Consider the Hijab: Blogging Against Racism

Blogging against racism a full week late. Forgive me.

Earlier this week my mentor teacher (MT) parodied the hippies of the 60s, which was easy because she was one, and stood in the hallways with her “Make Love, Not War” placard, two fingers held up in a peace sign, clad in Indian-print shirt and bandana. She resumed her position at the head of the classroom this week, teaching Transcendentalist literature to our college-bound 11th graders. In order to put the transcendentalists into some sort of frame that these kids understand, we have been drawing connections between those in the 1860s and those in the 1960s, painting them as ideological brethren. “My parting words to you,” I started last Friday as I wrapped up my tenure with their class. “It’s all John Lennon, baby, living for today.”

The students are only interested in the hippies’ drugs. Nonetheless, we tried to impart the importance of political action and public works that were so prevalent to these thinkers and assigned a fun experiment that MT modeled above: Commit a public act of nonconformity, step outside of your comfort zone, record your observations, share with the class on Monday.

Their projects have been interesting. Three girls walked out of class unannounced (and were so scared they ran right back into their seats after doing a lap around the cafeteria), and two girls came to school clad in a grab bag of political slogans ranging from the pro-Christian to the anti-war. Another girl, an uber-preppy straight-A student, came to school dressed in knee high leather boots, a short skirt, and white bandana, strutting the halls like a biker babe with the bad attitude to match and skipped classes all day to hang out with the most awesome student teacher ever.

The most radical experiement of them all took my breath away. Yesterday, a Muslim student, only one of two in the school, took off her hijab.

This student, who we will call “Muizza” for this post, transferred here from an urban private school this fall. She and her sister are the two very obvious Muslims enrolled in this high school, and although the other students have negatively referred to her as an immigrant, among other misguided epithets, she and her parents were born in the United States. A fantastic but quiet student, she’s had difficulty making friends. There is no doubt in my mind that racism, xenophobia, and anti-Muslim sentiments are part of the reason she has felt so isolated. Only this week, her sister got in a fight in the cafeteria because another girl called her a raghead, a comment that was cheered on by far too many students to assuage my discomfort. Muizza was infuriated about the fight, disappointed that she wasn’t there to help her sister, and visibly depressed about being unable to defend herself in a way that had meaning.

She came to the classroom shortly before the first bell rang yesterday and we didn’t recognize her. “Can I help you?” MT asked. “OH MY GOD!”

I swiveled around in my chair and my jaw hit the floor. Muizza stood in the doorway, in the middle of asking a question about the day’s assignment, and we charged her. Her hair hung all the way down her back, a deep cocoa brown with blond highlights and a swoop of bangs, the kind of hair girls her age would kill for.

It never occurred to me how sensual hair can be, and in my sudden mania I fired a line of questions at her: “Your parents! What did they say? Has anyone said anything to you yet? What have your other teachers said? How do you feel? Are you scared?”

She felt weird, she said. Exposed and yet empowered. No one in the school recognized her. Her mother thought it was a cool idea, but her father was a little upset. I could see why. Muizza is in general a pretty girl, but her hair was so glamorous and luxurious she surpassed beautiful and hit the mark on rock star and don’t you forget it. Her demeanor had something else to it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was so astounded at her courage that I couldn’t think straight.

The teacher and I spent most of the day turning to one another, astounded. “Muizza. Wow.”

You have to understand that this school is profoundly racist. In a class where I have half Basic students and half ELL students, the ELL students do not have names, and are referred to as “The Mexicans.” I have issued detentions for flippant use of the word “nigger” in daily class discussions. Twice. The small-mindedness of the Git ‘er Done philosophy is holy among most of the student population, who aren’t intellectually up to the abstraction of its irony. You can count the staff and students of color, in a school of 2000+, on two hands. Despite challenging the worst students on their racist assumptions, I have hit a brick wall. They have no experience to disprove their preconceived notions about interracial interactions — they have no experience whatsoever.

Her motivation for taking off the headscarf was obvious seventh hour. She marched into the room with a smirk on her face and the other students, for the first time, crowded around her. “I can’t believe you got into a fight with that girl.” “Your hair! It’s so pretty!” “Why do you wear the scarf?” “I didn’t know you had highlights!” “Is it your choice?” “Do your parents make you wear it?” “It’s so cool you stood up to that girl.”

Fight? What? The bell rang and the teacher started class, calling attention to the various things others had done to complete the assigned experiment. She saved Muizza for last.

“I got into a fight at lunch,” Muizza said, “because some girl called my sister a ‘raghead’ yesterday.” Apparently Muizza took it upon herself to confront the girl who beat up her sister, actually exchanged blows despite her unwillingness to fistfight, and despite the zero-tolerance policy on fighting, the administration didn’t punish Muizza for standing up for herself, for her sister, or for her religion. I won’t deny that I shed a tear, or that my eyes well up to think what courage that must have taken considering the unbelievable amount of xenophobia I’ve seen exhibited by other students and teachers in the school.

She answered the other students’ questions patiently. Most of all, she emphasized one thing: Yes, she would don the hijab on Monday. Underlining this statement was that demeanor I couldn’t place before. I could look just like you, she seemed to say, but I don’t want to.

I can’t even comprehend the courage it must have taken to take off that scarf, or the courage it will take to put it back on. I am still completely blown away.

Although I am aware that many feminists question hijab and women’s choice to don the Muslim head scarf, and that I myself have been skeptical of the choice to adhere to religious law associated with the Taliban, consider that in America being “hijabed” may be a radical act, an assertion of identity, willful acceptance of life on the margins in a time of a seeming holy war. Consider wearing the hijab as a feminist act*, a performance of aggression against the hypersexualization of young women in America.

To some, she is making a radical statement about her violent political ideas.

To others, she is the symbol of absolute subjugation and is in dire need of rescue.

For them, having such women as part of the North American landscape is frightening.

She is “the veiled woman,” belonging in a foreign place, an actor on an exotic stage.

We are seen as poisoning this “free and democratic” culture with our “weak and submissive ways.”

… A woman who covers herself out of the love of Allah is not just stating something about what she accepts but she is also saying something about what she rejects.

Any woman who refuses to play the gender games that are so basic to all societies is going to be pushed out.

… I found the hostility difficult to understand. Just because my head was covered, people were unable to relate to me.

I got a valuable lesson from her today. Nothing, nothing, is ever as clear as it might seem. These cultural tangles prevail.
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Two recommended posts from other stragglers here and here.


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102 Responses to Consider the Hijab: Blogging Against Racism

  1. bitchphd says:

    Wow.

    I hope the other students learned something. I wonder if they will go back to shunning her on Monday, or if they’ll have had an awakening.

  2. Roxanne says:

    Context is everything, isn’t it? And Muizza’s act was a bigger learning experience for her teachers and peers than it was for her. It was also a good learning experience for me. So I thank you for posting it.

  3. Amba says:

    This is a thought-provoking post, and Muizza is clearly a brave young woman, but attempts to invest the hijab with a sort of feminist gravitas seem misplaced to me. The hijab is about as feminist as prairie muffin-style modest clothing; that is to say, not at all. By the way, devout Muslim women who cover are certainly not exempt from ‘gender games.’ The games they play have different rules, that’s all.

  4. rabbit says:

    I think that the major lesson from this story is not that a hijab can be feminist or that its always degrading…its that it doesn’t have to be either all the time. The fact that the hijab is her choice already takes it our of our Western assumption that it is always something foisted on a woman by a father or a husband. Whether or not her decision to wear it could be construed as ‘feminist’…well its almost not worth debating, especially as we can’t even agree on what ‘feminism’ entails in the most mundane circumstances. The thing that I took away from this is not to always assume, as most of the other students seem to have, that this is not her choice, and not to assume you know her motivations.

  5. Lauren says:

    Key word in this, especially relating to feminism, is “consider.”

  6. piny says:

    This is a thought-provoking post, and Muizza is clearly a brave young woman, but attempts to invest the hijab with a sort of feminist gravitas seem misplaced to me. The hijab is about as feminist as prairie muffin-style modest clothing; that is to say, not at all. By the way, devout Muslim women who cover are certainly not exempt from ‘gender games.’ The games they play have different rules, that’s all.

    Or covering your hair in church. Or wearing a bra. Or wearing a shirt. Or wearing any clothes that constrain both by their impractical design and their ornamental purpose. We have modesty rules in this culture, too, ones that are markedly different for men and women. They are different in one degree from long skirts and hijab, but not in intent, in discriminatory focus, or in the effect on the wearer.

    By the way, devout Muslim women who cover are certainly not exempt from ‘gender games.’ The games they play have different rules, that’s all.

    Of course. But that set of games is not available to Muizza in the environment in which she spends most of her time. As a Muslim girl in an American school with American rules, she is locked out. Her hijab has become a way of exempting herself, desexualizing herself.

  7. What an incredible story. That girl is years ahead of her time. It sounds like a good thing – maybe by seeing her as more “like them,” the other students will be able to visualize other women with headscarves in a similar way.

  8. BoDiddly says:

    Bravo, Lauren! That was an incredible write-up of an incredible action.

    You touched on something that people not exposed daily to “school-life” sometimes miss. In their quest to stamp out “violence” in schools, administrators got into the habit of punishing everyone involved. Problem is, the “class bully” doesn’t care if s/he gets punished, but their targets frequently have concerns about grades, repercussions at home, etc., that keep them from standing up for themselves. There’s no easy solution, but I’m glad to see that the administrators where you are let a little bit of common sense guide their disciplinary decisions.

    Another point that was too long for a parenthetical in the appropriate place above: often minority students (in a very lopsided demographic, like you describe) are under more pressure at home to not get in trouble, therefore make themselves doubly prone to be targeted by the bullies–they’re different, and they won’t take up for themselves.

    I do have to agree with Amba that the hijab is about as empowering as a mumu, though. It may be used to empower (by calling attention to the wearer, affording a “listen to me” moment) but the garment also carries with it a history of repression and subjugation.

    Again, though, an incredibly well-penned piece on an incredible young girl.

  9. Jen says:

    wow. it’s amazing that a woman that young could be so much braver than most adults i know…male and female

  10. Sally says:

    I’m actually curious about whether hijab politics are changing the gender dynamics of Muslim political activism. It sort of seems like that in my little world: young, hijab-wearing women kind of become de facto spokespeople, just because they’re visible and controversial. They get called upon to explain what it means to be Muslim in America much more than guys or non-hijab-wearing women do, because most people can’t tell that a Muslim guy or non-hijab-wearing woman is Muslim. It seems like a totally shitty burden to put on those young women, but I do wonder how it’s going to affect things if (some) women are the people with the most experience talking about being Muslim to non-Muslims.

  11. KnifeGhost says:

    She answered the other students’ questions patiently. Most of all, she emphasized one thing: Yes, she would don the hijab on Monday. Underlining this statement was that demeanor I couldn’t place before. I could look just like you, she seemed to say, but I don’t want to.

    I think this is the essence of your post. It’s _her choice_. Look at her parents’ reaction.

    Her mother thought it was a cool idea, but her father was a little upset.

    Most white middle-class suburban teenagers would shit themselves in disbelief if their parents had that kind of reaction to, say, green hair or nose ring. Of course, getting a reaction is often the point of green hair or a nose ring, but whatever. It’s hyopcritial and Islamophobic to point fingers and say “see, see, her father wasn’t happy about it!!” In a country where parents threaten to kick their kids out for wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt (I suppose I’m dating myself with that reference), or, just 35 years ago, if they had long hair.

    Ok, that’s a bit of a digression. She wear a hijab because she wants to, and it’s pointless to debate over whether hijabs are feminist or not-feminist. About as useful as debating whether lyric poetry is revolutionary or counter-revolutionary. She stood up for herself, for her amily, and for her culture, and Lauren, you’re right to be proud to the point of tears.

  12. piny says:

    I think this is the essence of your post. It’s _her choice_. Look at her parents’ reaction

    Weeeeelllll…it’s a choice made in a constraining system. My mom would be plenty mad if her daughter had gone to school with “tasty” stencilled across her ass. That doesn’t mean it would be either an autonomous decision or a feminist one.

    She wear a hijab because she wants to, and it’s pointless to debate over whether hijabs are feminist or not-feminist.

    In the context of whether or not this was an act of courage and independence on her part, I suppose, but in general? I dunno.

  13. Lauren says:

    Overwhelmingly, my question is whether or not, in a country where hijab is not a requirement, and in an era in which Islamophobia is certainly NOT rare, it can be tied to political statements that can be considered feminist. I genuinely don’t know.

  14. Lauren says:

    Also, on the site that I linked that quote above, I found many statements in favor of hijab as choice to be compelling, and others to be questionable at the absolute best. Maybe someone can find a more salient article or something out there that addresses this kind of situation.

  15. Roxanne says:

    You don’t have to agree with someone’s worldview to respect their ability to force you to re-consider an issue …even if you come around to your original conclusion.

  16. Tex says:

    Lauren, this is an excellent post! A week late, but hell, it’s worth the wait. It’s been said elsewhere, but context is everything when it comes to cultural displays, and I think you’ve nailed that.

    One niggling point:

    a performative act of aggression against the hypersexualization of young women in America.

    I think you’re confusing performativity with performance, the big Judith Butler no-no. Probably better to just say “performance of aggression” rather than “performative act of agression.”

  17. Lauren says:

    I’ll get right on that, Tex.

  18. Lauren says:

    Pretty much, Rox. And I have to admit that a part of me was thrilled that she took it off at all. I don’t think she’ll be wearing it much longer.

    Anyhow, her bravery certainly got the brain juices going.

  19. Mark says:

    Ya know, I wonder how boring Jeff G’s website would be if it were not for Jill’s and yours posts to inspire him… ;)

    PS- my grammer sucks lol

  20. Chris Clarke says:

    I’ll get right on that, Tex.

    *makes imaginary chalk score-mark in air on Lauren’s half of the universe*

  21. Sara says:

    Unbelievable.
    Wish I could have been there to see that! She sounds like an amazing young woman.

  22. bellatrys says:

    Alone among western women of my aquaintance, I’ve actually owned and worn a full veil, once upon a time. I only wore it as “garb,” as a costume – but even that was a very strange experience…because for the first time I had the power in the situation, over the males present.

    The sexist, cover-yourself-you’re-not-modest-those-pants-are-too-tight, traditional Christians in my family and circle, who made me so body-conscious of being “tempting” and “alluring” to poor helpless male lust, making them sin despite themselves – they *freaked*. They totally didn’t know how to handle it when they couldn’t see me to judge me over whether I was “modest” enough.

    And when they couldn’t see my reactions facially to their sexist put-downs, the ones I was supposed to nod and smile and shuffle and blush over, being a good conservative Catholic maiden, while my anger was burning inside with the heat of a thousand suns.

    So I wore it around the house more often, passive resistance, because they couldn’t articulate why it freaked them, and they couldn’t argue with a “just for fun” retort, “just to see what it was like in the old days for noble Roman women who had to wear full veils in public,” after all – it didn’t get in the way of my doing housework or homework.

    And if I’d been brave enough, I’d have worn it to school, too – where I was sexually harrassed *because* I was shy, and modest, and bookish-glasses-geek, and afraid, and it was fun to call me “dog” or to alternately say “I want to get inside you, I want to feel your heat, pleaaase” and make suggestive grunting noises at me while the other girls (and guys) pretended I was invisible and didn’t notice.

    Instead I surrounded myself with a virtual burka, I made myself invisible, for years; but eventually it got to be too much, between the you’re ugly/ you’re too sexy/not sexy enough/sinfully immodest/dowdy definitions placed upon me, I dressed as baggily and obscurely as possible, and avoided going out by day, and eventually at all.

    I won, over that, eventually; part of the mental exercise involving imaginary armour, like something from an anime adventure.

    But I still feel like a slut when I wear a sleevless shirt, or shorts. And I covet, more than anything else, the gold-embroidered black satin masks worn by certain desert nomads, that I once saw in the National Geographic, and the right to go with face hidden from male disdain or female rivalry. (I made my face a mask, instead, to hide my thoughts behind the veil of my eyes.)

    –Modern progressive Moslem women choose to both wear a headscarf and interpret it as a feminist choice, to *not* be judged and valued as mere sexual objects, oriented to male approval. To say they are not feminist, that they *cannot* be, have no right to interpret it – well, are you willing to listen to what *they* say about your high heels, underwire, and makeup?

    Because *that’s* not feminist at all either – or is it? I listen to femmey feminists whinging about it and trying to rationalize it, and one in ten has a balanced, non-denial attitude towards traditional western female costume, and is freely choosing it not out of psychological obligation and cultural shaming, fear of being thought “Butch” or ugly.

    The rest are just as much under the thumb of the patriarchy as any Victorian bourgeoise matron, no matter how much porn you watch at home.

    I challenge any femmy “feminist” to go out in public for a day – not veiled, but without makeup, without high heels, in unsexy clothes and paying no less but no more heed to hair and appearance than an average man does. I’ll bet it’s as much of a strangeness – and perhaps more painful – than for this student to take off her scarf.

    The window looks both ways…

  23. Beth says:

    You can count the staff and students of color, in a school of 2000+, on two hands.
    This is important. When I was a kid in suburban Chicago, we had only a handful of minority students in our school. I’ll confess to having been disdainful (although not hateful) of minorities then, until we moved to Mississippi when I was 14. The school was probably 40-50% black, and I learned quickly how wrong we were in our sheltered little world. So I’m not surprised–disgusted, but not suprised–at the nastiness of the students at your school. .

    All this is to say that MAYBE Muizza’s public unveiling wasn’t that much of an act of courage among her classmates; after all, she was fitting in, and as you know fitting in is paramount at that age. I think it was probably an act of courage to defy her father’s expectations, although with it being only one day it likely wouldn’t provoke much outrage. I wonder how it would go over if she decided the hijab wasn’t for her any more? Is it REALLY her choice to wear the hijab? I just don’t see it as an overt statement of independence and individuality, as I would the kid with green hair and piercings all over her face. If she came from a secular or non-Muslim family, then absolutely, but most teenagers just want to fit in. Most of them.

    I’ve just got a really hard time seeing this as an act of feminism. Exercising your options is certainly a feminist ideal, but does she really have a choice? Certainly removing the hijab was stepping outside her comfort zone, but I’m not convinced that going to school was the point. I think defying her father’s expectation was her real act of courage, and would have applied just as well had she gone out to the mall (for example) among strangers without the hijab.

    I think I’m with piny on this one; that some Christian girls who wear the dowdy clothes/don’t cut their hair/don’t wear makeup aren’t trying to be different, either–they’re doing it because they’re raised to behave a certain way, and are expected to comply by what appears to be a decidedly conformist and role/rule-bound culture, in both cases.

    It’s a good story, though; it sounds like it was a great assignment for the students.

  24. Beth says:

    Modern progressive Moslem women choose…
    That’s a good point, bellatrys, but you’re talking about adult women. I don’t think the same rules apply with girls still subject to parental expectations. It’s the same with how you “defied” your own family at home by wearing a veil, but not at school.
    And really, how many veiled Muslim women are veiled because they’re making a feminist statement? You could argue that it’s inherently feminist because they’re exercising their own free will, but are they really veiled because they’re defiant, or are they simply rationalizing it like “femmy feminists” rationalize wearing makeup and trying to look pretty? What’s the difference?

  25. piny says:

    or are they simply rationalizing it like “femmy feminists” rationalize wearing makeup and trying to look pretty?

    Oh, dear.

  26. piny says:

    The sexist, cover-yourself-you’re-not-modest-those-pants-are-too-tight, traditional Christians in my family and circle, who made me so body-conscious of being “tempting” and “alluring” to poor helpless male lust, making them sin despite themselves – they *freaked*. They totally didn’t know how to handle it when they couldn’t see me to judge me over whether I was “modest” enough.

    That’s…staggeringly illogical, but not entirely surprising.

  27. Chris Clarke says:

    Bellatrys, I heart you.

    Lauren, you know this, but I’ll say it in public. If I had put the energy I did into Blog Against Racism Day and this post was the only result, it would have been worth it.

    And as no good deed goes unpunished, your wonderful vision has taken some heat in that racist cesspool blog across the tracks. The presumption that Islam is inherently anti-feminist – as opposed to merely under the influence of prominent misogynists for the moment – is profoundly chauvinistic. And so it’s no surprise that the trolls over there would object. I urge you to consider that a testament to your good work.

    Kudos.

  28. Lauren says:

    They totally didn’t know how to handle it when they couldn’t see me to judge me over whether I was “modest” enough.

    Sort of off-topic, but I taught a lesson on Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” this semester with my face completely covered in black crepe. The students couldn’t handle it and twenty minutes into the class, both classes, an uproar started because they were so freaked out. They hated that they couldn’t see my eyes.

  29. piny says:

    All this is to say that MAYBE Muizza’s public unveiling wasn’t that much of an act of courage among her classmates; after all, she was fitting in, and as you know fitting in is paramount at that age. I think it was probably an act of courage to defy her father’s expectations, although with it being only one day it likely wouldn’t provoke much outrage. I wonder how it would go over if she decided the hijab wasn’t for her any more? Is it REALLY her choice to wear the hijab? I just don’t see it as an overt statement of independence and individuality, as I would the kid with green hair and piercings all over her face. If she came from a secular or non-Muslim family, then absolutely, but most teenagers just want to fit in. Most of them.

    I’ve just got a really hard time seeing this as an act of feminism. Exercising your options is certainly a feminist ideal, but does she really have a choice? Certainly removing the hijab was stepping outside her comfort zone, but I’m not convinced that going to school was the point. I think defying her father’s expectation was her real act of courage, and would have applied just as well had she gone out to the mall (for example) among strangers without the hijab.

    I think this is a little insulting, and that it doesn’t jibe with the account of what happened. First of all, she didn’t go to the mall. She came to school and faced her classmates–their reactions were very much a part of her decision to go uncovered. She did so in order to point up their earlier treatment of her when she was wearing hijab–something that she and they both understood to be part of the dynamic between them. Also, while she was uncovered, she confronted a racist student who’d attacked her sister–an interaction that has nothing to do with her interactions with her father. Finally, she put the scarf back on, after making everyone aware that she could take it off to fit in if she damn well pleased, which means that she was neither simply defying her father’s wishes that she cover her hair or bowing to peer pressure.

  30. EricP says:

    Sort of off-topic, but I taught a lesson on Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” this semester with my face completely covered in black crepe. The students couldn’t handle it and twenty minutes into the class, both classes, an uproar started because they were so freaked out. They hated that they couldn’t see my eyes.

    How old were the kids? Haven’t seen a person in a costume before? Are kids that sensitive these days?

  31. bellatrys says:

    attempts to invest high heels with a sort of feminist gravitas seem misplaced to me. The heel is about as feminist as prairie muffin-style modest clothing; that is to say, not at all…

    the high heel is about as empowering as a mumu, though. It may be used to empower (by calling attention to the wearer, affording a “listen to me” moment) but the heel also carries with it a history of repression and subjugation.

    Actually, the inversion/substitution doesn’t really work. There’s just no way that you can make the wearing of high heels a feminist statement, or one of empowerment not conformity and submission to the patriarchy, not in this universe or any outside of Discworld, even less than you can make a corset to be one (which is a lot of tortuous, nearly sophstical argument, mostly about defining spaces in one’s own head, but I’ve seen it done convincingly, to me at least, by feminist historians seriously willing to question their own assumptions and go down the rabbithole.)

  32. Lauren says:

    How old were the kids? Haven’t seen a person in a costume before? Are kids that sensitive these days?

    16-17. I think they were freaked because they couldn’t tell where I was looking and that meant it was more difficult for them to get away with anything. I did have their rapt attention all hour though. ;)

  33. Beth says:

    I think this is a little insulting,

    If it was insulting, I really didn’t mean it to be so in any way, and I’m sorry I probably didn’t express myself well (too long a comment?!).

    I agree with you completely that it highlighted her classmates’ prejudices, particularly how (at least in my impression) many were much nicer to her when she was without the hijab (IOW, more like them). I’m only saying I don’t think of it so much as a feminist statement, except in her defiance of what may be her father’s expectations. I see it more a statement against religious/ethnic prejudice, rather than sexism. That’s all.

    My point about the “femmy feminists” as Bellatrys said was this: I would count myself as a “femmy feminist,” I guess (although I have gone to the store a la the Dude Lebowski in PJ’s and no makeup!), and if it’s convoluted logic to defend being femmy in response to arguments that it’s anti-feminist, then the logic could easily apply just as well to those who wear the hijab and rationalize it as “feminist” to do so.

  34. zuzu says:

    The thing about hijabs in this country is that girls are free to choose to wear them or not without interference from the state. As much as we talk about the American Taliban, there is no Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice here, nor are there any laws prohibiting the wearing of the hijab in public schools, like there is in France.

    Now, familial and cultural pressure is another story, but how is that any different from any other group? The hijab is simply a visible signal of difference, one that many Americans are uncomfortable with. But are Jews unable to be feminists because some Orthodox women wear wigs? Is it impossible to be a nun and be a feminist?

  35. zuzu says:

    Or, as I forgot to add, is it impossible to be a lipstick feminist? To both fight for equal pay for equal work and freak the fuck out if someone suggests you cut your hair?

  36. bitchphd says:

    I think the really interesting point here is that *whatever* choices a woman makes about her appearance are symbolic. In a sense, there is *no* “feminist” choice about how women look / dress, b/c how women look / dress never escapes surveillance.

  37. Shannon W. says:

    Also, you can be more than one thing. For example, most of the time, I don’t wear any makeup and throw the first thing I find on the floor on, but at other times I attempt ultra feminine fashion. Fashion and feminism- I don’t know what to say about it.

  38. Beth says:

    I think the really interesting point here is that *whatever* choices a woman makes about her appearance are symbolic. In a sense, there is *no* “feminist” choice about how women look / dress, b/c how women look / dress never escapes surveillance.

    Well said, and SO true.

  39. Pingback: Feministe » A Love Letter to Teh Feminists

  40. Such a powerful post, wow.

    One reaction I had that I don’t think has been mentioned in comments – to me, this post really highlights the distinction between modesty and inhibition, which are so often conflated. This is a distinction I often see among the Orthodox Jewish women I’m acquainted with – they wear long sleeves and long dresses in hot weather, but I pity anyone who took that to mean that they couldn’t stand up for themselves.

  41. La Lubu says:

    What bellatrys said.

    From what was presented here, I think Muizza choosing to wear the hijab has a lot less to do with the traditional proscription of “modesty” and a helluva lot more to do with an assertion of ethnic and religious pride—then again, I’m old enough to remember when wearing an Afro was a distinctly political act, especially for a woman. Muizza wearing the hijab within this context is an act of resistance.

    I also wouldn’t assume that her father’s resistance to Muizza taking off her scarf has anything to do with traditional patriarchy. Perhaps he is also sensitive to the pressure she is experiencing to fit-in ethnically—after all, her parents were also born in the U.S., and probably experienced the same pressures. Her father may just want her to take pride in who she is, and not feel like she has to (literally) whitewash herself.

    When I was Muizza’s age, my father gave me certain messages about my appearance, intended to spark a certain amount of pride in my non-Anglo looks. He always made it a point to say positive things about the beauty of dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-toned women (be they Italian, Greek, Arab, Latina, Jewish, whatever) and made sarcastic comments about women from those backgrounds who tried to Anglify their appearance—I realized as an adult that the second part of that wasn’t cool—but I also understood where he was coming from, why he said what he said. See, if I had started—I dunno, bleaching my hair or whatever—it wouldn’t just be about me; he would have felt a certain failure as a parent—that he failed to instill that pride in me.

    I’m thinking that maybe Muizza’s father is a lot like mine. There’s a different dynamic going on for her mother, because her (U.S. born, let’s remember) mother can see both sides of the equation—she grew up with feminist platitudes against hijab, too.

  42. Ken says:

    Admirable when a woman has the choice as to whether to wear a hijab or not.
    The negative connotations of a hajib come from places where woman do not have the choice of whether to wear such a garment or not.
    To take a situation that is outside the norm where a woman has a choice to wear a halib and use it to justify the norm where woman do not have the ortion to wear a hajib or not is intellectually dishonest.
    This is similiar to the rethuglicans trying to justify torture by the example of a nuclear weapon set to go off and needing to find it NOW.
    Both use the same dishonest debating trick of using an isolated set of circumstances to rationalize on ongoing evil.
    Coercion in beleifs, attire and behavior is unacceptable.
    Where someone has been so abused that they embrace the coercion does not justify it.

  43. zuzu says:

    To take a situation that is outside the norm where a woman has a choice to wear a halib and use it to justify the norm where woman do not have the ortion to wear a hajib or not is intellectually dishonest.

    I wouldn’t say that the norm is women not having a choice about whether to wear hijab. It’s only a few countries that bring to bear the power of the state on forcing the choice.

    The Muslim world is vast, and Muslims live all over. Indonesia, for example, is the world’s largest Muslim country, yet the women there are not veiled.

  44. Chris says:

    In case the discussion hasn’t totally wound down, I’m curious how people would react to a male Muslim teenager wearing a hijab. I think *that* could be quite interesting, too…

  45. La Lubu says:

    To take a situation that is outside the norm where a woman has a choice to wear a halib and use it to justify the norm where woman do not have the ortion to wear a hajib or not is intellectually dishonest.

    Gee, I missed the part on this thread where anyone was using Muizza’s statement to justify say, throwing acid on the faces of women who refuse to wear the hijab. Could you point this section out to me, pretty please?

    Also, I find it quite intellectually dishonest to single out the practices of nonwhite people as antifeminist or restrictive, while simultaneously turning a blind eye toward white, Western practices like requiring female employees to wear pantyhose, skirts, and makeup (or else be fired). There are far too many Western feminists ready to condemn hijab while extolling the virtues of “lipstick feminism” (see! I’m not butch like those other women!). See, I’m right with bitchPhD—if there’s one thing that women from all cultures experience, it the ol’ “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. No matter what, we’re gonna get dumped on for our choices, and receive extra scrutiny. As women, there’s no such thing as a “free” clothing choice, because unlike men, we don’t have a “neutral” choice of uniform that doesn’t come loaded down with some sort of baggage.

    I’d also like to remind you that even after Vatican II, it was still common for women to be required to wear hijab in church—-it just wasn’t called that. It took awhile for some of those parishes to get with the program—and some of them resisted precisely because the church membership saw some of the measures as a way of “Protestantizing” the Catholic Church. Again, it was all about asserting an ethnic identity in the face of an outside community of hostile WASPs.

  46. La Lubu says:

    I’m curious how people would react to a male Muslim teenager wearing a hijab.

    There’s no translation for that–it simply wouldn’t carry the same connotation. It’s like my father’s Afro in the seventies—he isn’t black, so it didn’t carry the same meaning as Afros did for black folks. A male Muslim (or any male) wearing a full hijab (headscarf and veiled) would signal “criminal trying to avoid recognition” or “person trying to avoid frostbite” (if the weather was very cold). Those are the only contexts we have in the U.S. for men covering their faces. If he just had his head covered without a veil, he’d be assumed to be wearing a do-rag.

  47. zuzu says:

    However, if you saw a male Muslim teenager with a full, long beard and one of those caps (I forget what they’re called; they’re kind of cylindrical and crocheted-looking), you might come to certain conclusions about him. Those conclusions might not include that he was forced into his choice of appearance, however.

  48. Ken says:

    The only reason that I “only” mentioned the hijab was that this was the subject of the post. I agree that coercin to make people wear any sort of sexually specific clothing that either is meant to enhance and/or detract from one’s sexuallity is offensive.

    Usual caveats for safety and health issues apply.

  49. mythago says:

    There are far too many Western feminists ready to condemn hijab while extolling the virtues of “lipstick feminism”

    So is it OK to be critical of the hijab if one also is critical of Western standards of feminine beauty? Do we have to get our feminist cards validated first?

  50. Josh Jasper says:

    I’ve lived in countries where I was surrounded by Muslims. Honestly, in most liberal Muslim states, the hijb is nothing more complex than an orthodox Jew’s yarmulke, and considerably more stylish. You see them in all sorts of colors, some with gold threads, others in hip paterns.

    I don’t see why so many westerners make a big deal out of the hijab. It’s not a chador, and women in modern muslim notions are not any worse off than American women are.

    Actualy, considering most of those nations have public education that goes up to graduate degrees, public health insurance, and public housing, women in muslim nations are in some ways better off.

    I’m not going to pretend there’s no sexism in Islam. There is. And Muslim women are rising the meet it on their own terms.

  51. zuzu says:

    Honestly, hair has weird, weird significance in this society.

    I mean, watch an episode of What Not To Wear sometime, and very often, the person the victims are most afraid of is Nick, the hairstylist. Many of the women will fight for the ugliest damn hair, to the point of tears, using the old “my husband won’t like it” defense. Their whole idea of their feminity is bound up in their hair, which amazes me, because IT’S HAIR! IT GROWS BACK!! They’ve gone through the trashing of their wardrobes and learned the new rules about what works for them,and dissolve when they get in Nick’s chair.

    Mind you, I’m someone who’s very secure in my face, and I know I look good with 1-1/2-inch-long hair. My only objection to cutting hair short has to do with the pain-in-the-assedness of growing it out.

  52. Beth says:

    I’ve lived in countries where I was surrounded by Muslims. Honestly, in most liberal Muslim states, the hijb is nothing more complex than an orthodox Jew’s yarmulke, and considerably more stylish. You see them in all sorts of colors, some with gold threads, others in hip paterns.

    I don’t see why so many westerners make a big deal out of the hijab. It’s not a chador, and women in modern muslim notions are not any worse off than American women are.

    I lived in Turkey for 15 months (in the military), and what you say about more liberal Muslim states is very true, for the most part (exceptions in certain segments of society, as always).

    But it’s not like that everywhere, and naturally we (in the west) don’t hear about those non-extremist Muslims for a couple of reasons. One, because they’re not trouble-makers (i.e. Iran), and two, because they don’t openly reject the extremist Islamists publicly, but appear to (if not in fact) excuse them, particularly when it comes to the Israel/Palestinian issue. And let’s face it, most Americans (myself included) are pro-Israel and don’t approve of Palestinian wishes to “push Israel into the sea.” Muslims, as we all know, aren’t a particularly loved group in this country, right or wrong, and I think that’s why we (the collective “we”) make a big deal out of the hijab, as opposed to a yarmulke. Jews don’t go screaming “Death to the infidels,” but we see it all the time from Islamists.

    It’s also taken as one of two things to most people: either the hijab is worn because of Muslim subjugation of women–and let’s not kid ourselves, we wouldn’t tolerate the rules Muslim women are subjected to for two seconds–or it’s taken as a defiant poke in the eye. Western adults (I’m not talking about kids, they can be mean for all sorts of reasons) don’t have anything against individual Muslims, but many of us (myself included) do despise the teachings of Islam and central to it is the subjugation of women, dressed up in current times by apologists and dhimmis as honoring a woman, protecting a woman–but it’s still the same 7th century schtick. Jihad (I use the term loosely) against “infidels” goes without saying.

    I know what I’m saying isn’t going to go over well with some people reading, and that’s fine. We’ve all got a right to an opinion. Just please be aware that what I’m saying is just what I think most Americans believe, and that’s why the veil is looked upon with disdain in America (not, for example, in Turkey or other similar places where it’s less of an anomaly). YMMV.

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  54. La Lubu says:

    mythago, I don’t give a damn about a “feminist card”; it’s something I haven’t been issued. I just find it bizarre that people in the Western world can clamor about how evil (that word was used in this very thread) the hijab is while finding flimsy stilletto heels and makeup perfectly normal. Y’know, forest? trees? Granted, women in the Western world aren’t getting acid thrown in our faces for not wearing makeup….but forty years ago, neither were women in the Muslim world for not wearing hijab.

    I’m not opposed to the conversation, as long as it’s a full conversation, with a recognition of at least some of the history, especially more recent history, surrounding the issue. I’d prefer that those of us outside the Muslim world do some more listening, especially to Muslim feminists. There seems to be far more of a knee-jerk reaction amongst Westerners about headscarves, yet no questioning of the restrictive, “feminine” standards we’re held to. I’d also like to see/hear some more recognition from non-Muslims that Islam is not a monocultural religion, and that there is a difference between the Islamists and the average Muslim.

    I see a lot of anti-Muslim baggage being carried into the conversation. I see a lot of cultural misunderstanding. Muizza explained why she wore hijab, and folks don’t want to hear her. But they walk right past the girls and women who took bellytry’s tack. Why are blue jeans and sweatshirts acceptable de-sexualizing clothing, but headscarves not? Why are dashikis or turquoise jewelry an acceptable display of cultural pride, but headscarves are not?

    I was born and raised in the U.S., and am not a Muslim. No one is pressuring me to wear a headscarf. Meanwhile, if I stop at the grocery store on the way home while in my Carharrts and work boots, people are snatching their children away from me as I walk down the aisle, lest Dyke Cooties infect their family. Yeah, I think there’s more relevant conversations for Western feminists to be having.

  55. Cognitive Dissonance Rules. Especially when you can pass it on to other people. ^.^

  56. mythago says:

    I’m not opposed to the conversation, as long as it’s a full conversation

    Sure. I just don’t understand the assumption that if you criticize the hijab (whatever that means–as if it were either “go hijab!” or “outlaw them all!”), you must be a monocultural wanker who thinks nothing of your own culture’s oppression of women.

  57. TwennyTwo says:

    Peace /Salaams to all

    YES! YES yes yes yes YES. YOU GOT IT. Now you understand.

    As a Muslim-4th generation American-Black woman thank you sooo much for cracking the door just a little more, allowing Muizza to express her point of view. As a teacher, we don’t even think of the ways our assignments can change the students or ourselves. Rock. On.

    Thanks so much again. I hope your teaching career -and your life as an American- are filled with revelations like that one.

    peace
    TwennyTwo

  58. Chris says:

    (I know I’m not replying quickly enough to have much of an actual conversation, but here goes…)
    (in response to La Lubu’s response to my male-muslim-teen-hijab question)

    I think a male muslim (straight) teen who wore a hijab wouldn’t fit neatly into any gender context (like a white guy with a ‘fro – reactions to that *would*, I think, be revealing, even if it’s non-reactions, because they’d mean, “It’s okay for whites to grow out curly hair, but not for blacks to do so,” which is what I assume the significance of Afros were), and that it’d generate some interesting reactions. My point is that you *don’t* see male Muslims required to demonstrate their modesty in a similar, physically obvious, and female-oriented manner (or at least, I’m not aware of such a requirement), and it would be interesting to see reactions if a guy volunteered to play by those rules (and the “straight” part is something I specify only because I think there’d be a whole different subset of reactions if it were a gay guy, because it’d still be a male following a female-oriented rule, but with an eye (in theory) towards how he’s perceived by other guys. And once there are more reactions, we could tease out more of the possible meanings of those (beyond the basic paradox of a woman (wearing/or not) a hijab to (fit in with/or not) (family/social expectations) in the context of American/Muslim culture.

  59. UmmHamza says:

    This was a way cool blog entry. Thanks for posting it.

    “I could look just like you, but I don’t want to.” If that doesn’t sum it up, nothing does. I have had many opportunities to give up my hijab and my modesty, but they are part of me and I love them because they do reflect my values and who I feel reigns supreme: God. Not the public eye, not Cosmo and Vogue, not your opinions on whether I was forced to do this.

    There are some incredibly beautiful, smart, worthy women that are overlooked because people think she is a nothing in a scarf. Your loss. (not the writer, but people in general)

    Love, an ex-WASP

  60. Nobody says:

    Consider wearing the hijab as a feminist act, a performance of aggression against the hypersexualization of young women in America.

    May be too late coming along to get a response, but since the topic isn’t entirely dead. . .

    Isn’t that more or less the function of the hijab everywhere it’s worn? It’s origin wasn’t in protest of anything, particularly, but it’s re-emergence was. It’s just that it was Muslim men who decided Muslim women would be made in to symobls of that aggressive dissent from western decadence. And that particular use for it, men using women as political symbols, is still the primary use. Even if she were trying to divorce the thing from it’s current context to make some new statement (which she isn’t), it would still be dodgey. Like trying to rehabilitate the swastika (during WWII)–it may be too far gone; and, anyway, what’s the loss?

    It’s not even Ellen Jamesian, since that would be if she wore the hijab in protest of the thing itself. She wears it for the same reason women in Iran do, only at her own leisure, instead of at the point of a sword.

    If she had a cliteridectomy, in protest of the wantonness of American women, would that be feminism, too?

  61. Chris says:

    If she had a cliteridectomy, in protest of the wantonness of American women, would that be feminism, too?

    No. I think that would be the opposite of feminism (that sounded like a rhetorical question, but it sounds like you’re soliciting votes and explanations, so here’s mine). I suppose there are situations in which someone could think it wouldn’t be the worst possible choice (e.g., if the choices were, have a sexual organ mutilated to comply with a violently sexist stereotype and society, or be killed). Nor would I contend that letting a black person sell themself into slavery in the South (or anywhere, really) could be a protest of racial inequality. Though it could be a hell of a Chappelle Show skit…

  62. Chris says:

    Whoops, I left out a phrase: that last comment should’ve read, “if the choices were…or be killed) – but that doesn’t make it a feminist choice, or one that needs to be supported, because (1) it’s already being supported by the culture/religion in which it’s taking place, and (2) I’m not sure feminism exists in a place where those are a woman’s choices. (end new comment)

    (and okay, yes, where there are women, there’s feminism and gender relations to be considered and maybe that’s a reflection of how bad things are for some people, and that means they need something like feminism even more, but defending *that* as feminism strikes me as both unnecessary and self-destructive (like Joe Lieberman claiming that Democrats have to support his right to free speech when he supports Bush and his war), unless it’s some giant reverse-psych-out, “Hey, patriarchal sexist system, if you’re anti-feminist, then we’re going to say that FGM *is* feminist, so *YOU* can’t support it any more! What do you think about *THAT*?”)

  63. Yasmin says:

    Hello everyone,

    I always find it intriguing to read people outside of the Muslim context and thinking’s reaction to the hijab. It amazes me… the praise sometimes, the disdain others, the critical outlook, the belief that men too are not required to show outward signs of modesty…guess what? They are. The men with the beard and kuffi hat (small head-covering), making sure he wears nothing that reveals his knees—this is a man following what the traditional Islamic dress code for males is. Where in the Qu’ran does it say the word hijab? Guess what? NOWHERE. The interpretation of the call for modesty for women is the hijab as you see it in modern contexts today. The very same hijab…yes, that’s right, same word, for MALES means a covering of the body until below the knees at least and a head covering–especially in times of entering a house of worship, with recommended facial hair if it can be grown.

    Wierd huh? I’m sure most non-Muslims would be astonished. The fact is, I’m a Muslim American woman proud to wear my hijab (the female version) because it is MY STATEMENT OF FEMINISM…now, in a handful of countries—this is often the case due to oppressive regimes’ state-sanctioned requirement of female hijab—in Saudia Arabia, Iran, and what was once Taliban-led Afghanistan (the only ones that come to my mind in the entire world) women are not ever given that option. Yes the hijab can be used as an oppressive tool by pple who will never understand its meaning. The hijab can also be used the way I use it…alongside most modern Muslim women-a tool of honor, respect, and rejection of an oversexualized female. A woman in a bikini can sell beer better than any man in a speedo. Unfortunately, throughout history women have been targets of such objectification.

    I hope that anyone who is actually concerned with the matter can research what the Qur’an actually says. Knowledge is the only thing that will dispel ignorance…and ultimately fear.

    Thank you.

  64. miss lori says:

    it intrigues me that you focused alot of attention on her beauty, would you have had the same glowing description of her (and her actions) if she hadn’t been so conventionally attractive?

    I applaud that young girl for standing out there on a limb and exposing herself. But i do not applaud the administration for not punishing her, even if she was standing up for her rights.

    Standing up for yourself in highschool is either the easiest or hardest thing to do in your young life, and i congratulate all who attempt or succeed at it. You send mixed signals to students when you punish some and not others, strictly from a criminological background here. Had she been male, she would i assume, most definately been punished. Had she been black or latino (having gone to schools in this county i’m going for a 100% chance here) she would have been punished. There’s a hundred fun theories you can throw in here about deviance and it’s reprocussions.

    Though personally, i sure as hell wouldn’t have punished her, or at least i would have made it look as if i did and let that girl get off free. The rampant racism in this community is sickening and more people should stand up to it. Though i prefer a battle of wits over fists.

    eh, figured i throw my two cents in for the hell of it.

    way to be brave young lady and expose yourself in a way that is unconventional to you.

  65. Nobody says:

    63- I don’t think it would surprise any one who watched the news to learn that the kufi and beard were compulsory in many of the same places that the female hijab was. The murder of barbers (the hair-cutting kind; not the head chopping ones) who dared offer their customers a shave is pretty well known. It’s another indication, though, of the tyranny of which the female hijab was reborn. “It’s not just anti-woman, it’s anti-man too!” does not negate its anti-womanness.

    I’m glad that you don’t wear it because some one else forces you to. But I don’t accept that your choice is value neutral. You’ve not just taken up any old symbol of your feminism. You’ve taken up one that is currently in use as a means of widespread, reactionary subjugation. Fine that it didn’t get that meaning in a vacuum, it still has that meaning.

    61- People do all sorts of freaky things to their genitals for a variety of fakakta reasons without the threat of death. I’m saying: take a normal 21 year-old American woman. She thinks of the cliteridectomy as “a tool of honor, respect, and rejection of an oversexualized female.” Those are her only reasons for having her genitals mutilated. Is that feminism of a sort you’d be inclined to applaud?

  66. Yasmin says:

    “You’ve taken up one that is currently in use as a means of widespread, reactionary subjugation. Fine that it didn’t get that meaning in a vacuum, it still has that meaning.”

    Is it really widespread…reactionary subjugation? Have you VISITED A MUSLIM COUNTRY? ever? whether that be Saudia Arabia or more liberal Lebanon…Sir, I take offense to your wide brush strokes.

    No matter how you try to compare them, I don’t believe a mutilation of the body can be truly compared to choosing to cover your body in garments….it makes little sense to me. However someone wants to express their feminism is fine by me…no matter how grotesque.

    The Hijab is neither anti-woman nor anti-man…it can be abused as such…but it is not inherently so…Not from the history I have studied in Western Universities, not from the reality I live. Consider this…Islam is an over 1.2billion person religion, the fastest growing in fact. It also might astonish you that most converts to the faith choose to don a female or male version of the hijab. I’m not sure why everyone is buying in to this “antimale/female” garb, but I guess it’s something they see and you don’t. And that’s okay…That’s what’s wonderful about living in freedom and democracy…your allowed to express yourself in the way you feel most comfortable.

    The only thing I find offensive is someone telling me that me wearing the hijab is not feminism if I deem it as such…I mean…isn’t that the beauty of feminism? Does it not have a personal definition to each and every person?

  67. Nobody says:

    I have, as it happens, visited a couple Muslim countries (three if I get to count the Muslim country occupying one ofthe Muslim countries I visited), and one besides which many Muslims claim as theirs. Does that make me good enough to comment? I didn’t visit Nazi Germany, do I still have moral authority enough to comment on the swastika as a symbol? The U.S.S.R. dissolved while I was still in grade school, so by the time I went to Ukraine and Russia, had I lost the ability to understand what the hammer and sickle meant? I’ve not been to Cuba–does the Che Guevara t-shirt surpass my understanding?

    Of course hijab isn’t objectively anti-woman. Like every other symbol, it isn’t objectively anything. It has only the meaning it’s been given. The meaning hijab has been given is pretty easy to suss out. That meaning is comparable to the symbolic meaning of the cliteridectomy, even though that latter is objectively more brutal. The symbolic was the only aspect of the two I meant to address; I regret the offense I gave you by not making that clear enough. I’m sorry.

    The offense I’m afraid I can’t bring myself to regret giving you is over the plain-as-day symbolic meaning of hijab, today. The day may come when it’s current meaning no longer holds (G-dspeed it), but it hasn’t yet. It’s still in use, and its use is objectively, most-often, oppressive, as evidenced by the manner in which its use is so often enforced. Are there women in places who wear it absent violent or excomunicatory threats against them for failing to? Yes, of course. Do they represent a majority of hijab wearers? No. They don’t. Do they wear it for some reason much (or, at all) different from the reason it’s forced on their co-religionists who lost the birthplace lottery? No, they don’t.

    I take your point about my broad brush, but I hope it’s clear that I don’t think Isalm is inherently anti-woman. As you pointed out, up thread, hijab does not appear in the Quran (I won’t pretend to have read the whole book, but I’ve read excerpts and I have a copy on my hard drive–ctrl F shows no incidence of it).

    You can’t wave a magic wand and disappear a symbols accepted meaning. If the hijab doesn’t mean to you what it does to most people, so be it. You’re entitled to petition the rest of the world to find some new meaning in it. But it shouldn’t be held against those who do not so easily forget. If I launch a campaign to have the word apple mean (instead of what it obviously does: apple) baseball bat instead (even though words don’t have inherent meanings, only the ones we give them), I shouldn’t be surprised if people dismissed my efforts. And I would do myself a disservice if I pretended that the word apple really didn’t have any other meaning.

  68. Sally says:

    ? I didn’t visit Nazi Germany, do I still have moral authority enough to comment on the swastika as a symbol?

    Actually, going to India completely changed my views about the meaning of the swastika as a symbol. It made me realize that the Nazis coopted a symbol that had meant something totally different and that still means something totally different to many millions of people. I certainly thought I was an expert on the meaning of the swastika, but listening to other people made me realize that I was wrong, or at least that my understanding was incomplete.

    FWIW

  69. Chris says:

    “The only thing I find offensive is someone telling me that me wearing the hijab is not feminism if I deem it as such…I mean…isn’t that the beauty of feminism? Does it not have a personal definition to each and every person?” (Yasmin, above)

    I have substantial doubts about both of those arguments (in general, though not necessarily specific, terms). First, I don’t think one can simply perform an action, and then announce that it fits within an ideology (imagine, for example, that George W. Bush announces that he’s going to nuke South America, and that he is proud to be a pacifist). Second, ideologies (feminism, pacifism, etc.), especially those with a history and body of research and philosophy behind them, are informed by personal experience, and may have a personal definition to people who study and/or follow them, but personal definitions do not trump major elements of the ideology. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with Yasmin’s specific arguments, but the general principles she wants to cite as *automatically* defending them.

    That said – if I can change gears (and yeah, probably tone, too) perhaps substantially – I’m glad Yasmin self-identifies as a feminist, and I’m curious about other dimensions of her understanding of feminism…

  70. Nobody says:

    68- Yes, very good. It’s clear, though, why that is completely inapplicable here. Right? The de-hijabing girl may live in Indiana, but the idea to wear a hijab comes from the same place everybody else who wears one got it. There’s also the small point about it carrying (more or less) exactly the same symbolic content, everywhere it’s worn. So, other than meaning the same thing, and having come from the same place, it’s exactly like your Indian swastika.

  71. piny says:

    Wrong. Hijab means different things to different Muslim women just as taking communion and the devotional mindset it implies mean different things to different Catholics.

  72. Chris says:

    Maybe hijab means different things to different Muslim women who wear it when they think about themselves, but I wonder what it means to other Muslim women (and how it factors into their decision to wear/not wear it) and what it means to Muslim men. I’m less interested in the individual “this is what it means to me when I wear it” thing, because that’s based on the individual but not the social context as much, and I’m more curious about how people wearing it reinforce other cultural norms (and how they see themselves and each other in that regard), because *that* is where I think the thorny feminism questions arise.

  73. Nobody says:

    Wow. How totally weird. Here, all this time, I thought that the eucharist meant recieving the body and blood of the Christ, via transubstantiation, symbolically repeating Jesus’s last supper. But it could just as easily mean a million different things, huh? My bad.

  74. Sarah S says:

    Nobody,

    I know plenty of Catholics who think that transubstantiation is bullshit. So I think its pretty plain that they would have a different view of what communion means then you would.

  75. piny says:

    Wow. How totally weird. Here, all this time, I thought that the eucharist meant recieving the body and blood of the Christ, via transubstantiation, symbolically repeating Jesus’s last supper. But it could just as easily mean a million different things, huh? My bad.

    Apparently so, huh? It also means a host (sorry) of other things related to being a Catholic, a good Catholic, and a devout Catholic. And many reasonable Catholics reasonably disagree about what those things mean.

  76. Robert says:

    I know plenty of Catholics who think that transubstantiation is bullshit.

    No, you don’t.

    You may know some Protestants who are attending the wrong church, or some people whose cultural upbringing was Catholic but who no longer hold the faith.

  77. piny says:

    I know plenty of Catholics who think that transubstantiation is bullshit.

    No, you don’t.

    You may know some Protestants who are attending the wrong church, or some people whose cultural upbringing was Catholic but who no longer hold the faith.

    The whole point is that “the faith” is a point of disagreement among Catholics. Insisting that those Catholics aren’t really Catholics, in this context, is circular reasoning. And unlike Catholics, Muslims don’t have an ironclad church hierarchy sending down directives on what, exactly, each little point of duty is supposed to mean.

  78. piny says:

    I know plenty of Catholics who think that transubstantiation is bullshit.

    No, you don’t.

    You may know some Protestants who are attending the wrong church, or some people whose cultural upbringing was Catholic but who no longer hold the faith.

    And even if you accept the idea that those Catholics may no longer be called Catholics, the argument about certain rituals meaning different things to different people within the same larger tradition still holds.

  79. Robert says:

    The whole point is that “the faith” is a point of disagreement among Catholics. Insisting that those Catholics aren’t really Catholics, in this context, is circular reasoning.

    I accept the point as it applies to the question raised in this thread. I reject the point as it applies to the specific exemplar.

  80. Thomas says:

    Robert, it is my understanding that a Catholic is not excommunicated for holding a view that is at variance with the Church. Each Catholic’s obligation is to struggle with such doubts. One runs afoul of the Church by leading others into error.

  81. zuzu says:

    In any event, you no longer have the Vatican enforcing the taking of communion in some countries but not others, so that the question of whether a Catholic in a country in which one is not forced to accept the host can freely choose to do so is not muddied by state power.

  82. Robert says:

    That’s basically correct, Thomas. It’s entirely correct for a host of peripheral or secondary questions – nobody gets sent down to the road to 1st Baptist because they favor the death penalty.

    However, there are certain core beliefs which are integral to the faith; if you don’t hold them, you don’t hold the faith. Whether the Church will trouble to seek you out and excommunicate you if you aren’t going around proselytizing for your particular heresy is a separate question, but the beliefs themselves are settled issues, and barring new revelation no dissent is possible within the framework of being a member of the church. There is a word for Catholics who hold to a right of individual conscience on these core issues, and that word is “Lutheran”.

    There’s a distinction to be made as well, between disbelieving in something, and believing in it but not obeying it. For example, artifical contraception is Not Allowed, but lots of Catholics use it anyway; by and large they (we) are not people who reject the magisterium on human sexuality, just people who can’t live it.

    I should note that I am a very bad Catholic (bad Catholic! no donut!), and at best a lay student of these matters; don’t cross-examine Pope Benedict from the premise “but Robert said…”

  83. Sarah S says:

    Robert,

    I guess I’ll have to tell my best friend, who leads the children’s chior at church, teachers pre-K cathecism, sings for 90% of the weddings and funerals at the church, started a young adult Christian rock band that plays for the Saturday afternoon mass, won’t date non-Catholic guys, has a virgin mary statue in her bedroom, helped hang the Christmas banners last week, vice chairs the church picnic board, and leads the youth coordination board that she isn’t Catholic anymore, but Lutheran. She always tells me that she doesn’t believe in transubstantiation anymore then she believes in Noah’s Ark.

    By your definition of Catholicism, most of the Catholics I know (including a couple priests) are not Catholic. You have to admitt, thats just silly. Where does one draw the line between what is a “core belief” and what is not? And who gets to draw that line when the Catholic church has better things to do with it’s time (aparently play pick on the homos) then to seek out people to excommunicate?

  84. Robert says:

    Sarah, are you expecting me to be surprised that there are people who are comfortable within the structure of the church, who nonetheless really ought not to be there? Transubstantiation is a core doctrine, and your friend who doesn’t believe in it, doesn’t believe in one of the key things that distinguishes her faith from the various Protestant denominations.

    I don’t have to admit that it is “silly” for a religion to have things that it expects its adherents to, you know, ADHERE to. Self-identification is important, but it has limits; we don’t get to ignore foundational principles of groups just because we find the groups appealing in other ways. If you think a woman’s inherent role is barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, you’re not a feminist, no matter how much you want to hang out with Lauren. If you think that extirpating economic inequality is the sine qua non of decent government, then you’re not a Republican, no matter how much you like wearing ugly pants and playing golf. If you think that transubstantiation is a bunch of hooey, then you’re not a Catholic, no matter how much personal joy you get from singing in the choir.

    As a side note, your friend really ought not to be teaching catechism even at the pre-K level.

    As for who gets to draw the line, I believe that would be those fellows over in Rome who wear the funny hats.

  85. La Lubu says:

    As for who gets to draw the line, I believe that would be those fellows over in Rome who wear the funny hats.

    My favorite response to people who bring up this line of argument is “there’s Catholicism the way the Pope preaches it, and there’s Catholicism the way little old Sicilian ladies have been practicing it long before there was a Pope.” I learned my faith from those little old Sicilian ladies—and our traditions predate Protestantism.

    Pesky, aren’t we—us Catholics who refuse to divest our ownership of our own faith? ;-)

  86. Nobody says:

    I give. Everything means anything. Nothing has a definition; symbols have no meaning but what each person gives it at the particular time of the giving. I EMBRACE THE NIHILISM! Tastes like chicken, which is to say, whatever I happen to choose to call the flavor, not to be confused with what YOU may call a chicken, which is of no importance to any one but yourself.

  87. piny says:

    I give. Everything means anything. Nothing has a definition; symbols have no meaning but what each person gives it at the particular time of the giving. I EMBRACE THE NIHILISM! Tastes like chicken, which is to say, whatever I happen to choose to call the flavor, not to be confused with what YOU may call a chicken, which is of no importance to any one but yourself.

    Y’know, since the conversation has gotten to this point, I probably shouldn’t bother, but: if you can’t see diversity of opinion and experience in the group of people you’re arguing about, you probably aren’t thinking hard enough. And if you respond to “a major world religion is an enormous and not exactly homogeneous thing,” with “Crazy pomo idiots!” you definitely aren’t thinking hard enough.

  88. Nobody says:

    There is literally no limit to any argument if nothing can be defined and left as defined. Commenters here have seriously argued that the Roman Catholic eucharist doesn’t mean what it bloody well has meant for centuries–that because some people, including at least two priests, who consider themselves Catholic don’t believe what the eucharist has meant for centuries, then it doesn’t really mean that.

    If that cannot be accepted, then what hope is there that any meaning of the hijab as a symbol can be had, here? Wasn’t that the topic? Ironic that I’m the one you scold for not thinking hard enough; think it through: how could this possibly end in so much as a hypothesis, still less an answer? Thanks, still, for your concern. It’s not hard-thinking that makes the meaning of the eucharist an open question–it’s quasi-intellectual, pomo preening.

    I don’t care to make myself a troll (well, not more of one, anyway), so I’m sure that’s quite enough out of me. Thanks for indulging me as long as you have.

  89. zuzu says:

    I admit it. Discussions of transubstantiation make me think of Tom Lehrer.

    Get in line with that processional;
    Step into that small confessional;
    There the man who’s got religion’ll
    Tell you if your sin’s original
    If it is, try playin’ it safer
    Drink the wine and chew the wafer
    2, 4, 6, 8
    Time to transubstantiate!

    Okay, so I’m going to hell.

  90. Robert says:

    Okay, so I’m going to hell.

    Possibly. It will be entirely your own choice, if so.

  91. La Lubu says:

    I give. Everything means anything. Nothing has a definition; symbols have no meaning but what each person gives it at the particular time of the giving. I EMBRACE THE NIHILISM!

    Wow. You managed to sail down the slippery slope even before the snow started falling. How ’bout that?

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  93. zuzu says:

    Okay, so I’m going to hell.

    Possibly. It will be entirely your own choice, if so.

    Thank you, Msgr. Bob.

  94. piny says:

    There is literally no limit to any argument if nothing can be defined and left as defined. Commenters here have seriously argued that the Roman Catholic eucharist doesn’t mean what it bloody well has meant for centuries–that because some people, including at least two priests, who consider themselves Catholic don’t believe what the eucharist has meant for centuries, then it doesn’t really mean that.

    A hell of a lot more people than a few priests. Entire ex-Catholic major world religions. The analogy isn’t from Catholicism to Islam, but Christianity, Shakers through Gibsons, to Islam. Islam is not homogeneous. The eucharist, like most Christian rituals, has been defined in many different ways by different people. It makes no sense to insist that one broadly available definition is more valid than any other broadly available definition. Which is why I don’t think you understand this argument, to wit: To them. It doesn’t really mean that to them. And therefore not to their audience, or to the people evaluating their intent.

    If that cannot be accepted, then what hope is there that any meaning of the hijab as a symbol can be had, here? Wasn’t that the topic? Ironic that I’m the one you scold for not thinking hard enough; think it through: how could this possibly end in so much as a hypothesis, still less an answer? Thanks, still, for your concern. It’s not hard-thinking that makes the meaning of the eucharist an open question–it’s quasi-intellectual, pomo preening.

    Don’t confuse multiple meanings with a lack of meaning. The rationales for the hijab are variable. That doesn’t make the symbol overdetermined if the wearer chooses and communicates a particular meaning, any more than the eucharist in a Catholic ceremony is less meaningful because it also has a place–and a conspicuous lack of place–in rituals belonging to other Christian sects. Ignoring her interpretation of this symbol, one which certainly has a precedent beyond her, means ignoring a large part of the history and meaning of this symbol. It would be like pretending that Catholics are the only Christians ever to comment on the eucharist.

  95. piny says:

    Entire ex-Catholic major world religions.

    Oh, and a great many self-identified Catholics themselves, for most of those “centuries” to which you refer.

  96. Thomas says:

    Possibly. It will be entirely your own choice, if so.

    Take it up with Mr. Calvin. He seems to have a different view.

  97. Aaminah says:

    Wow. This is a really cool article. I appreciate your posting it.

  98. karpad says:

    …is anyone else confused that someone calling themselves “Nobody” would then sarcastically deride nihilism?

    that’s, of course, ignoring “words and symbols mean different things in different contexts” not being nihilism.

    of course, that might not be true. all words and symbols are universal. so Blood gang members are actually communists. and so are states that voted republican. V-fingers always mean victory, so hippies were celebrating their victory in the bloody battle of Pentagon hill. also, Texas Longhorns fans are really into heavy metal. or the occult, I’m not sure which. and carrying a copy of Mao’s little red book is counterculture. even in China. you’re against the establishment if you have that book, which was once mandated by law that you carry in China. so China made everyone counter culture.

  99. Robert says:

    Take it up with Mr. Calvin.

    He was the one who had the stuffed tiger, right? Great strip.

    But I’m hardly going to take my information on immortality and the afterlife from a seven year old in a comic strip.

    That would be silly.

  100. Lauren, I wanted to thank you for this post and the couple of follow on posts ahead of it. I am so tired of Muslims seeing feminists as enemies or feminists seeing Muslims as enemies because of this piece of cloth on the head issue. That you could discuss your student in this way shows that at least you are not seeeing her as some sort of representative of a buzz word you heard about Islam and women, but as a human being as complex as you are, and this is great. I hope to see it happen more the other way around as well (am always trying to discuss feminism with conservative muslims and getting not very far).

  101. I agree with Anna, thanks for posting this, and for assigning such a thing to the kids in your class. I wanted to address a couple issues. Chris raised in post 72 (and previous). I have worn a scarf for 19+ years. As a teenager, I was one of those the other kids called “harry” cause I didn’t shave my legs and wouldn’t wear makeup, tight jeans, or heels of any sort. When I read about hijab, my instictive reaction that this was a far more proactive way to say “up yours” to the men who would wolf whistle when I was out for a jog, or say “hi girls” when my mom and I passed them in our canoe. I joyfully embraced what I saw as a way to unequivocally state– “It’s my body! Keep your hands, eyes, and mind off.”

    I don’t think a lot of Muslim women necessarily embrace it in that manner — for many it is tied up a lot more with spirituality and modesty and what they believe God wants than it was for me. And while a lot of girls talk about the objectification of women’s bodies, they may not be aware of how the hijab often represents the flip side of that coin — in America women’s bodies are sexualized, bared, and exploited; in Muslim communities women’s bodies are sexualized, covered, and closeted. In either case, women’s bodies are implicitly and explicity viewed as primarily sexual objects.

    On a personal level, I have been increasingly dismayed to find that my attempts to buck the system while very successful in American society, are coupled with a lot of baggage in Muslim societies. There is an assumption that those who wear hijab are more pious and pure, which I reject completely, and that wearing the hijab means you accept the notion that men are uncontrollably attracted to women’s bodies. In compensation, I am known for arguing against the mandatory nature of hijab (as one posted pointed out, it is NOT in the Qur’an), and try to poke holes in Muslim peoples’ assumptions about me and the meaning of hijab. At the same time, it is frustrating, although I understand why non-Muslim people see it this way, to have to deal with the common stereotype that hijabbed women are submissive and oppressed.

    Nonetheless, in a place like America, wearing hijab is a young woman’s choice, not something forced on them. I mean, honestly, how hard is it to walk out the door with your scarf on to please mommy or daddy, but the second the bus turns the corner, or you get to school, off it goes into the bookbag or the locker? Especially in a situation like the one with Muizza, where there aren’t any other Muslim kids to tattle.

    An interesting dynamic that we’re finding in the Muslim community these days, in fact, are kids who are wearing it in defiance of their parents. Many parents are, for good reason, gravely concerned about their kids experiencing unpleasant or even violent racism in response to the hijab. Some worry that public school teachers will discriminate against them because of a choice. Some come from countries where hijab is not the norm and can’t quite understand why the kids see it as being so important. Others worry that like the Bangledeshi girl in NY, their daughters will be hauled in by homeland security. So, often, it is actually an act of defiance against the parents, as well as a rejection of the beauty myths of this country.

    But, be all that as it may, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the perceived symbolism of hijab and the fact that my wearing can/might be interpretted as sympathy for those elements (particularly overseas) that require it (ala Iran, Saudi Arabia, and various Islamist parties who do violence to women who do not cover), or who interpret it as preserving a woman’s dignity, honor, etc. As though a woman without a head scarf cannot be modest, has no self-respect, etc. (Which, it should be clear, I consider pure bull-sh**). I’ve often said that if I were living in a country where there was intense societal pressure to wear one, I wouldn’t. I actively work in the Muslim community to combat the stereotypes of hijab/no hijab = purity/lack of purity

    After 9-11, hijab has become more and more a political symbol — those who wear it associated with political Islam (correctly or incorrectly) and as being apologists for some of the more egregiously anti-women aspects of muslim society. (Whether it be the lack of leadership roles within the mosque, gender-defined social roles, or a defense of polygamy as a man’s right, etc). While I have for years felt that my personal stances and pov, which I have never had any hesitation to voice, compensated for some people’s misperceptions, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that I can no longer wear this scarf because there is no way in hell I want people (Muslim and non-Muslim) to think I approve of or condone current misogynist practices in various countries, or the Islamist/apologist parties that promote them. I cannot reconcile my rejection of those movements with wearing a piece of cloth that says to most people (Muslim and non-Muslim) that I accept them, even if I find it personally useful.

    For many years, I vociferously disagreed with anyone who tried to tell me that my choice wasn’t essentially feminist. Sure, there are other ways to get the same message about objectification across, but this was my way, and it was damned effective too. Now, I am much more conflicted about it. I don’t want to give up a tool that I found useful, and in particular, I don’t want it to become a symbol of something that stands for exactly the opposite of why I started wearing it. But I’m afraid it is a losing battle, and I will in a very short time feel the negatives outweigh the positives enough that I will abandon it.

    Anyway, that was WAY too much commentary, but thanks for posting such a thought provoking article.

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