We make no pretension of being unbiased here at the CWR. We have our particular axes to grind and banners to wave. Evan, you’ll notice, often covers the place of Asians in culture- in no small part because Evan is a combo of a few Asian peoples himself, and more directly affected by that issue. I, alternatively, grew up in the Middle East, and after having spent pretty much the entirety of my life with Arabs and Muslims (not the same thing, shouldn’t have to explain that), I’m more sensitive to Middle Eastern issues- Islamophobia in particular.
I could spend all day railing on the treatment of the Middle East/Arabs/Occupied Palestine/Muslims/etc. The way Arabs/Muslims are singled out for scrutiny and criticism. Casting Indian actors to play Arabs, since Arabs don’t match their own stereotype. The lack of appreciation for the key role the Middle East played in preserving and advancing science and philosophy.
You get the idea.
So rather than trying to tackle a single issue that could be (should be, and has been) covered by an entire academic book, I’m going to hit up super-specific issue.
This, for the handful of you who might not know, is the head covering often worn by Muslim women. Often, but by no means universally. Although required by Iran and Saudi Arabia (and the Aceh territory of Indonesia), variations exist in both the prevalence of the hijab and how tightly (that is, how covering) it is worn.
But people don’t seem to get that.
Now 2013 has seen women’s issued brought into the spotlight, largely as a result of tragedies, such as the Steubenville Rape Trial (and it’s ridiculous outcome) or Missouri Congressman Todd Akin’s idiotic comments on “Legitimate Rape.” This, combined with other factors, such as the increasingly popular “slut-walks” or the attention centered on Pakistani child-activist Malala Yousafzai have all helped push the subject of women- especially in regards to oppression- to the forefront.
And that’s great.
It’s a shame it had to be as a result of so much atrocity, but at least people are talking about it.
But of course, with any popular issue, there’s inevitably going to be people showing up late and trying to hop onto the bandwagon to demonstrate just how open minded or progressive or humane they are. For the most part, these people are obnoxious but otherwise benign, however, these attempts to demonstrate just how “forward thinking” they are are beginning to become harmful.
See, a few people- more than a few people- have decided that in order to be good feminists, they should attack that evil construct of patriarchal oppression, the hijab.
2004 saw the French enact a ban on the hijab. Others have stated that the hijab is an attack on female sexuality, a sign of ownership, misogyny, or at the very least, places the obligation of avoiding sleaze on women, rather than men.
But more than anything else, I hear the term “force”. “Women are ‘forced’ to cover up”. “Girls are ‘forced’ to wear the hijab”. “You would be executed in some countries for being dressed in ________. Or showing skin __________.”
Now there is some truth in that. But only some truth. As I stated above, the hijab is only madated in two countries, and while there is social pressure in others (we’ll talk about that in a minute), there are just as many predominately Muslim or Arab nations where it would be just as acceptable or common to go without. One of my favorite comedians, Christopher Titus, goes off on a rant about the “oppression of women” in such countries as Jordan, Egypt, and my own adopted homeland of Syria.
In reality, Syria has no laws mandating the hijab, has a sizable population of women who don’t cover (both Muslim and non-Muslim), and in fact banned the hijab from being worn in university classrooms on account of it being an interference the country’s secularism.
What that all essentially boils down to is racism. Yes, racism.
This isn’t a case of someone not doing their homework- it was simply assumed that Syrians, being Middle Easterners, must treat women badly by default. In fact, that sentiment is fairly common- if you haven’t heard it at least once, I’d be surprised, but let’s move on.
I mentioned social pressure above. Simple fact of the matter is, while the hijab is not mandated by state, there are countries out there where going out without a hijab would the equivalent of going outside in America without your pants.
And that’s all I really need to say right there. Why is it that we in the west don’t go outside without our pants? Are we oppressed for being expected to adhere to the shirt and shoes mantra? No, we’re not. So why do we imagine we can get up in another culture’s face about their own standards of modesty or propriety? Would you be happy if some aboriginal tribe became incensed with the West for “forcing” women to wear tops in public?
I doubt it.
Heck, we don’t even use the same standards on ourselves. Why is a woman oppressed when she’s wearing burqa, but saintly when she’s wearing a nun’s habbit? Do you go around talking about the poor, suffering women under Mennonite fundamentalist tyranny?
I’m not going to tell you that every culture is equally good and bad- that’s not the case. And I’m not going to tell you that every standard of modesty is right, or that there’s no such thing as negative social pressure. But people, this really isn’t about that, is it? I’ve been listening (in pain) to attacks on the hijab for a while, and I have yet to hear one that addresses these hypocrisies. I’m not saying such an argument can’t exist- I’m saying I’ve to see it. What we have so far are flimsy, emotionally charged diatribes.
Because it’s not about religion. Or freedom from oppression. Or feminism. It’s about image.
Hate to break your fantasy (not really), but you are not some sort of feminist crusader for attacking the hijab on message boards or YouTube comment sections. And brace yourselves, because this next bit is really going to hurt.
Arab/Muslim women do not need rescuing by the noble, enlightened white Westerners.
Those that do want social change are more than willing and able to achieve this for themselves- again, just look at Malala Yousafzai (who also wears the hijab). This prevalent idea that Muslim women cannot possibly want to wear the hijab is at worst bigoted and at best ignorant. It is, either way, viciously arrogant.
And before I go…
And am I the only one seeing the irony in trying “liberate” women by telling them what they can and can’t wear?
I can’t be- right?