The latest controversy surrounds the woman who was reportedly told to remove her hajib in a Quebec courtroom last month -- by a female judge, for the record -- but it's another example of denying women's personal boundaries.
The court order that she remove this square of fabric so connected to her identity and religion and expose herself in the public sphere reminds me of the long history of the male gaze evident throughout the corridors of the world's most prestigious art museums. It is there in the countless images of nude women created by white heterosexual male artist-geniuses, for the perspective of an implied white, heterosexual male audience. It is the why for the Guerrilla Girls protest movement that began with women donning gorilla masks in 1985 and taking on the Museum of Modern Art's status quo.
When the male gaze is reversed -- when a woman can watch, unwatched -- it is at the very least disconcerting in this culture that values women for their appearance. Whether she is covered by a gorilla mask or a niqab, she induces a quiet horror for the status quo, sparking debate. Our society is hardly the voice of reason when it comes to female oppression; not when a woman in a niqab shopping at Whole Foods may incite more controversy than any number of women in the same aisle who've altered their bodies through toxin injections or the surgeon's scalpel.
The issue, whether we're talking priceless portraits or shifting demographic landscapes, is freedom of choice.
While our male-dominated courts and all levels of government wrestle with appropriate women's garments, three women tell it like it is from their point of view -- under the veil or in defiance of it -- on CBC Radio's The Current here.