Archives de Tag: Voile

A parallel investigation of the two figures of whores and niqabées reveals the current exclusionary dynamics embedded in the nation-building process as both veiled women and prostitutes function as symbolic signifiers of national difference within the Republic. They are construed as “bodies-boundaries” within the larger new frontiers of the French Republic.50
In doing so, the French state echoes larger European trends. As Jasbir Puar and Judith Butler argue,51 new configurations of sexuality, race, gender, nation, class, and ethnicity are realigning in relation to contemporary forces of nationalism. In this reconfiguration, some feminists and different political factions instrumentalize sexual freedoms to assert Western exceptionalism, to define the preconditions of citizenship, and to shape the image of the ahistorical “other” trapped in barbarian monstrosity and bound to remain untouched by modernity. Those evolutions also reveal what Didier Fassin and Dominique Memmi have described as “the greater and deeper targeting, by policies, of the private relation that an individual holds with his physical destiny, but also the growing concern for issues related to bodies, health, and life [and we could add sexuality] in the government of societies.”52
The analysis of the political handling of these two figures highlights the specific use that is made of French republicanism. Some republican feminists support politicians in asserting that whores and niqabées are oppressed and blind to their own oppression. What is striking is that this coalition of some feminist discourses with the current political views actually re-enacts and re- enforces a virile version of nationalism. As McClintock puts it, “all too often in male nationalisms, gender difference between women and men serves to symbolically define the limits of national difference and power between men. Excluded from direct action as national citizens, women are subsumed symbolically into the national body politics as its boundary and metaphoric limit…. Women are typically construed as the symbolic bearers of the nation, but are denied any direct relation to national agency.”53 In contemporary France, gender differences are again used to define national boundaries: the rhetoric of the oppression of women, supported by the republican values of equality, freedom, and dignity and mobilized by the state with the complicity of some feminists, serve to exclude “other” women from the “imagined community.” In short, this rhetoric of oppression is the moral grammar that justifies the denial of women’s agency and full citizenship, and their exclusion from the public sphere. According to this view the French female citizen has to embody a sexuality that is neither commoditized, nor tightly controlled by an institution like religion or patriarchy. Sexuality, which has become a central component of identity in postmodern societies, is no longer left to individual self-governance: by identifying and excluding two sexualized figures of female citizens, the state also prescribes a new regime of sexual normativities—shaping a sexual citizenship—through a rigid and contradictory injunction to sexual freedom. Those exclusionary processes mark the installation of a gendered regime of visibility that defines and disciplines women’s appearance in the public domain. Like during colonial times, politicians target women’s bodies as national territories whose surface and appearance must be compatible with a set of state-defined recommendations. However, as we have suggested, the complicities of a certain feminist discourse with the political power rhetorically produce “visual victims” only to promote a larger political agenda, enforcing a virile nationalism, prescribing new sexual normativities, and criminalizing immigrants and those living at the social margins.

Billaud, Julie; Castro, Julie, “Whores and Niqabées: The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism”, in:  French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2013 p. 97-98


Public interpretations of veiled women and prostitutes as inherently embedded in the sexual sphere, and therefore as bound to remain “private,”hidden in their homes for veiled women or in the bedroom for prostitutes, contradicts the fact that both figures appear in public. Prostitution has a long tradition of being understood ideologically rather than through the lived experiences that compose prostitutes’ social realities.42 The use of legal instru- ments to make prostitutes and veiled women disappear from public view ironically becomes a means to make their bodies conform to the stereotypes on which the state relies to justify their exclusion: it is because they are subservient and oppressed that they should be excluded from the public sphere. Yet, veiled women in France have joined universities and are making their way in public transport and in non sex-segregated swimming pools, wearing burkini. As for prostitutes, their presence in the streets highlights the possibility of making sex a commodity and the sex market a market in which (at least) some of them are able to act as “independent workers.” Arguments used to make them disappear from the public sphere, according to which veiled women and prostitutes would be under the control of men, do not match the social reality exemplified by their public presence.

Billaud, Julie; Castro, Julie, “Whores and Niqabées: The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism”, in:  French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2013 p. 93-94

A strong link appears between the handling of veiled women and that of prostitutes by the French state, as well as an emerging complicity of some secular feminists in accompanying this denial of agency. At an epistemological level, unveiling domination is part of every critical theory.37 We argue that what is happening in France is the translation of a certain kind of domination into a state dogma and its conversion into policy. In this process, a fringe of the feminist movement—which may be labelled as “orthodox secular”—is manipulated into the service of the new state doxa. Here we can see a dynamic similar to the one that manifests itself in what Jasbir Puar38 has identified as “homonationalism” in the United States: the deployment of certain narratives about the supposedly liberal openness of the West towards homosexuality serves to secure the West’s identity. This “moral grammar,” based on a perceived sexual oppression in Muslim countries, is mobilized in order to justify national and international interventions. Both cases exemplify the instrumentalization of certain feminist/queer discourses in order to serve a nationalist agenda that aims at others goals—namely, blaming and criminalizing the undesirable “others,” i.e., immigrants and the poor.

Billaud, Julie; Castro, Julie, “Whores and Niqabées: The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism”, in:  French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2013 p. 92

Those debates reveal a convergence in the political agenda of some secular or republican feminists and the current political class in power. At the heart of the discourses legitimizing state intervention in the lives of prostitutes and veiled women lie the issues of “liberté” (freedom) and “dignité” (dignity), in the French republican sense of these terms. Republican discourse considers veiled women to be oppressed by their culture and religion and perceives prostitutes as the victims of patriarchy and capitalism. In both cases, the political class has denied their capacity to be active agents in charge of their own lives. In spite of some attempts at broadening the spectrum of interpretations, their agency is automatically disqualified as “false consciousness” and blindness to their own oppression. The parliamentary report on the practice of full veiling released in January 2010 insists on the “servitude volontaire” (“voluntary enslavement”) of the women adopting such practices. In the same manner, parliamentary debates preceding the vote on the law on “sécurité intérieure” (internal security) of 2002 reaffirmed that prostitutes are to be considered primarily as victims whose activities are incompatible with human dignity.

Billaud, Julie; Castro, Julie, “Whores and Niqabées: The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism”, in:  French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2013, p. 91

Far from initiating a radical rupture with the past, recent developments can be read as a continuation of earlier colonial and national attempts at delineating the borders of the French territory and French society. Indeed, policies relating to both prostitution and veiling were important domains of state intervention in colonial Algeria. In his analysis of discourses articulated during the French colonial rule in Algeria, Bradford Vivian highlighted a concern with the need to preserve the unity of French territory through the assimilation of Algerian people and the removal of all distinctive signs (especially the veil) from the public domain.17 The public unveiling of Algerian women functioned as a symbolic reminder of the colonizers’ absolute superiority and sovereignty over the Algerian territory. According to Frantz Fanon: “Every new Algerian woman unveiled announced to the occupier an Algerian society whose systems of defense were in the process of dislocation, open and breached.”18 One way to exert domination was the sexual colonization of women, real or symbolic. Pointing to the prolific production of postcards showing unveiled Algerian women, Vivian underlines a mixture of exotic fascination and repulsion for Algerian women’s bodies escaping from the regulating gaze of the colonizer. Removing Algerian women’s veils, “the visible barrier to the establishment of French indivisibility,”19 became a central motive of the “civilizing mission.”20
Similarly, one of the first colonial moves in Algeria was to regulate prostitution. Christelle Taraud, in examining the implementation of regulationist policies in French North African colonies, shows how prostitution policies aimed also at colonizing indigenous women.21 Those policies relied on the legalization of a status, on the structuring of the “milieu” along the lines of class and race and on physical containment through the implementation of specialized and closed spaces. Those spaces had to be immediately accessible to the gaze of colonial authorities, as the father of French regulationism Parent- Duchâtelet had specified. By enclosing women and relegating them to the margins of colonial cities, legislators and administrators aimed at regulating contact not only between classes but also between races. In other words, while visual accessibility and control were also at the core of the regulationist project in metropolitan France, policies that aimed to regulate prostitution in the colonies also served an important function within the wider colonial project. Taraud also highlights that this margin of the colonial society—prostitution— made possible a real colonial encounter with all of its attendant conflicts and ambiguities. A double system of cultural references prevailed in the spaces devoted to prostitution, the one of the colonizers and the one of the colonized. The hybridization that took place was of course sexual, but also social, linguistic, aesthetic, and religious. Prostitutes were border-individuals, belonging to different communities (Jews, Muslims, Europeans) and embodying the existing links and hybridization processes between those communities. During the periods immediately preceding and succeeding the independence of North African French colonies, nationalist movements strived to make those spaces disappear. A virile version of universalist nationalism prevailed, firmly rejecting this counter-society that embodied the reality of a colonial encounter.
This historical retrospective helps us trace the historicity of recent policies applied to veiled Muslim women and sex workers, while underlining some thematic continuities in debates dealing with women’s bodies in the postcolonial present. Now, like before, the manipulation of national sentiments serves as a means to divert attention from more pressing social issues. It is not by chance that prostitution and veiling were discussed within the frameworks of internal security and national identity at a moment when the government was facing rising discontent related to the economic crisis. Indeed, prostitutes and Muslim women were easy scapegoats whose exclusion from the “imagined community” 22 served as a placebo solution to answer the need for national unity in a context of growing economic and social tensions. The French state made it a point of honour to get back the “lost territories of the Republic”23 using the argument that veiling and prostitution are practices that threaten the integrity of the nation as well as republican values. What these different debates reveal is the consolidation of a form of gendered policy through which a certain narrative of French citizenship that builds upon a system of difference and belonging strengthens prescriptions of permissible feminine bodies.24 The flagging of the divisional threat that veiled women and prostitutes were supposed to represent drew from an implicit theory of visibility (citizenship is tied to the visibility of the face) and from a peremptory vision of domination (veiled women and prostitutes are oppressed materially and psychologically).

Billaud, Julie; Castro, Julie, “Whores and Niqabées: The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism”, in:  French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2013 , pp. 87-89


Quant à la question « pourquoi le voile ? », elle peut me paraitre légitime ou illégitime, ou même franchement saoulante, suivant les contextes. Elle me saoule si c’est la première question qu’on me pose. Je peux envoyer boule la personne si sa curiosité me paraît malsaine – et même si ce n’est pas malsain, je réponds : ça ne vous apportera rien de le savoir. Parce que c’est une question tellement intime que je ne peux y répondre qu’aux gens qui me sont intimes. Et puis, ce qu’une majorité de gens n’a pas compris, c’est que cette question n’aura jamais deux fois la même réponse. Je pense en tout cas que le fait de le porter forge le caractère, ou inversement qu’il faut avoir un caractère fort pour le porter. Parce que c’est vraiment dur, et de plus en plus. Ce qui m’aide à tenir, c’est que j’emmerde tout le monde ! Je porte le voile par soumission à un Dieu – et cette soumission-là, je l’assume totalement – mais cela veut dire aussi que je ne suis soumise à personne d’autre. Même pas à mes parents : je les respecte, mais je ne leur suis pas soumise. Elle est là, ma force : je me donne à un Dieu, et ce Dieu me promet de me protéger et de me défendre. Alors ceux qui veulent me dicter ma conduite, je les emmerde. C’est pour ça que si j’ai un message à adresser aux filles voilées, c’est : on reste solidaires, on lâche pas l’affaire ! Quant à ceux qui nous montrent du doigt, le message que je leur adresse est simple : Fuck !

HANANE, “Isalmogauchiste et fière de l’être” dans “Isamahane Chouder, Malika Latrèche, Pierre Tevanian (dir), Les Filles Voilées parlent. Cité dans : Pierre TEVANIAN, La Haine de la religion, La Découverte, 2013, p. 45-46

Ici encore les débats sur le voile et/ou l’islam et/ou la religion sont stupides et régressifs : la conception du choix qui s’y développe est simpliste, de celles qu’une heure de cours de philosophie ou de sociologie – ou simplement une heure de réflexion – suffit en principe à écarter définitivement. En gros, comme une porte doit être ouverte ou fermée, l’individu serait soit libre, soit soumis. Il ne peut pas être un peu des deux : l’humanité se partage selon cette vision entre les hommes libres (à tous égards et définitivement) et les hommes soumis (tout aussi absolument et définitivement) – elle se partage plus précisément entre les “libres penseurs” d’un côté, miraculeusement libérés de tout déterminisme familial et social, de toute superstition et de tout préjugé depuis l’héroïque geste inaugural qui leur a fait “choisir l’athéisme”, et de l’autre la masse aliénée des religieux, forcément aussi crédules pace aux hommes qu’ils sont croyants face aux dieux, et forcément aussi serviles face aux pouvoirs humains qu’ils sont soumis à l’autorité divine.

Pierre TEVANIAN, La Haine de la religion, La Découverte, 2013, p. 43-44