What next, Mme Marois telling us what we can wear?

What next, Mme Marois telling us what we can wear?

By Beverly Akerman

Sometimes “the law is a ass,” as Mr. Bumble said, and it looks like the debate on Quebec’s proposed charter of “values” — or lack thereof — is one of those times.

kerchief_AkermanDespite the symbolic blood-letting of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, which basically found there was no “reasonable accommodation” crisis, Quebec still harbours too many who are, as some Western Canadians used to put it back in the day, referring to French on their cornflake boxes, sick of having Islamic headscarves shoved down their throats.

Here in Montreal, where I thought we were famous for our laissez faire attitude toward issues that knotted knickers throughout the rest of North America — like abortion, daycare, gay sex and marriage (“if you don’t like it, don’t do it, but keep your nose the hell out of my business”) — I predict we’ll soon have a new branch of the civil service analogous to the beloved Office québécois de la langue française Tongue Troopers: the Headscarf Haranguers. Or, perhaps, the Kippah Killjoys.

They’ll certainly have their work cut out for them.

Let’s try and get our heads around this.

Consider that most anodyne of textiles, the simple kerchief. Imagine a teacher at a public school, or a Centre de santé et des services sociaux receptionist. If she tucks her hair into a turban as a fashion statement, or dons a headscarf to keep her hairdo safe from the rain, or because she’s having a bad hair day, that would be perfectly acceptable. Ditto for covering a pate denuded by cancer chemotherapy. But if she puts on that same headscarf out of Islamic modesty, das ist verboten. And if she’s an Orthodox Jewish woman, covering her hair out of Orthodox Jewish modesty? Verboten again, I guess, though she’d look exactly the same as the cancer patient.

The true bureaucrat will require an objective way to differentiate between Orthodox Jewish women, Muslim women, and women undergoing chemotherapy. How to do it? May I suggest that cancer patients be issued big yellow Cs to pin on their breast pockets? Or perhaps the Muslims and Jews should be issued large yellow Ms and Js, despite the optics. Clearly, requiring the wearing of yellow crescents or stars of David would be unacceptable on religious symbol grounds; besides, it’s been done before. And here in the ever-distinct society of Quebec, we value, above all, our cultural uniqueness.

But if you think that headscarves are complicated, what about wigs? Apparently, it has so far escaped the notice of the Headscarf Haranguers that sometimes a wig isn’t simply a wig. Most men who wear toupees do so for cosmetic/vanity reasons. Wearing a toupee to appear more sexually attractive will certainly sit well with the Headscarf Haranguers, but many Orthodox Jewish women wear wigs out of religion-based notions of propriety, which will not. Some wear wigs for other reasons, such as chemotherapy, medical conditions like alopecia, or because, sometimes, unfortunately, their hair looks like crap. How are we — or, more importantly, the Headscarf Haranguers–to tell the difference? I could again suggest a yellow letter — B (for baldness), C (for cancer), or V (for vanity), but I’m sure Mme. Marois will see the value of a parliamentary commission to examine in closer detail which reasons for wig wearing are acceptable in this brave new Quebec. Otherwise men topped by toupees may be evaluated differently from women wearing wigs. Which would be sexist and against their human rights. Not to mention Quebec values.

But enough of wigs. Let us consider, for a moment, the zucchetto — which is not an Italian pastry but a skull cap worn by Catholic and Anglican clerics, and of the same sartorial ilk as the kippah. Clearly, following enactment of the Quebec charter of “values,” men like Pope Francis or Bishop Tutu would no longer be welcome to address the National Assembly in full religious regalia. No doubt, they’d be required to wear business suits, like prominent engineering company executives. This probably wouldn’t be a problem because I doubt Pope Francis or Bishop Tutu would be interested in addressing Quebec’s National Assembly in the event the charter of “values” — as currently bruited — was actually enacted.

Finally, if my doctor wore a kippah while at work, he’d be breaking the law. But if he covered it with a Yankees cap, he’d be okay. Unless the Marois government decided that only an Expos cap would be acceptable. By Dickens, when the law can so easily be made “a ass,” I wouldn’t put it past them.

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Beverly Akerman

Beverly Akerman’s story collection, ‘The Meaning of Children’ won the David Adams Richards Prize, the Mona Adilman Prize, and made the CBC – Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers’ Choice Contest Top 10. Credits include Maclean’s, major Canadian newspapers, CBC Radio, myriad literary magazines, scientific journals, and other publications. She’s strangely pleased to believe she’s the only Canadian writer ever to have sequenced her own DNA.

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