i spoke to an outspoken student who gave me her take on wearing the hijab. she chooses to veil and gave her reasons for it. she feels freedom wearing her hijab in the US where it is 'not' banned.
in the western world, feminists look at all muslim women as oppressed; they think that muslim women are forced to wear the veil,burqa, niqab or hijab and if they don’t, islam will rain punishment and more oppression on them [in the figure of their husbands or fathers or imams etc]. what lends credence to this western ideal of muslim womens’ oppression is that some muslim women attest do attest to this belief. they do say and do write that they are forced to follow the muslim code of law by wearing the hijab.
fadela amara -a young muslim woman in france- and author of breaking the silence, believes in equality of sexes in the muslim communities in france. for amara, who has seen young women die because they didn’t follow the moral code of their family and islam, she feels that the hijab is a symbol of oppression and alienation. it alienates muslim girls from french society and oppress them if they don’t wish to make the changeover to hijab after school etc.
in france, all educational establishments are secular. no ostentatious religious symbols are permitted: no crosses, no yarmulkes, no hijabs! muslim girls wear no hijab all day at school. otherwise they can stay at home and risk not getting an education since french doors will be closed to those who veil! but when they go home, they must quickly shift gears and don their hijabs in their homes and communities. sometimes girls forget to adjust from secularism to islam [and it is possible when you straddle two such distinctively opposite cultures]. but they don’t want to risk the wrath of, not only fathers and brothers, but the whole muslim community according to studies done at least in france and coming-out movies of women wanting to gain agency in islamic societies. a hijab CAN hide faces but voices, too and therefore can become oppressive for women when they are forced to silence themselves under the veil. in such cases then, it would be better served to give women a voice inside islam if they’re oppressed rather than giving them a voice in france.
it is conceivable though, that in other places of the islamic world, it is not the belief that the hijab is oppressive or alienating. in france it is but that doesn’t represent the entire world. in the USA where the twin tower bombing took place the hijab is not forbidden. the hijab is only alienating if others don’t wear it and make you feel out-of-place [like in france], or if others fear it or if it is a sign of some danger, like the poor swastika which has become negative ever since hitler adopted it for his nazism. the swastika is otherwise a religious symbol in india MINUS all the hitlerisms and negativity associated with it since the west adopted and oppressed it! and although the swastika was oppressed in germany and came from india, no one can don a caftan or shirt with a swastika in the USA!
could it be the same with the hijab then? it is just a piece of cloth draped on a woman’s head which can be quite elegant, striking, colorful etc. think cleopatra [above], whose entire head was covered, but who was the ultimate picture of beauty and exoticism in film. western film. or more recently, angelina jolie, the icon of sexiness in hollywood, who dons her hijab when she goes to a muslim country as a goodwill ambassador during her entire stay. her many hijabed photos are splattered all over US [and others i’m sure] magazines to show another side or avatar of this gorgeous woman! [see vogue-like photos above] is jolie oppressed?
so why must the hijab decide equality of sexes [according to amara and so many others]? why does the entire muslim faith depend on whether women wear the hijab or not? it is for france, and as a result, amara opts for laicity in france for muslim girls. her argument then is contextual, rather than religious. she’s seen the deaths of 2 girls already for refusal to comply with islam’s code, and therefore, she thinks it is best to not wear it, so as not to put other muslim girls at risk who may not wish to wear the hijab but still be muslim, like her.
if covering one’s head is being oppressed, is uncovering the head then being ‘free’ from oppression? if a muslim girl unveils is she free from oppression, if she is oppressed? does unveiling make her less muslim? or do we carry faith in our hearts and clothes is just an outside emanation of what we are inside [again like amara]? have we become “we are what we wear”?
if covering the body is freedom, is uncovering it a ‘lack’ of freedom?
is the group femen free because they exhibit their bodies, their breasts?
is a topless woman sunbathing in a public park in bastille free?
or is she just free from the clothes that bind her from getting a nice tan? why does the same woman cover up on the streets or at work? is she oppressed on the streets or at work when she covers up?
what about those women who want to wear a mini skirt or hot pants etc but can’t because their body isn’t perfect? are they free from oppression? and when they choose to wear mini skirts or backless or topless attire, is that freedom?
what exactly is this freedom from oppression that muslim women feel according to western women?
recently, in the nytimes a young women who performed rhinoplasty and lost 15 lbs suddenly found that the man she’s been eyeing forever asked her out. her question to the therapist was: is he only asking me to go out because of my looks? if the idea of being overweight or having a bad nose isn’t oppression for decades for this girl, what is? has this young woman been oppressed all of her life until she fixed her body to conform to an image she thought that guy would like?
we, in anglo-euro-america, are slaves of the image of the perfect woman, like this young girl who did rhinoplasty etc: straight or pug nose, size 4 or 6, pert breasts, the ability to bare your ‘goods’ when you want to etc and definitely tanned skin! this is liberty for women; for all women in some western worlds.
but the inverse of this liberty isn’t that oppression, too?
this constant struggle to ‘be’ like that unattainable image of the perfect universal woman? diets, plastic surgery to fix body parts to look like the rest, revealing clothes, makeovers etc have become the bane of some women’s existence to the point that it has become a condition of their existence. the only condition, as we see in the film MISS REPRESENTATION [2012, leslie newsrom]. we are stunned to discover the percentage of females of all ages who subscribe to this same image. the women in this film only succeed or are free from oppression if they attain that perfect image. we get the strong impression that these are the women who are oppressed by that ONE image that ALl women have to fit into or conform to. even the very young girls in the film sadly tell us that when they don’t fit into that image, they cut themselves [slitting wrists].
who is more oppressed? the veiled muslim woman who doesn’t have to subscribe to that perfect ideal of the western body image? or the euro-anglo-american woman – covered or uncovered – who lives a slave’s life to become that image? unless of course she has oodles of cash to keep everything from falling but then that, too, becomes an oppression! it is far easier to wear a veil than wear that burden of the perfect unattainable image!
maybe all women [and men] are oppressed and don’t recognize it. we don’t see the invisible chains we wear around our ankles, but they very much exist, in many different forms.
this idea of universal freedom of expression is felt to have been establised or born in the west, but every stratum of the world has their own freedom expression, and expresses it differently. and just maybe, their resistance to conform to the western definition of this ‘freedom’ is just their way of saying difference is ok.