One typical victim-blaming justification of street harassment goes something like this, "What did she think would happen when she went out wearing that?!" The logic underlying such a comment seems to be that the only women who are groped, ogled, or verbally accosted on the street are ones who choose to buck social norms of modesty by improperly displaying their sexuality—and the conclusion that follows this strain of logic is that there is no other possible reading by the men who observe this type of "non-normative" behavior than to perceive it as an invitation for all types of commentary and conduct, from the annoying to the illegal. Many feminists are all too familiar with this wrongheaded sentiment when it comes to sexual violence and harassment, but the news out of France recently has caused me to consider its relevance to another gendered freedom, or rather lack thereof, in France: the state prohibition of Muslim women wearing the niqab in public.
Since her 2007 album Dans ma Bulle (Inside My Bubble) debuted at the top of the charts by selling 50K copies in its first week, Diam's has become the hottest emcee in France. Not the hottest female emcee, but the hottest emcee in general. Diam's is known as a feminist rebel who spits rhymes about war, racism, poverty, and injustice--something that has placed the rapper in the line of French media fire. Unable to handle the constant public scrutiny she faced as a controversial celebrity, Diam's retreated from the limelight in 2008 to go on a personal introspective journey. That journey led her to Islam, a faith to which she has now converted saying, "Modern medicine was not able to heal my soul, so I turned to religion."