Ophelia Benson of Butterflies and Wheels and Kausik Datta of Oh, The Humanity of It All point to yet another article (almost a carbon copy of the last one I poked with a stick)where a woman equates wearing the hijab with somehow being liberated from the constraints of patriarchy. The problem, of course, is that the game is rigged; whatever we do, we can’t win. It’s a feature, not a bug.
Anyway, instead of eviscerating the entire article, since I have meadows of wildflowers to traipse through unburdened for a moment with the knowledge that I’m an oppressed member of the sex class whose rape by like five guys like right now would just be fucking hilarious, I just want to point out one line. It’s all the fail of this reasoning is distilled into one sentence:
I see hijab as the freedom to regard my body as my own concern and as a way to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women.
So you wrap cloth around your head. Then….???? Then you’ve secured personal liberty.
To anyone who wants to argue that wrapping a scarf around your head to publically declare your obeisance to a seventh-century raging misogynist’s views on women ‘secures personal liberty’ that cannot be otherwise secured by those of us with bare heads, I say this to you: SHOW YOUR WORK.
What has your mystical scarf of empowerment actually enabled to do that you could not do five minutes ago?
Then once you’ve actually ‘splained your reasoning, go think about how liberated women could possibly be if we have to take an extra step men don’t have to take in order to have the personal liberty men have axiomatically.
Tangent: The concept of objectification is widely misused and misunderstood. To objectify someone does not mean “to acknowledge they are sexy.” It does not mean “to want to have sex with.” In fact, it has absolutely nothing to do with teh sexxxay, which is why it’s frequently (and accurately) modified with the word ‘sexual.’
To objectify someone means to treat or regard a person as if they were an object – a thing without feelings, without thoughts, without any sort of sentience. So when a person says they can avoid objectification by changing how they dress, they’ve just demonstrated that they’re not actually clear on what the word means. My clothes do not reach out and force other people to respect my internal life, nor do they entice men into treating me as an object. This hypothesis that women can avoid objectification by hiding our bodies is just victim blaming in a fancy scarf.
Oh, I can’t resist. MOAR critiquing!
The reason for that tangent is that victim blaming is exactly what Nusrat is doing, all while trying to play the victim of other people’s assumptions about Muslim women. It’s as if she were actively trying to let the audience in on the meta-satire:
“I am also absolutely certain that the skewed perception of women’s equality as the right to bare our breasts in public only contributes to our own objectification.”
Oh, are you? If that’s the case, then so does the hijab, my friend. None of us volunteer for oppression, and we can’t opt out of it by changing the way we dress, talk, walk, act, or live. We can’t avoid rape by staying home and not drinking in public and having a male chaperone and dressing more modestly and saying ‘no’ with five more decibels. Only through the acquisition of actual power can we change anything. Until then, we can only make whatever patriarchal bargains* we can to wrest as much privilege from the system for ourselves in exchange for our capitulation, but that’s not the same as liberation.
And it sure doesn’t make objectification our fault. As with rape, the fault always lies with the objectifiers, not the objectified. The idea that women’s bodies = sex is the problem, but Nusrat is laboring under the profoundly anti-feminist delusion that women having women’s bodies is the real problem.
Nusrat later writes:
“My reflection reminds me of the convictions that made me take up the hijab in first place — to work for a world where a woman isn’t judged by how she looks or what she wears, a world in which she needn’t defend the right to make decisions about her own body, in which she can be whoever she wants to be without ever having to choose between her religion and her rights. “
Yep. She’s got all these convictions to work for a world where a woman isn’t judged by what she wears and needn’t defend the decisions she makes about her own body and can be whoever she wants, as long as she keeps those breasts covered in public. Sorry. Not buying it. To paraphrase Henry Ford, Nusrat is reminded of her conviction that you should be able to wear any color you’d like, so long as it’s black.
That she can’t help but judge other women for how they look and dress, while simultaneously shaming the rest of us for daring to judge her for wearing a politicized garment,** shows that this is naked propaganda for a religion that, had it any political power in the US, would most certainly not be in favor of women having the freedom to dress any way they choose.
She admits near the beginning that for her, the hijab is a propaganda vehicle, writing that: ” I realized that working for these causes while wearing the hijab can only contribute to breaking the misconception that Muslim women lack the strength, passion and power to strive for their own rights. ”
So. It’s not to liberate her. It’s not actually to liberate other women. It’s to send the message that Muslim women have strength, passion and power. And what – it was the feminists denying this? Because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the atheist feminists like me saying women are deficient in religion and intelligence. Can’t put my finger on who said that though.
Finally, Nusrat outrageously says: “ I know many who portray the hijab as the placard for either forced silence or fundamentalist regimes; but personally I found it to be neither.”
Isn’t that lovely for you. Your parade is in the mail. Unfortunately I ran out of fucks to give for the first world problems of the hijabi baffled that anyone would associate their headscarf with forced silence of fundamentalist regimes when I was reading about the woman publically executed by the Taliban last week, or the heartbreaking post [DISTURBING IMAGE WARNING] Taslima put up on No Country for Women about one of the popular punishments for immodest women: acid attacks.
*And we all make these patriarchal bargains – having shorn hair is my patriarchal bargain; I free myself from a significant chunk of heterodudely attention in doing so. I also do it to say ‘fuck you’ to time-consuming beauty regimens. But since having long hair doesn’t cause men to be intrusive dudebros, it’d be quite silly of me to say that long-haired girls are contributing to the objectification of women. And at the end of the day, I’m still stuck in the same patriarchy I started in. I’ve picked one of the many solutions on the sex class optimization curve, but it’s the curve itself that’s the problem.
**As commenter Chris astutely observed on Benson’s thread of the inherent inconsistency in the author’s argument, “The hijab is either just a piece of clothing, or it’s a statement. It can’t be a piece of clothing if anyone criticises it, but a statement if it is being promoted.”
Featured image is modesty propaganda from another Abrahamic religion that I’m also glad has no real power over my life.