The limits of force/choice discourses in discussing Muslim women's dress codes

Shakira Hussein

Abstract

As the question of Muslim women’s dress codes comes under intense media and political scrutiny, two competing discourses have emerged. The first of these discourses centres around the veil (in whatever form) as a symbol of patriarchal force. The second discourse has emerged largely in response to the first, and asserts that covering is an exercise in women’s choice and a symbol of female empowerment. This paper argues that neither of these discourses adequately describes the complex negotiations that Muslim women employ with regard to dress. I discuss the discourse of ‘force’ with regard to media imagery of Taliban era Afghanistan, and ‘choice’ with regard to contemporary Australia, grappling with the issue of how to challenge the representation of the Muslim women’s dress as a symbol of oppression without reinforcing its standing as a symbol of cultural loyalty.

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