A Muslim AND a Feminist? What, really?
Posted by Guest Writer on Thu, 03 May 2012.
Feminism is a brilliant movement which has for generations worked tirelessly to defend women's rights and ensure equality. To this day we look to the Women's Suffrage movements in admiration and there are few who don't appreciate just how important it is to have equality regardless of gender. What's more, as a society, we pride ourselves on our liberal values. Yet today, we see a distorted view of Feminism being used to look down upon a woman's right to freedom of expression; a Muslim's right to wear a headscarf.
"You don't have to wear that, you know!" is the most common cry thrown at me from any number of people wearing painfully pitying expressions whilst glaring at my headscarf. "Ah! You haven't seen me on a bad hair day, of course I do!" I'll attempt to laugh, hoping to end the look. It's utterly ridiculous the amount of times I've had to explain that I've chosen to wear a headscarf only to be responded to with a look of disbelief, or worse, pity. The immediate result of such outbursts is that it leads me to suddenly feel very self-conscious, ill- judged and patronised. The fact of the matter is, such people can be so caught up with their own views on an issue that they simply refuse to believe there could be an alternative. The worst thing is that a frightening amount of these comments are given on feminist grounds by those who seem to feel they're doing me a favour by patronising me
as though I'm incapable of making a spiritual decision whilst simultaneously being a Feminist.
If feminism, to you, is banning a woman from expressing herself purely on the grounds that you refuse to believe she is able to make her own decision, then you, my friend, have fallen prey to the murky swamp of stereotyping. A headscarf is an expression of identity and an undoubtedly spiritual decision on my behalf, and no amount of exasperated sighs from 'pretend-feminists' is going to drown my opinion.
Maybe it's because of the fact that I wear a headscarf and still don't seem to have magically lost my ability to think for myself or – and I dare say it- actually speak my mind, that I'm subjected to this reaction. Maybe it's because I don't fit in with the grey picture of oppressed Muslims keenly put forward in stereotypes? You're expecting me to the blame the media for this, I know, and to be fair they do seem quite happy to propagate the image almost as often as they like bringing up stories about angry, rioting 'youths' -even feminists aren't immune from being stereotyped! Still, we can't really deny that we've been propelling the media, actually encouraging them and then helping them get away with their clichés and their stereotyping, time and time again. As though we were their partners in crime.
Of course, I'm not saying that there aren't any women who don't have the choice, just like it'd be impossible to argue that there aren't some 'youths' who act like violent gang-members. Obviously, such people need our help and be given a way out of their situations. However, I'm sure you'll agree that it's hardly fair to tar all young people with the same brush, just like it's unfair to simply assume every Muslim covering her hair is an oppressed, confused child desperately in need of sympathy.
If we're going to justifiably be proud of our liberal, free-thinking values, we can't go round sorting people into homogenised groups. And if we're going to pride ourselves on our feminist values, we need to accept that women should be allowed to wear headscarves without a coming under a barrage of stereotyping and exasperation. The whole point of Feminism is accepting the decisions that other women make, regardless of whether you approve or not. All we, as a liberal society, need to ensure is that women are given the freedom to make their choices and for them to be allowed to stick to their decisions without coming under intimidation, propaganda or indeed, those painfully pitying expressions.