See, that’s where you’re wrong.
Via Maryam Namazie, I came across this bizarre article by Nadiya Takolia
published in the guardian titled, “The hijab has liberated me from society’s expectations of women.”
Let’s cast a skeptical eye on the major claim of this article: “some wear [the hijab] explicitly as a feminist statement asserting an alternative mode of female empowerment.” The claim has two components: the hijab is a ‘feminist statement’ and the hijab is a method of ‘female empowerment.’ The supporting arguments are victim-blaming in its most distilled form, the argument that she is liberated from society’s expectations of women by planting herself firmly in the ‘good girl’ camp.
The best antidote for wishy-washy post modern writing is clear, explicit definitions of terms. Right from the start, the author tries to redefine feminism in a way that’s both dismissive of so pejorated “Western” feminists and sneakily supportive of her argument. I say redefine, but the closest she comes to a definition is : “feminism is far better known for burnt bras and slut-walks than headscarves.”
Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
Empower: Give (someone) the authority or power to do something.
Let’s use them in a sentence, shall we? Feminism empowered women to vote.
So, given that, how does wearing a scarf empower you to do anything that advances the political, social and economic equality of women? She doesn’t really say. Takolia starts off great, noting that “From perfume and clothes ads to children’s dolls and X Factor finals, you don’t need to go far to see that the woman/sex combination is everywhere.” Yes! Women are the sex class! That’s patriarchy.
Her problem lies in not truly groking feminism. She appears to believe, among other things, that feminists created the sex industry and that feminists imposed unrealistic beauty standards on women, writing that “our interpretation of liberal culture embraces, if not encourages, uncovering, I decided to reject what society expected me to do, and cover up.”
Huh? Honey, I assure you: there are plenty of subcultures in the US that encourage you to cover up. Ever hear of a purity ball? Abstinence-only? Modesty pledges and stumbling blocks?
That’s the thing about patriarchy: it tells you to do conflicting things, as women are encouraged to cover up (and then punished as prudes) and encouraged to disrobe (and then punished as sluts). That’s the point of patriarchy: women can’t win. Our lives are ground down in the gears of these dichotomies. Opting to be the Madonna in a nation of whores doesn’t make you a feminist.
The sad thing is she even acknowledges the problem, but says it’s other Muslim women – certainly not her! – that harbor “the simplistic assumptions … that a veiled woman is a holier woman.” Yet, when describing why she started wearing the hijab, she does the same thing:
I do not believe that the hair in itself is that important; this is not about protection from men’s lusts. It is me telling the world that my femininity is not available for public consumption. I am taking control of it, and I don’t want to be part of a system that reduces and demeans women. Behind this exterior I am a person – and it is this person for which I want to be known.
What the heck does she think that says about women who don’t wear the hijab? If wearing the hijab is making this statement, then not wearing the hijab is telling the world that my femininity IS available for public consumption, that I DO want to be part of a system that reduces and demeans women, that beneath this exterior I am NOT a person, and that I certainly do not want to be known as one.
She writes, “I firmly believe that a woman’s dress should not determine how others treat, judge or respect her,” yet she’s apparently cool with the patriarchal bargain she’s made, opting for a style of dress that distinguishes her from those bad girls over there. She says reading about the lives of women in the sex industry is one of the things that encouraged her to wear a hijab, but she hasn’t stopped to ask herself how wearing a hijab helps anyone but herself avoid the acid rain of patriarchy.
And the more women wear the hijab, the less powerful a ‘statement’ the hijab will be about the wearer. The more women habitually wear the hijab, the more taboo my choice to wear a bikini will become. Her choice affects how men feel entitled to treat me.
She may delude herself into thinking that the statement she’s making is somehow feminist, but really, it’s the same old patriarchal bargain: she’s made this personal sacrifice because she thinks the men will be nicer to her than they are to those sluts with their burning bras. She’s conceded the point that it’s her obvious femaleness that causes men to treat women badly, that women being seen as synonymous with sex is inevitable and irrevocable. She’s given in.
And that may be a lot of things, but it’s not empowering to implicitly tell everyone you meet that you can’t be seen as a person unless you hide the fact that you’re a woman. And it sure isn’t feminist.