Feminism, Freedom and the Hijab

For many the Hijab is a powerful symbol. Be it a symbol of oppression or religious faith, the Hijab packs a punch. It speaks volumes to a judgmental society who watch on, intrigued.

Some claim they use the Hijab to protect their modesty where as others say it is something they are forced to wear.

I’m going to be brutally honest about my opinion here because I want to join the debate and provide a viewpoint.

When I see women in Hijabs I don’t pity them, fear them nor view it as a symbol of oppression because I can see their faces. I view it as a symbol of their religious faith. A faith I do not follow but nonetheless it is their choice and I would never want to interfere with a woman’s right to choose. I consider also, that this may not be a faith they have chosen nor wish to express through garments but as I consider it, I don’t feel offended by it as a feminist. I am however, intrigued.

When I see a Burka or a similar garment covering all but the eyes of a woman, a chill washes over me. I can’t see their eyes or their smile. I rarely hear them speak. They are often draped in shapeless, matching, dark garments which simultaneously make the women stand out but appear as unidentifiable objects.

In this, I can’t see religion. I can’t see faith or choice. I see oppression, control and subordination.

But does it matter what I see?

Say I campaigned to outlaw the Burka, what would I achieve? Ok women wouldn’t wear it and I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable when I saw them in the streets but all of the issues that I associate with it would remain. In addition, in reality, do these associated issues manifest themselves as a Burka? I think not but it IS right there in my face, so wrongly it becomes something I can direct my fears towards.

Perhaps that in itself is the problem. Those freedom fighters amongst us want to SEE freedom but by doing it we can often project the same objectification we oppose onto women and the things they wear. This only reinforces that a woman should be and is, judged on her appearance.

As I recall, thousands upon thousands of women worldwide hit the streets to protest in the SlutWalk protests. The protesters were saying ‘don’t judge me by what I wear!’ and I was empowered. GO LADIES!

To the same point, when it comes to Burkas, shouldn’t we be saying the same thing? Wouldn’t it have been amazing if amongst those at the SlutWalks were women in Burkas, holding up the same banners telling the world that no matter what garments a woman wears it doesn’t dictate or reflect which freedoms and rights she is entitled to.

Society needs to move past our obsession with the appearance of women. We give so much power to the visualization of women that we reinforce the stereotype that women are there to be looked at. On both sides we attach power and control to how much skin we show. Either, we associate freedom into wearing revealing clothes or we claim to preserve modesty and remove the temptations of men by covering ourselves head to toe.

In my opinion, Feminism should not be associated with clothes at all, in lacking or in abundance.

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