Feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes.
“Because I was born a woman, I could never become an adult. I would always be a minor, my decisions made for me. I would always be a unit in a vast beehive. I might have a decent life, but I would be dependent always on someone treating me well… I wanted to make my own decisions. I wanted to become a person, an individual, with a life of my own.”
“Many of my fellow Muslims have been encouraging non-Muslim women to wear a headscarf in solidarity with Muslims… Did these non-Muslim women—indulging their Orientalist fetish by covering their heads—not stop to consider for one moment that their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and under Taliban or ISIS rule also require our solidarity in taking their hijabs off?”
The scene, fictional as it is, is this:
Around a table in a corner of a cafe in a city is a collective. This being 2016, this collective being liberal, this city being Western, and this cafe being beyond the superficial and the depthless, the conversation overheard is on an issue salient and social.
The issue being lamented, salient and social as it is, is this:
Even here, even now, the undeniable pressure – the blatant and the insidious, the subliminal and the to-your-face – that is felt, absorbed, recognised yet undefeated, by women from a profoundly upsettingly early age to conform their appearance with shaving legs and armpits, and with spending untold time and money and mental energy on make-up and hair, is harmful, to adults and children both.
But I jump in:
Hold on. You are free individuals in a free society. You have agency, you can make decisions, you are adults. You are not forced to purchase beauty products, nor are you forced to be concerned for your appearance. You are not forced to shave. If you are shaving and wearing make-up then you are choosing to do so, and if you are choosing to do so then you have no right to voice these complaints. If you do not like it, stop doing it. If you like it, keep doing it. But if you are wearing make-up, and if you have shaved your armpits and legs, don’t tell me you didn’t choose to.*
I am tolerated, so that I may be educated:
The collective knows that it is not that simple, and they know it because of the progressive, modern, feminist values they are suffused with. They know, and they explain it to me, that to grow up with such prevalent, resistant societal norms, such cultural expectations, is to be greatly concerned with the potential social costs, from low to high, of breaking away from those norms. They know, and they explain it to me, that to be exposed to these norms by family, by friends, at school, in media, is to become an adult with independent, free choice, yet with a rooted, habitual, accepted culture that will take sustained mental engagement and effort to change, break, or reform.
They know, and they explain it to me, that settling for something is not the same as actually, freely choosing it.
They would be right to explain this; I agree with them. Furthermore, I would not make that argument, despite how unashamedly I so fictionally jumped in with it.
What could shake such core values? What might throw a regressive spanner in the progressive works? What could one possibly say to cause a rupture or reverse in the logic and a betrayal and misuse of the values demonstrated by liberal feminism in its best and most crucial form?
Say veiling. Say hijab and niqab. Say Islam.
Unlike the nuanced, intelligent, and, crucially, feminist response to the idea of free, adult choice in the example of make-up and leg shaving, when the topic is Islamic veiling, the hijab being particularly often defended, suddenly the statement ‘it is my choice’ is sufficient and assuaging of all doubt. They are saying it is their choice, so they are choosing it – case closed.
Where they would (presumably) recognise a woman’s right to wear make-up, aim for weight-loss, and shave if that is what they truly, freely choose for their adult selves, they yet reserve, in full, their praise and admiration for those who break the mold – for those who are not ashamed or afraid of appearing just as they are, no matter the continued cost, reduced in our context as it is.
And while I recognise a woman’s right to veil and keep it on if that is what they truly, freely choose for their adult selves, I wonder how the praise and admiration in the Islamic context did not get fully and enthusiastically saved for and directed toward the women and girls who, despite it all, and with their personal and collective freedom and happiness in mind, proudly and defiantly take it off.
The liberal bias of mainstream media and social media has meant, thankfully, that there is no shortage out there of defenders and defense pieces of the right to veil without being harassed, demonised, assaulted, or having your choice of dress actually banned. Vulgarised by its privileged position, however, the left-leaning liberalism that has found itself labelled the ‘regressive left’ does not tolerate the discussion they ought to be leading: the rights of women under and within Islam. They would rather muddy the waters with virtue signalling.
I often actually quite like the way the hijab looks. It is a headscarf that can be colourful as well as black, and were I convinced of the choice and human freedom involved I wouldn’t think twice. The niqab, leaving only the eyes, is disruptive of what is a crucial aspect of human interaction: facial expression. The hijab, if adopted through coercion and settled for due to fear of social cost or worse, is an abuse of the role of parent and an expression of misogyny.** The niqab is fully both of those things, and does not have a saving grace disclaimer to follow it up.
Young girls are not the possessions of parents or communities to be dressed up in 7th century neurosis and subjected to the psychological child abuse so necessary for the preservation and protection of many a religious and cultural tradition. Until there is reason to be supremely confident that women and girls, wherever in the world, are truly, freely choosing to veil, we need to be critical, cautious, and concerned. And as long as there are places in the world where that which you get to ‘freely’ choose is forced by law or societal norm – abandonable only to the expectation of lashes and ostracism – the scales of liberal, progressive, feminist concern need to fall far more heavily to the side across from where they currently find themselves.
My concern over hijab and intense dislike, to say the least, of the niqab is coming from, though I do not label myself as one, strongly rooted feminist values and a concern for children that will always override anything else. Discount that as my own virtue signalling if you must, it is there to make the point that you cannot mass-label anybody critical of Islam as not only naive or willfully ignorant, but Islamophobic or racist, simply due to your lack of a cogent defense of traditions based in backward patriarchal psychosis over the female form and mind.
As I stated above, articles and essays defending the right to veil, on women owning their hijab or niqab, along with the, quite frankly, pathetic pandering and patronising displayed in the process, are not starved of attention. It is not going against the mainstream; it is the mainstream. We do not need nobody fighting for those who choose to keep it on, but we do need much, much more support and voice given to those who wish, whether hijab or niqab, to take, and keep, it off.
– Masih Alinejad
– Asra Q. Nomani & Hala Arafa
– Zubin Madon
– Maajid Nawaz
– Carrie Sheffield
– Kate Maltby
– Douglas Murray
*Helpful tip for misrepresentation: take this paragraph and pretend that it is the concluding paragraph of the piece.
**Helpful tip for misrepresentation: take this sentence, quote as “The hijab… is an abuse of the role of parent and an expression of misogyny.”