Can wearing the veil be broached only from the point of view of the duality of the all-powerful man and the submissive and demeaned woman?1
Who can decide whether veiling a woman’s body is to prevent someone looking at it, desiring it, or if it is to neutralize this gaze, the one that in return – reputedly – diverts men from their path?
Veiled, but not mute
A recent issue of the Magazine du Monde makes a lot of room for « The Words of Veiled Young Women »2. They are young, overflowing with life, trendy, coquette, from every social background; they love or hate wearing the hijab. In Paris, the Forum des Halles, where three train lines from the different suburbs cross, is their preferred spot for meeting up with other girls, for making their purchases in specialized boutiques : there is also an Arabo-Muslim cool style. One label of in clothing, Uniqlo, just opened a department especially for Muslim women! In this large public space they cross paths with women from other horizons, with men: they feel like the other women of their age. They work in very different fields. Some are married with Muslims, some not. A few are young mothers. Many are still single and dream differently: choosing a Muslim man or one who isn’t at the risk of a family conflict, marrying the one who will please their father, the clan, why not! Their discussions – always among girls – are animated, contradictory, sometimes violent. They are all [toute] in a rapport with the hijab. Beyond the S1 of the veil, of what it can concentrate of religion and tradition, there is a woman in her singularity, a notall [pastoute] that the universal cannot include. Behind each veil, a woman. In this light, wearing the veil is not unequivocal: two sisters can make opposite choices; elsewhere, they are all or none, one out of choice, the other by obligation, etc.
With their hijab, are these women only submitted to an obscurantist tradition applied by men? Neither culture, nor religion can define anything other than roles – wife, mother – in a given social context. Wearing the veil cannot be reduced to a simplistic determinism. But it can bring us to consider that, beyond what insists on not being offered to sight, there could be a woman striving, like any feminine subject in any culture, to support the father’s desire? Behind what is veiled, subtracted from the sight of others, there is a desiring woman and « if the traditions suffocate femininity, crush it under the phallic law, a woman does not let herself be so easily placed under a signifier.3»
The Veiled Gaze
Lacan, following Freud, stressed the link between modesty and the woman’s body. This looked-at body is under the influence of the gaze that it captivates.4 Veiling this body, entirely or partially, displaces the being gazed at, to the sight that comes back from the Other and that sees you in what you’re seeing. It is not the least of paradoxes that what veils itself, what is veiled, captures the gaze and stresses the dimension of femininity even more. By way of analogy with what Martha Serre remarked concerning the veil of modesty, we can think, in a radical reversal, « that in fact this veil, this modesty, is femininity itself.5»
Here, the inexhaustible question of feminine jouissance returns to the foreground, all the more so in that, behind the veil, can be supposed the access to a jouissance that would be inaccessible to others. Therefore, « to leave this Other to its mode of jouissance is what could only be possible in not imposing our own on it, in not taking it for a moron »6.
Not to Be Veiled!
What do these women behind their veils do in the devastated cities of Rafah, Alep and Palmyra, in the midst of their destroyed homes? They do what all women in war wrecked cities of the world do, what the Trümmerfrauen did in the ruins of Berlin in 1945; they began clearing up the rubble, stone after stone, so their city could be rebuilt. Adorno indicated that it was not a question of re-establishing the order that had previously reigned, but of knowing what had been lost, with each displaced stone, in an accounting of those who would not return: a husband, a child, a mother, a brother, a sister, etc.7 One by one, they hand the stones to one another to rebuild a place where they will be able to live with their men – those who did not perish in combat – and their children; to shelter what still can be with a little life, far from the fantasies of Westerners.
– Translated by Julia Richards
1 Briole G. « L’obscur des traditions », Lacan Quotidien, n° 558 du vendredi 15 janvier 2016, http://www.lacanquotidien.fr
2 « Paroles de jeunes filles voilées » Le magazine du Monde, 21 mai 2016, n° 22192, p. 39-45.
3 Fouzia Liget, « Il n’y a pas d’incompatibilité entre psychanalyse et Islam », La Règle du jeu. http://laregledujeu.org
4 Lacan, J., The Seminar Book XXIII, The Sinthome, Cambridge: Polity, 2016, p.9.
5 Serra Frediani M., « Pudeur », in : Semblants et sinthome, Scilicet, Paris, Coll. rue Huysmans, 2010, p. 285.
6 Lacan J., « Télévision », in : Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 534
7 Adorno T. W., Métaphysique. Concept et problèmes. Paris, Payot, 2006.