A third reason is that women are “distracting.” You can throw that out as bullshit, because no man wants to pray in your place. What’s the problem? Surely, if that were the true reason, there would be no issue with the men praying behind the barrier instead. In addition, with this excuse the barrier then becomes another way of policing women’s bodies. You must be kept pure–not for God, but for men. God, after all, cares about your heart and soul. Your body does not become impure unless you intended so. This mentality, that men can “taint” women, is the basic concept behind blaming the victim in rape. The rapist isn’t impure, no, you are.
The barrier is a silent, menacing symbol of oppression. It tells us we are second-class citizens, that our presence is insignificant, that we should be hidden away and kept from being heard because men are deathly afraid of any power shift and forge to communicate that God does not want us there. The barrier is yet another disgusting example of the words of a loving God used by corrupted, insecure men as a political weapon. The more extravagant the barrier, the more pathetic the insecurity.
I know of a mosque–I know of men–who placed a magnificent one-way mirror framed in sections by a firm, painted wall, much more stable and permanent than the flimsy removable board that had been in its place as the barrier separating the women’s prayer area (which of course is in the back) from the men’s. Meanwhile, the rooms in the mosque below the prayer area were rotting. The walls downstairs were a construction white, the tiles were stained, the blackboards were scratched, the desks were worn–and yet here we were, throwing all the money and effort into something that is an insult in the face of God. This is the degree of desperation in keeping women shut out.
And then there is the other barrier type–you know, the one that is stained with some questionable liquid and is crooked in its placement. If you stand on your toes you can barely see over the top. It was placed there as an afterthought, and no one cared to do anything about it since. Because you don’t matter. You’re amazed that this barrier can continue to stand. Despite being flimsy and weak, it still refuses to budge. You are firmly segregated, a subconscious decision that is immovable in its establishment.
Behind both these barriers is space much smaller than what there is on the other side. The area is plain here. On the “men’s side” the walls are beautifully painted. There are framed photographs of the Ka’bah, and intricate calligraphy lines the rim of the ceiling. And you feel God is closer on the other side: it’s what they want you to believe–with the barrier, that is what they imply–that you are spiritually inferior, that you are unwelcome, that you shouldn’t have shown up at all because you belong at home and men will always be closer to God. They dare tell lies in the name of God!
I will go to the mosque. And I will not pray behind another barrier.