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Veil Dressing and the Gender Geopolitics of “What Not to Wear”

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  • Law
  • Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


This essay examines controversies in the European Union around legislation that bans women from dressing in a “visibly Muslim” way in public. It brings together two usually separate domains of inquiry to reconsider geopolitical, emotional, and intellectual crosscurrents of these ostensibly national controversies in parts of the EU. I argue that these two domains need addressing in tandem to generate new insights and move scholarly debates that have become polarized in turn. The first strand is critiques of the influence that popular culture, in particular reality television makeover shows, has on body image and global consumption practices. The second is postcolonial critiques of orientalist discourses around the agency of Muslim women and veil dressing practices. The aim is to unpack the underlying contradictions and blind-spots that characterize many of the arguments for and against these laws, used by critics of not only Burqa-Ban legislation but also Muslim women's veil dressing in a context in which western public imaginaries about what the veil really means are becoming increasingly polarized and punitive. This juxtaposition can provide a new theoretical and empirical point of departure for reflecting on the geopolitical and ethical implications of laws that aim to police women's bodies and ways of dressing in western liberal democracies; an hardening of attitude and political discourse that lies at the intersection of global shifts in post 9/11 popular imaginaries, national identity projects, and geopolitics.

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