On Thursday, Laurence Rossignol compared Muslim women who wear the headscarf to the “American negroes” who supported slavery. The French Minister for Women’s Rights’ statement was followed not long after by a similar claim by fashion designer and partner at Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Berge. “We must teach (Muslim) women to revolt, to take their clothes off, to learn to live like most of the women in the rest of the world,” he said, as a way of denunciating hijab-friendly clothing lines recently released by companies such as H&M and Dolce & Gabbana.
So I began to think. How could two educated and established public figures be so grossly incorrect about the second greatest religion in the world, over 5 million of whose adherents live in their own country?
Rossignol, ironically the founder of the SOS Racisme organization, works to “fight against discrimination and racism in France”. Yves Saint Laurent prides itself in the strides it has taken in the fashion industry, from introducing tuxedoes for women to incorporating the signatures of multiple cultures in its clothing lines.
In 2014, Berge’s philanthropic foundation hosted an exhibition in appreciation of the Moroccan culture that both Berge and Laurent were enthralled by. The exhibit, called The Berber Women of Morocco, flaunted loose, colorful clothing and long veils that covered everything except the face.
In 1959, the company received recognition for designing the Empress of Iran Farah Diba’s wedding gown. Not surprisingly, it was full sleeved, high-necked, and veiled, leaving only the face uncovered. Historically, the bridal veil has been a sign of modesty and source of reverence.
But ignorance has sunken its teeth so deeply into the 21st century that not only do controversial politicians brazenly spew unfounded claims, but so do those civil servants who proudly call themselves advocates of justice and progress. In order to validate her concern for the limited freedom of Muslim women which would be otherwise invalid, Rossignol argued,
Tell me, what more will you say and do to feed your superiority complex?
Does our fearless political statement and independent thought that swims against the tide of “most of the women in the rest of the world” threaten your distorted perception of the female body that is so entrenched in the rotting culture of sexualization and objectification?
If your understanding of my freedom is having to take off my clothes for you, then I neither want to be liberated nor beautified. I will not be reduced to your standards of worth because I refuse to allow my strength and validity as a woman be defined by your objectification of my body. Do not attempt to strip me of my dignity just because you cannot find your own. I am more liberated and independent than your provincial and enslaved standards of beauty and freedom will ever be.