University of Southern Indiana

Filth and Foulness 2021 - Haviland Wyant

Fighting Oppression with Oppression: France’s View of Religion as a Repulsive and Tyrannical Force

Multimedia collage, March 2021

Artist Statement: My artwork is a digital collage comprised of images related to the concept of laïcité/ secularism. This work is a provocative and political statement about the nature of secularism within France, and how this policy stance impacts Muslim women in particular. This simple and outspoken collage is meant to create an erroneous landscape of society and the problems humans face when it comes to equality. The problems of our world are always hidden beneath the surface, and one must read between the lines to bring out the truth of how people are impacted by certain policies and prejudices. By creating this false landscape and scene, I hope to bring forth the philosophical and problematic ideas that lay dormant in the back of one’s psyche. In creating this distorted world, I hope to illustrate what the world would look like if our debates and problems were exposed and displayed.

The audience should immediately recognize what the subject matter is about and how confusing the terrain of secularism/laïcité is. This concept can seem one-sided within western cultures and I want this slanted landscape to demonstrate that. This work should provoke the questions: Is it the state’s place to dictate what people should wear and how they practice religion? Is forced equality true equality? Is secularism destructive and evenly applied to all? Are women’s bodies seen as filthy when they do not meet societies standards when it comes to dress and expression?

Through research I have discovered that these questions cannot be easily answered. Scholars suggest that the burqa ban within France is due to the everchanging perception of Muslim women. This perception is skewed through the lens of western superiority and colonialism (Tayyen, 2017). When France first colonized Algeria, Muslim and Arab women were sexualized on postcards and seen as forbidden fruit in the eyes of white males. They lusted over the households where these women could reveal themselves, and how they would take orders from men (Tayyen, 2017). This led to western women investigating the mysterious and sexualized nature of Arab women. These western women looked at Arab women with pity because they believed they were unfairly treated and not given enough room and rights to blossom into the women they could be (Tayyen, 2017). This perspective began the evolution of how Muslim and Arab women are viewed through the eyes of feminist western societies.

Scholars in favor of laïcité believe that the Declaration of the Rights of Man, within the French civil code, gives everyone the right and choice to practice any religion they want and that the burqa ban is not against Muslims in general, but is instead enforceable because it is a violation of the equality of men and women (Pascal, 2010). It is also viewed that burqas are a form of fundamentalism, which can be a threat in a democratic society, and it is France’s duty to protect their democracy from any fundamental threat (Pascal, 2010). Scholars also argue that the burqa poses a security threat because it hides the identity of the individual wearing it (Pascal, 2010).

Whether ones believes that laïcité is enforced too harshly in France or it is a policy that protects the wellbeing of democracy, it does help form the way that society views Muslim and Arab women. From being harshly sexualized to pitied by the western feminist ideology, the burqa ban and laïcité has warped the view of Muslim women into something that is foul and less than. They can be seen as foul within their own religion for not wearing the traditional burqa or seen as filthy for wearing it in a public space. The principle of laïcité within French society has created an air of filth and an unacceptable nature related to Muslim women, and this terrain leaves Muslim women within an undefined grey area that is impossible to navigate without being viewed as corrupt.

Contact Dr. Melinda Roberts


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