Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 23 September 2013

Burqas and Baby Pageants

I’m a big fan of the French. Having visited Paris fairly regularly over the past several years, and having found the people very civilised, family oriented, hard working and sophisticated, I have very little to say about them that is bad. I also tend to be in favour of their more than usually left wing and inclusive politics.

Last week on Twitter, I heard about the first steps towards legislation in the French parliament banning beauty pageants for the under 16s. My first reaction was to be impressed. I think beauty pageants represent a pretty horrendous objectification of anyone, whatever form they occur in, and I’d never expose my own children to them, so banning them seemed like a good idea, and I said so.

The problem is that word, ban. 

I have a natural inclination to mistrust the idea that it’s a worthwhile and even a noble exercise banning anything. I am, essentially anti-censorship for the very same reasons. We are adults and we should be as free as possible to make our own decisions on behalf of ourselves and our children. The desire to want to stamp out the sexualisation of children is one I share, but banning beauty pageants in order to do it, banning children from taking part in competitive activities that require them to learn a skill like singing or dancing seems a pity, even when it is accompanied by all that make-up and hairspray. No, I’ll say it again, I wouldn’t do it to my kids, and the thought of it appalls me, but the idea that banning it will change the hearts and minds of the parents who encourage their children to take part in beauty pageants is a nonsense. 

I remember an occasion several years ago when I was invited to watch a group of pre-school little girls in tutus singing and dancing to the old song, “Be Young and Beautiful”. It made me want to throw-up. They had been taught a rictus grin and to wiggle and gyrate and flap their hands to the words, “Be young and beautiful – It’s your duty to be beautiful – Be young and beautiful – If you want to be loved!” 


The French can and no doubt will ban child beauty pageants, but the sexualisation of children doesn’t begin and end with them.

In the same week as I heard about the ban, I was reminded of another law passed in France. I think of it as the Burqa Law, passed in 2010 and banning the wearing of face coverings in public spaces, including balaclavas, crash helmets, and, of course, the niqab, burqa and other veils worn by women for religious reasons.

So, alongside the sexualisation of children the French also disapprove of the desexualisation of women. 

It would appear that it’s polarisation they don’t like. 

I’ve long been suspicious of the burqa, its parts and the various, so-called modest garments worn by various religious groups, and let’s not pretend these garments aren’t almost exclusively worn by women. We shouldn’t forget that the more and most religious of many religions wear modest garments, including some Jews and Christians, as well as many Muslim women. It always seems to be the Muslims that we focus our attention on.

I have heard Muslim women speak eloquently of their reasons for wearing modest garments and the freedoms that they enjoy as a result of their choices. I am often given to wondering, though, how often it is the choice of the woman to wear the burqa, and how often it is the rights of freedom of the Muslim man that are being upheld, that he might instruct his wife and daughters, and the other women of his household or under his influence to wear the garments.

I’m hugely ambivalent about all of this. To insist that a modern Muslim woman, who is making a choice to wear modest garments show her face if she choices not to seems to me like a possible infringement of human rights. It also seems to me that no man should insist that a woman in his household wear anything she chooses not to, and that her government ensure her freedom not to.

Strict laws banning beauty pageants for children or the wearing of any particular garments for anyone seem to miss the point somehow. Children genuinely at risk of sexualisation and sexual exploitation need protection, and women who are genuinely being repressed need their liberty, and those things must be protected under existing laws, surely?

In this clip TV journalist Riham Said demonstrates her own feelings about wearing the veil.


  1. “Be young and beautiful – It’s your duty to be beautiful – Be young and beautiful – If you want to be loved!”

    ... :0

    you'd need to censor me if I was witness to that kinda bullshit (pardon the French).

    hey, it could be worse, try being a muslim male walking around with everything but your eyes covered up ... jesting aside, these facial coverings probably make facial recognition technology kinda useless ...

    but seriously, it doesn't help that kids are bombarded with sexualised adult images even at a young age. I mean, to be blunt, Barbie looks built to please, but to please young girls? admittedly, my Action Man (with moveable eyes!) was pretty buff for a strangely flexible eunuch.

    not to mention that whole "you can be like me/us, happy with this toy" marketing standard. kids toy ads, tv shows, have been connecting happiness, popularity, and success with overly sexualised image ideals for years. no wonder why many kids later look at themselves as teenagers and (unfairly) feel like they don't measure up. kinda sadistic and sick thing to do them if you ask me :/

    1. Yep, and kinda buys into my riff on sex ed from Friday last week. Everything's so skewed and so warped it's a wonder any of us is anything close to "normal".

  2. I'd recommend listening to Roger Scruton's essay on Democracy and Islam he made for BBC Radio 4 A Point Of View (

    A while ago I researched the topic of head scarfs/face veils in Islam and got the impression that there is confusion whether it is for religious or cultural reasons.

    I spoke to an Iranian friend and he said that all the women he knew back home in Tehran disliked head scarfs and would take them off or wear them in such a way that it barely covered their head. They seemed to be wearing a head scarf because it was forced upon them. So in some areas and for some people in the Islamic world it seems they are worn for cultural reasons.

    However, in the West some women say they wear them for religious reasons.

    Furthermore, as far as I know the Koran doesn't explicitly state that women should be required to wear a head scarf/face veil. It says that the prophet's wives covered their bodies for modesty. Well, we all pretty much do that in the West, but I don't see how covering the head or face has anything to do with modesty.

    In my opinion, anything forced upon women, whether it is a face veil, heard scarf, foot binding, head binding, neck rings or the importance of virginity is a means of men to control women.

    I feel sorry for women that are forced, made to believe or just simply believe that they have to cover their head or face. To me they seemed to be under control whether they know it or not.