evan, was the way that labour saving devices helped give women more choices. I guess that outsourcing the private is an extension of that. Mind you, I miss the collective dinners one used to have.

You may be right in your last sentence. Hadn't thought of that in quite that way.

JS, that's somewhat depressing. We ban the burqa to preserve our absence of privacy!

Bill, I think that's a fair summary that fits with my own experience.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please tell me what the glassed in area is supposed to achieve or prevent?


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Austin. That's a good question. I don't actually know! Maybe someone else does?