A silly analogy about face veils

One of the arguments in favor of face-coverings (usually worn by muslim women) is that it is a response to the inherent sexism and obsession with appearance in most societies. By covering their face and body, it forces others - primarily men, of course - to consider them not as a woman who looks a certain way, but as an individual with ideas and value beyond what they look like. This is backed with evidence from studies which reveal that more attractive people are generally treated better.

In those strange, groggy moments of first awakening, when you're half asleep and half awake, I came up with an analogy to demonstrate why this is an inappropriate response.

Say you have a cat. Occasionally cats have accidents - maybe the cat was sick, got a bladder infection. Maybe the cat was just pissed off that you won't give it extra wet food and it peed on your favorite rug out of spite. Whatever. You have a cat, and your cat has just pissed on your expensive rug.

What do you do? Something out of your control happened that negatively impacted you. Say your response is to scold the cat and put a towel over the pee-spot and light some incense. Your thought process is, "now no one knows that a cat pissed on the rug because you covered it up." But the problem is - the cat piss is still there. People can smell it and they wonder why there's a towel on your floor that no one is allowed to move. When someone moves the towel to see what's there and nearly faints from the stench of festering cat pee, you tell them they shouldn't have moved the towel. That moving the towel was out of line and its their fault they got a noseful of putrid urine.

But your friends now start to think you're more than a bit crazy. They can tell the problem is getting worse, despite your efforts to cover up the pee. It's soaked through to the floor now, and has permanently stained your carpet. Your home now reeks of incense and cat urine. Your cat is attracted to the place it peed the first time, so it starts habitually peeing on your rug. That's what cats do. Now you have several spots of pee, all covered with towels, all reeking and staining your rug. There is no way you can clean any of it up now. You decide to sell the cat, finally, in the hopes that the problem doesn't get any worse.

Your friends start to think that it's your fault the problem has gotten worse. They've all had cats, you see. They know that sometimes, cats pee on rugs. But when their cats pee on rugs, they do their best to clean it up. They get down with a scrub brush and as many chemicals and natural fixes they can get their hands on. They recruit others to help them, to give advice or lend a hand. They neutralize the ammonia, scrub every fiber of the carpet, keep working until all the pee is gone. It doesn't always work - sometimes a stain or slight smell is left - but their efforts clearly improved the situation. They didn't have to forcefully get rid of their cat or let the problem get worse. They confronted it, and took care of it.

Let's run back and identify the things here, shall we?

Your cat is the concept of beauty and individuality. It's a good thing, most of the time. Sometimes it leads to bad things - such as an individual woman being treated differently because of how she looks. This kind of sexism or special treatment is the cat piss. It happens to almost everyone and to every culture. But the response is not to take this problem and cover it up - because in the end, that makes it worse. We can see in many muslim countries that the women become slaves to modesty. They can't "clean up the cat piss" even if they wanted to. They throw away the concepts of individuality and beauty in the hopes that their problem doesn't get any worse. The burden of how they are treated is now on their shoulders, instead of on the shoulders of the sexist men.

The correct way is to fight it - through legislation, through media, through challenging the social norms. We fight the idea that someone is only worth something if they look a certain way. We don't try to cover them up to hide how they look, but instead challenge the root idea that appearance matters. This way, when something happens and someone is treated badly, the burden isn't on them - people can't say "well she should have been wearing her veil." We place the burden on the perpetrator.

And that is how burqas are like towels over cat piss.

6 things about

A silly analogy about face veils
  1. I shouldn't have laughed as hard as I did, but that is a pretty kick ass way of describing it.

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  2. Haha, I'm glad I got a giggle out of it.

    Next time face veils come up in conversation I'm going to start talking about cat piss and see if anyone gets it.

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  3. Love it, I was laughing probably a little bit too hard to be appropriate.

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  4. Hey I was wondering if you know that Islam does not dictate a woman to cover her face. That part comes from the culture not the religion. The Hijab is what Muslim women are supposed to wear, which is just covering the head.
    Covering the face is called Niqab.
    And the loose garment that some Muslim women wear is the Burqa.
    It's important to know the difference.
    Islam doesn't tell it's female followers to cover their faces. It just tells them to be modest in their dressing and not attract unpleasant attention.

    And I like your cat analogy and agree that hiding something from view is not the answer to solving the problem. (: That is why I'm not a huge supporter of Niqab.

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  5. Yea, I did know that there weren't any specific instructions on what dressing modestly is, but it doesn't really matter if it's religiously or socially dictated, the level of influence is about the same.

    Not too long ago I looked up all the proper names of the various veils and other garments, but I find it easier to specify "head scarves", "face veils" and "body coverings," mostly because these things exist in other cultures and go by different names. While Islam is the most visible culture that uses them, it's not the only one!

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  6. Spot on. I always found this argument unsatisfactory, but I could never articulate why, or how, so I could never come up with a good enough counter-argument.

    As an aside; the reason they cover their faces in some countries IS to do with female modesty in any case. I think the entire concept is fucked up, and just a way to shift blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

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