Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice is made up of dreadfully pious men who, in the course of enforcing that country’s version of Sharia law, largely spend their days haranguing women in shopping malls. Among other virtuous tasks, the Mutaween, as these men are known, make sure women’s lips, eyes and fingernails are unpainted, female heads are properly hidden, and skin is appropriately swathed. Its leader once suggested that allowing women to drive would “affect ovaries and roll up the pelvis.” Righteous, rigid and allergic to media attention, would be the stuff of satire, were they not also prone to jailing anyone who proselytizes any other religion than Islam.
Denise Filiatrault doesn’t share the Mutaween’s camera shyness—she’s an actress and director, after all. Yet in recent days the proclaimed feminist has been spouting things that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from the maw of some enraged Mutaween. In a recent radio interview with host Pierre Arcand, Filiatrault had this to say about Dalila Awada, the young Muslim woman who has been outspoken in her defence of the right to wear the hijab.
She wears makeup so outrageously, [that] ravishing woman… She hides her hair and paints herself up like a clown.
Filiatrault is one of the so-called “Janettes,” the group of 20 notable Quebec women who recently came out in support of the Parti Québécois so-called “Quebec values charter.”
This charter, you’ll recall, seeks to ban all “conspicuous” religious symbols from the bodies of anyone working for a government-funded institution. The PQ maintained its charter sought to blanch Quebec society of all religions, but Filiatrault recently put an end to that rather disingenuous bit of spiel with her bon mots: this charter is about keeping Muslim veils off Muslim women’s heads, point final.
It’s one thing to profess one’s outrage at the very thought of the veil—or even, as Filiatrault did in the same interview, suggest all veiled women are willing victims of stifling, mysoginistic patriarchy. This is standard puritanical feminist fare, as easily excitable as it is easy to ignore.
But Filiatrault’s ad hoc critique of Awada’s appearance is something else entirely. Like the Mutaween who says driving will mess wreak havoc on a woman’s ovaries, Filiatrault seems to think the veil instills a certain madness in the wearer, compelling her to… what? Act out? Dress like a whore? Filiatrault never really says, except to tell Arcand that women who wear them are necessarily “crazy.”
Filiatrault later expressed regret for the “crazy” bit, yet nowhere in her tweeted half-apology did she make mention of her xenophobic take down of Awada. (Nor did she apologize for insinuating that mayoral candidate Richard Bergeron, a convert to Islam, was a Muslim fundamentalist; or for saying Muslim men have a tendency to toss their petulant wives into lakes—an apparent reference to the Shafia family murders. Tweets and Facebook messages are too short, I guess.)
The other day, Voir’s Simon Jodoin wrote eloquently about how the debate over this charter of values has degenerated into social media-enabled name-calling and, not coincidentally, an increase in the number of attacks, verbal and otherwise, on veiled women in Montreal. He’s right: women shelters in Montreal have seen an increase in attacks against Muslim women since the Parti Québécois’s heavily-mediatized rollout of their proposed charter.
The hypocrisy is dizzying. Filiatrault professes the importance of equality between the sexes. She and her “Janettes” (so named after actor and writer Janette Bertrand) claim the veil is a hateful smear on womanhood. Yet her defence of this charter has been little but an attack on women. She’s attacking women to save them from themselves: call it the female Mutaween, the secular Taliban.