Secularism, feminism and race in representations of Australianness

Holly Randell-Moon

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In 2005 and 2006 members of the John Howard led Coalition Government, including the Prime Minster and Federal Treasurer Peter Costello, questioned whether Muslim dress, such as the hijab, conformed with ‘mainstream’ Australian standards of secularism and gender equality. In doing so, Howard and Costello used a feminist-sounding language to critique aspects of Islam for purportedly restricting the freedom and autonomy of Muslim women. I argue that race is implicated in the construction of Islam as a “threat” to secularism and gender equality because an unnamed assumption of the Australian ‘mainstream’ as Anglo-Celtic and white informs the standards of normalcy the Government invokes and constructs Islam as a ‘foreign’ religion. Further, whilst the demand for Muslim women to conform with ‘mainstream’ norms potentially contradicts the Government’s commitment to women’s autonomy, such a contradiction is not peculiar to the Howard Government. Using the work of Jean-Luc Nancy and Stewart Motha, I place the ‘hijab debates’ within the tension in liberal democracies between fostering autonomy and requiring a universal civil law to guarantee (but exist above) individual autonomy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-34
Number of pages19
JournalTransforming cultures ejournal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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