She’s wearing lipstick, you know

Purves and the niqab again. I find I haven’t quite finished with that subject – I find I didn’t chew it over quite thorougly enough. I find that one small paragraph is peculiarly full of matter for contemplation. I find there is more to say.

One: she said it was ‘good to have the student speaking of “ghosts”, and good to have women who had worn the niqab saying it made them feel not only more devout but more private.’ But that’s ridiculous. You might as well say it was good to have the student saying torture is cruel and bad, and good to have other people saying it is kind and useful. Why would that be good? On Millian grounds, because arguments are stronger if they meet opposition? But that’s not what she says; she doesn’t say why; she just says it was a fun evening. It seems to be merely a matter of let a thousand flowers bloom, let a thousand opinions flourish, they’re all good, all interesting, all colourful. But that’s saying anything. If the things people say are in tension with each other, and they relate to actions and rules and laws, sometimes a choice will have to be made, so it’s not helpful to just beam fondly and say they’re all lovely.

Two: she ‘admitted’ a moment of discomfort about encountering a woman in a niqab. Why did she ‘admit’ it? That means she thought she did something at least slightly wrong in feeling discomfort. But why should she think that? Why should anyone? Why should there be guilt about feeling discomfort at seeing women with no faces? What’s not to feel discomfort about? Suppose we encountered someone crossing the road wearing a Tshirt slogan in huge neon letters: ‘Woman is man’s rib and born to serve him.’ Would we feel discomfort? Would we feel guilty and apologetic about the discomfort? I doubt it. If not, should we feel guilty about niqab-discomfort? I don’t think so.

Third: the biggest omission, the one that bugged me: the cheerful man’s ‘She can speak, you know!’ I should have noticed that. No, we don’t know! Of course we don’t know – how would we? She’s wearing this thing over her face that makes it impossible to know, isn’t she; that’s the point! For all we know the lower half of her face has been sheered away and she can no more speak than she can fly. Of course we don’t know. And the cheerful man is being completely ridiculous in pretending there is simply no possible reason to think a woman with a bag over her head might not react just like any other person in the street to a casaul uninvited remark from a stranger – in pretending she’s just perfectly routine and familiar and ordinary and commonplace and just like everyone else except for this one tiny detail that she’s dressed like Darth Vader. And in fact he’s being not only ridiculous but also disingenuous, because the point of the niqab is to ward off contact and conversation, not to invite it and not even to say that it’s difficult but possible – it’s just plain to prevent it. Get real, cheerful man. And then of course there’s the question that Purves should have asked, which is whether this mandate to say ‘Good morning!’ applies to men. But that would have taken her into territory that might cause ‘discomfort,’ so instead (apparently) she let cheerful man buffalo her into treating the revolting medieval nonsense as normal and healthy and fine. Sad.

14 Responses to “She’s wearing lipstick, you know”