Written by Crystal Byrd
Marine LePen is a front-running candidate for France’s Presidential office and has been criticized for her lack of international relationships as well has her party’s stance on immigration. She heads the National Front party in France recognized as far-right politically and her election would mark a distinct departure from the more liberal policies enacted in France’s recent past. In an effort to bolster her international street cred, her team scheduled a meeting with Lebanon’s grand mufti, which is the highest religious official in some Muslim countries. They were told in advance that LePen would be expected to wear a head covering in deference to Islamic tradition, but the candidate arrived no covering in sight. You can see in the video below where she is refused entry to the meeting.
This is in stark contrast to Sweden’s leaders who declared themselves the “first feminist government” and recently all donned hijabs, chadors, and long coats to gain entry to a meeting with Iranian President Rouhani earlier this month. They were immediately called out by Iranian women’s right activist Masih Alinejad, who was deeply disappointed that Sweden’s leaders were unwilling to stand with the women of Iran living under the mandatory covering rule.
The complexity of the subject cannot be brushed aside lightly, however, the two responses are a brilliant example of the mine field women leaders must face when attempting to work in the Middle East. It seems as though it usually boils down to the component of force. When women are forced to cover by a powerful theocratic state with the capacity for great violence, many feel oppressed. When they are encouraged by Westerners to drop the hijab and be “free”, they may not wish to toss aside their religious traditions and may instead choose to cover and vehemently defend their choice. The most important concept in the battle being choice.
We can see in the United States where Muslim women are given free reign to cover or not on the daily, that some women choose to dress modestly but without covering their hair, or they cover it gently, without concern that hair may be seen by others around the edges of the cover. Some American Muslim women choose to cover more traditionally, by wearing a niqab or burqa, which covers the face, hair, and/or body completely.
The female leaders who intend for their countries to do business or have relations in the Middle East, must decide if they will cover, and in a sense enforce the oppression of the women in those countries who must cover by law, or if they will risk losing relations altogether by their refusal. Do these leaders have a responsibility to their own countries or do they carry a responsibility for all women? Was Marine LePen brave for her refusal or was she using her position to make a political and cultural statement? If Sweden’s “first feminist government” was unwilling to stand in solidarity with feminist activists in Iran, do they have the moral high ground to insinuate that the Trump administration represents misogyny and patriarchy as has been suggested in this article by Fox News?
It seems as in so many cases that actual goals of feminism are not universally understood or even clear among outspoken activists for the cause. While feminists in the US are busy trying to teach everyone about intersectional feminism, feminists in Iran are busy fighting to show their hair and feminists in Saudi Arabia are fighting to drive. Perhaps there is some comedic value and even a grain of truth to the old stereotype of women who never know what they actually want…
*COVER PHOTO: France’s Marine Le Pen being offered a headscarf for a meeting with Lebanon’s grand mufti. (AAP)