Stated for obviousness: Feminism is by definition the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of women.
Glad we’ve got that out of the way! To address the issue of whether the hijab can ever be feminist and/or symbolic of women’s rights and/or a positive signifier of the status of women in society, I thought the best way would be to look at what Muslim women who defend this idea have to say. A quick google search turned up this article, “Hijab: A Lesson to be Learned” that I found reproduced on several Islamic websites. Right out of the gate, she states this indefensible thesis:
And the concept of the hijab, contrary to popular opinion, is
actually one of the most fundamental aspects of female empowerment. When I cover myself, I make it virtually impossible for people to judge me according to the way I look. I cannot be categorized because of my attractiveness or lack thereof.
The idea that women are always going to be judged (and only by men) first and foremost on their looks, and that therefore the only way to avoid this is to cover oneself, is not actually empowering. It assumes a world where men are in the position to affect women’s interaction with the world based on their own personal beauty preferences, meaning it only works in a non-feminist society where men have more power.
It assumes that men cannot control themselves, and that women must hide their bodies so he is not distracted. It assumes that women must do this in the first place – if women were truly empowered,men would have no choice but to pay attention, just as men can apparently traipse through life blithely ignoring whether they are attractive to women or not. It’s the idea that we will never escape man’s inability to casually dismiss us because we are women that is at the heart of this line of thought, and it’s truly sad.
But more importantly, it’s about as feminist as working extra hard in the fields to avoid being whipped is abolitionist.
It’s a bargain I can certainly understand a subordinated person choosing to make, but your ability to make a choice was never the issue, and thus, your making a choice is not in itself feminist.
We are constantly sizing one another up on the basis of our clothing, jewelry, hair and makeup.
Because women wearing the hijab don’t wear make-up and don’t judge each other based on clothing, including, hijab style and pattern choice?
Thank Allah you’re freed from the horrors of variety and the judgment of others!
Because of the superficiality of the world in which we live, external appearances are so stressed that the value of the individual counts for almost nothing.
Yes, ladies, join Islam, where you can be worth 50% of a man. That’s a big improvement compared to almost nothing!
What kind of freedom can there be when a woman can not walk down the street without every aspect of her physical self being “checked out”?
Why do you assume that men are not also checked out? Are you oriented towards women or something?
When I wear the hijab I feel safe from all of this.
Security blankets don’t actually provide security. I promise you, it’s still possible to check out a woman wearing a hijab. I do it all the time. It may surprise you to learn that I find women in traditional Islamic dress to often be quite attractive – the costumery of it appeals to me, and the fabrics are often as elaborate, gorgeous, and compelling as a beautiful
I can rest assured that no one is looking at me and making assumptions about my character from the length of my skirt.
Just like you rest assured that you’ll survive your own death, no? People are still going to look at you and make assumptions about your character based on the length of your skirt- just different ones. I know that you know this. You imagine that one of the benefits of wearing Islamic dress is that people will make positive assumptions. Just come right out and say it. I’ve had Muslim men say it outright to me.
If it’s wrong for men to judge a woman’s character based on the length of her skirt, it is the men who need to change – not the women. You are letting men off the hook for making these judgments by making the patriarchal bargain.
There is a barrier between me and those who would exploit me.
Unless you’re wearing a Hijab of Invisibility, you aren’t actually protected from exploitation by wearing a hijab. You are, however, insinuating that women who don’t wear hijab have somehow opened themselves up to exploitation. Fuck you.
I am first and foremost a human being, equal to any man, and not vulnerable because of my sexuality.
I agree. But the hijab does not create this reality. Neither does Islam recognize it. I refer you to the Koran, where your value relative to men is repeatedly quantified.
Look at any advertisement. Is a woman being used to sell the product? How old is she? How attractive is she? What is she wearing? More often than not, that woman will be no older than her early 20s, taller, slimmer and more attractive than average, dressed in skimpy clothing. Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated like this? Whether the 90s woman wishes to believe it or not, she is being forced into a mold
You do understand the difference between feminism and advertising, right? Because they aren’t the same, even though they both involve women.
This is why we have 13-year-old girls sticking their fingers down their throats and overweight adolescents hanging themselves.
And what about the gay teenagers hanging themselves? What about the rape victims hanging themselves because they believe it’s their fault their hijab didn’t protect them from exploitation? Oh, right, don’t give a shit about them.
When people ask me if I feel oppressed, I can honestly say no.
Feeling oppressed and being oppressed are two different things. When people ask me if I feel like I’ve got cancer, I can honestly say no. But I may find out tomorrow that I’ve had a tumor growing for ten+ years. Because, and here’s the important part: reality doesn’t care how you feel.
I like the fact that I am taking control of the way other people perceive me.
And the girl sticking her fingers down her throat to be thin is ALSO taking control of the way other people perceive her. She likes that, too. Does that make it a good idea? Does that make it feminist? No.
I have taken control of my sexuality.
Citation needed. Unless your appearance is synonymous with your sexuality, this sentence has nothing to do with your article. And if that is the case, then apparently your sexuality is seriously repressed. There’s more to it than that.
I am thankful I will never have to suffer the fate of trying to lose/gain weight or trying to find the exact lipstick shade that will go with my skin color.
What about a hijab precludes lipstick? Are we talking about the hijab or the burqa? This is a complete non-sequitur. But let me tell you from an old pro: you don’t need a scarf on your head to not wear lip stick. I don’t wear lipstick every day! With practice, it becomes second nature. If you need a mentor, ask your closest male relative how he goes outside every day with neither a hijab nor lipstick.
I don’t think I’ve ever thought to myself, damn: I really need to go find that exact shade of lipstick because my skin color changed again. If only my hair and neck were covered! Oh well. It’s the 90s woman’s lament!
I am not under duress or a male-worshipping female captive from those barbarous Arabic deserts! I’ve been liberated.
If you are wearing hijab to avoid feeling exploited by men, as you stated earlier was the case, then yes, you are under duress.
Rejoicing “the fact that [you] don’t give anyone anything to look at” is the epitome of marginalization. You don’t gain any power by hiding. You don’t protect yourself from exploitation by becoming invisible. You certainly don’t free yourself from the madonna/whore dichotomy by swinging the pendulum towards madonna. In fact, the opposite is generally true.
So that’s where you’re wrong.