Boobs, Burkas, Belgium, and B.S.

In which I clear up a few things from my Boobquake video, and let Iranians know that they shouldn’t be so ashamed of their cleric. Oh, and then I get angry at Belgium.

Boobquake video:

Suntanned Iranian women to be arrested

Belgian burka ban

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. I agree with Rebecca’s view of the situation in Belgium. Also, if you check the news link, there is a penalty if you get caught:

    Those who break the law could face a fine of 15-25 euros (£13-£27) or a seven-day jail sentence.

    Seven-day jail sentence!!? Wot!!? You mean they want to throw women in jail for seven days for wearing something that her religion/husband is imposing on her? That hardly seems fair at all!!

  2. Yep. Banning burkas will only prevent women who do wear them to just… avoid leaving the house. Banned or not, either way it’s just powerful men telling women what they can and can’t wear, for reasons that have very little to do with what the women themselves want.
    I like that you are calling Belgium out. And I really like your glasses in the second video. They remind me of Ira Glass’ glasses.

  3. While I appreciate that local laws are not always enforced by police, I live in the commonwealth of Virginia, USA. Part of the laws of our commonwealth read:

    § 18.2-422. Prohibition of wearing of masks in certain places; exceptions.

    It shall be unlawful for any person over sixteen years of age while wearing any mask, hood or other device whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to be or appear in any public place, or upon any private property in this Commonwealth without first having obtained from the owner or tenant thereof consent to do so in writing. However, the provisions of this section shall not apply to persons (i) wearing traditional holiday costumes; (ii) engaged in professions, trades, employment or other activities and wearing protective masks which are deemed necessary for the physical safety of the wearer or other persons; (iii) engaged in any bona fide theatrical production or masquerade ball; or (iv) wearing a mask, hood or other device for bona fide medical reasons upon the advice of a licensed physician or osteopath and carrying on his person an affidavit from the physician or osteopath specifying the medical necessity for wearing the device and the date on which the wearing of the device will no longer be necessary and providing a brief description of the device. The violation of any provisions of this section shall constitute a Class 6 felony.

    Does this apply to burqa? It seems so to me.

    What about central London, well-known for wide video surveillance of people going about their lawful business (as well as some wrong-doers)?

    Do you agree that law-breaking anarchists at G-8, G-20, G-whatever meetings should be protected against identification because it is ok to wear bandannas around one’s face when committing crimes?

    No? Belgian Burqa-wearing women are not committing crimes? What about Belgian criminals wearing face coverings? That is ok?

    There are grey areas here. It is not as black and white as Rebecca says. What if I want to have all of my dealings with the public government hidden by a face-covering veil and claim religious reasons? This is preferential treatment for a supposed religious reason.

    I say that I am a McR-ianastic person and don’t think that the U.S. government has any right to my SSN, which is of religious significance to McR-anists.

  4. I’ll admit that I was a bit on the fence about the ban on burkas until I watched your video, but I can’t think of any excuse for dictating what women are allowed to wear. We should all heap scorn on those “miserable, fat Belgian bastards.”

  5. @Finn McR: I am very much against the proliferation of CCTV cameras around London (and elsewhere!) as I do think they impinge upon personal freedom and offer little to no actual safety in return.

    I also believe that criminals should be charged with concealing their identity. And no, women wearing burkas are not committing crimes.

    Finally, I also believe that if any private business bans face coverings for legitimate safety concerns, that should apply to burkas as well.

  6. I agree with you completely regarding the anti-Burka law in Belgium – it is nothing more than xenophobia and, as you point out, sexism. Or rather, it is a completely misguided attempt to address the real problem of increasing religious & political radicalisation and government encroachment on civil rights in the name of security.

    Clearly every country needs to vigilantly ensure that religion doesn’t have undue influence or say in a secular society, and a lot of problems are evidenced in Europe because of the influx of a great many not so liberal Muslims who want to continue their traditional, human-rights violating ways in non Muslim countries. It is however unfortunate that Belgium, along with other countries, can’t see the difference guaranteeing women the right to choose their own mode of dress, and addressing real problems like child brides, honour killings, and threats of death for those that “insult” some long dead murdering child rapist.

  7. I don’t approve of the ban on burqa’s either. It’s pointless and only makes us seem intolerant.

    On the other hand, the Belgian law has always been very specific about not being allowed to conceal your identity. Similar to @Finn McR‘s extract of Virginian law.
    Either Burqa’s violate this, or they don’t. I don’t see a need to add a separate law just for that purpose, because that turns it into persecution.

    There’s also been a lot of commotion the last few years about some schools banning headscarves. That too seems to be specifically targeting young muslim women. Perhaps it is, although I wasn’t allowed to wear a hat in class either (although I could wear it on the playground), and I went to first grade in 1981, so this (unofficial?) “no headcovering” rule has been around for a while. The same thing goes for offensive T-shirts or other garments. None of these restrictions are new. Some people just don’t feel like making exceptions on religious grounds. You have to, of course, because school is mandatory and apparently these girls aren’t allowed to take off their scarves.

    I guess it all boils down to the two sides of this coin.
    On the one hand, there’s the “native” population who see the Muslim immigrants slowly eroding many of the basic rules (in their eyes, using their religion as an excuse).
    On the other hand, there’s the Muslim’s who are rightfully complaining about their freedom being restricted.

    Who’s right and who’s wrong often comes down to a matter of opinion: how much do you feel the new folks should just shut up and either follow the existing rules or leave.

    Sadly that’s a sentiment that grows stronger every year. I think both sides will need to be tolerant and make compromises, or this will never end. Adding new rules just to screw with the new people is definitely not helping.

  8. I’m a bit confused about this whole idea of the Burqa being outlawed. I originally thought it was bad because it impinged on women’s rights. Then I heard the Q&A part of Taslima Nasrin’s speech at the Global Atheist’s Convention. She said that she agreed with the ban because the only women who would want to wear it were women who believed they should only be considered as sex objects (ie, men can’t control their sexual urges, so women should have to cover up), so if they wanted to be treated as just property or sex objects they were already forgoing their rights. (I’m paraphrasing here, but I think this was the thrust of her argument).
    What do you think about that idea?

  9. @Nunjafush: Personally I find that stance completely disrespectful of women. Let’s say that the starting assumption is true, and all women who wear burqas do so because they think women should only be considered sex objects (untrue, since the actual reason is because men supposedly can’t control their desires, not that a woman can only be the object of a desire) – that’s a woman’s right. It is every woman’s right to believe whatever stupid bullshit she wants to believe, and believing in stupid bullshit that hurts no one but herself does not mean a woman should be stripped of her rights.

    Plus, where is the evidence that forcing a woman to not wear a burqa or else never leave the house actually helps anyone? If we outlawed yarmulkes, would we “cure” the misogynistic beliefs of Orthodox Jews? If we outlawed bikinis, would we stop the Western objectification of women?

  10. I’ve got no idea if there is evidence that forcing a woman NOT to wear a burqa is beneficial but equally so, I’ve got no idea if there is anything more than anecdote to say that wearing them is a bad idea, either.
    But, I guess this is the confusing part for me. On the one hand, it’s argued that burqas are a ridiculous religious requirement that just perpetuate the servitude of women so they shouldn’t wear them. On the other hand it is argued that women should be able to choose what they want to wear, so they can wear them if they want to. And the big difference here is that one gives them a choice and the other doesn’t. In some countries they don’t get to choose NOT TO wear a burqa, in Belgium, they don’t get to choose TO wear a burqa and in other countries such as the US and Australia (where I am), they can choose to wear it or not. So Muslim women in US and Australia have a choice, right? But are they really choosing to wear it or are they essentially bullied or even brain-washed into wearing it?
    It just seems like slavery to me; the governments who impose burqas are pro-slavery and governments like Belgium are anti-slavery whereas the US and Australia are ambivalent about the whole thing. They effectively say, if you’ve managed to get somebody to agree to being a slave, then good for you, but we’re not going to come out and promote it to the rest of the population.
    That just seems really ironic because I know how much the US, in particular, hates slavery.
    The only real difference here is that these women are choosing to be slaves. Surely there were some slaves who wanted to stay slaves when they were first emancipated because they hadn’t known any other way to live but were they allowed to carry on as slaves?

  11. I can’t see a ban on burqas having a positive effect. The thing is, the middle east (as far as secularization and social issues go) is about 100-200 years behind us. Of course there’s going to be tension when there’s massive immigration to a more modern country, but that’s the sort of thing that will sort itself out in a few generations. Belgium is not going to turn into Baghdad, the immigrants (or their children, or their children’s children) will become more westernized, stripping away (natch) the more violent and oppressive tennets of their religion for the benefits of the society they have chosen.

    Trying to enforce draconian rules of dress to combat draconian rules of dress just seems counter-productive.

  12. Oh come on. The bit about Belgium seems like a transparent post-hoc rationalization to try to make yourself feel better.
    Tell me, does your country allow men and women to walk around town nude? Has their stance on this matter ever struck you as offensive before?

  13. @sciliz: My town (London) does not allow that, no. And while I don’t personally find it offensive, I’m not sure that it’s necessarily the best policy.

    Your metaphor is pointless, though. Just because I don’t live in a country with a perfect amount of personal freedom does not mean that my country doesn’t enjoy a greater level of personal freedom than others.

  14. Of course it is possible to think of personal freedom as a gradient and not a binary. I’m not even stating you *don’t* live in a country with a greater degree of personal freedom than others. What I’m stating is, we’re all susceptible to jingoisitic imperialism we’re immersed in. A significant fraction of people in virtually all societies look down on “others” as lesser (it used to be transparent when they were all “heathens”- now, they are all just “oppressive freedom haters”). The point is, you *aren’t* looking rationally at your own society. You are building off the preexisting cultural memes- others are less free than us!- rather than doing the hard work of looking at different standards of morality and determining, empirically, if there is any logical basis for ANY notion of ‘modesty’. Hint: if you wear clothes for anything other than warmth, you are probably buying in to *some* notion of modesty. WHY???
    What is the point of being skeptical if you can’t turn it to the values and assumptions you take for granted? Those are the ones that are going to bias your thinking and screw you up. Being ‘skeptical’ of things you ‘already know’ don’t make any sense is pointless.

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