Anita L. Allen

in Unpopular Privacy

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780195141375
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918126 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy


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This chapter argues that modesty attire, covering up, is a kind of privacy-seeking that liberal states should tolerate but not impose. As defined by philosophers, general modesty is a tendency to avoid exaggerating or calling attention to one's virtues, material assets and accomplishments. Bodily modesty is a disposition to cloak or conceal the body, especially its eroticized zones. Both kinds of modesty have been described in philosophical literatures as virtues akin to humility, with both inherent and utilitarian value. In the United States modesty attire is worn by many, including Muslim, Amish, Catholic, and Orthodox Jewish women. The modesty attire worn by Muslim women and girls has become a source of controversy in nations around the world. The hijab, niqab and burqa are received as symbols of Islamic extremism and the oppression. Liberalism would seem to call for tolerating modesty attire women wear for religious or political reasons, especially the former. Yet the secularism that is deeply rooted in French liberalism, and preferred by some Americans, has led to calls for bans on the wearing of modesty attire by Muslims in public places or encounters with public authorities. Undressing Muslim girls from the neck up is a poor and an illiberal way to create a unified society. US constitutional law severely constrains the ability of the state to require a woman to remove a headscarf or face covering. A ban on the hijab in schools could not survive constitutional scrutiny. US women have experienced rejections of modesty attire modesty in workplaces, and in connection with state issued drivers licenses, jail visits, and courtroom appearances. The law should strictly scrutinize efforts to restrict modesty attire worn for religious purposes.

Keywords: modesty; hijab; niqab; burqa; laicite; secularism; Muslim; Islam; First Amendment; religion; individuality; yarmulke; scarf; multiculturalism; diversity

Chapter.  15128 words. 

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy

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