According to the BBC, in the latest twist in l’affaire du foulard/voile, a French parliamentary committee has recommended a ban on women wearing Islamic face veils in public [Correction: the proposal applies to public facilities, such as hospitals and mass transit, and not walking about the street]. The reasoning behind the report seems to be that face veils are contrary to the values of the republic, as symbols of women’s repression and extremist fundamentalism.
The proposal strikes me as a very bad idea in a number of ways. I don’t see how the law liberates women from whatever social pressure there exists to wear a veil. Will wearing a balaclava in public be illegal too? If not, then won’t the law just force a change of attire? Nussbaum has some discussion of this general issue in her Liberty of Conscience, pp. 346-53, invoking the ability of Chicagoans (and the Dutch, and presumably the French) to conduct normal social interactions with their faces covered in winter.
What if feminists who believe that make-up is just a manifestation of the objectification of women in patriarchy, and hence symbolic of repression and degradation, are right? Is there a way to support the veil ban, but not think that this claim about make-up would justify a make-up ban?* How about t-shirts with sexist imagery and messages? Quite apart from dress codes, we can recognise prostitution as degrading, and hence contrary to the values of an egalitarian republic, without thinking it should be illegal, primarily because making it illegal may very well just make the lives of those women, so degraded, even worse.
So, a question: can anything be said in support of this proposal (from ideally a feminist perspective), that does not run into these and other problems?
*[I should add I think having to wear a burqa is worse than feeling compelled to wear make-up.]