“It’s just such a shame – you used to be such a feminist!” If I had a lira for each time I’ve heard this, or a version of it since I started wearing hijab, well, I’d be a very rich lady. In 2011, can we really, still, not equate women with anything more than the clothes they choose or choose not, to wear?
It would seem not. Sad, that.
When are we, as women now, going to stop and just live and let live? If we’re not passing judgement on each others clothing choice, its our weight or hair. Even now, I hear sisters question each others headscarf/abaya choice. What happened to the sisterhood? No, not the muslim one – the bigger one, the one we’re all regardless of race, of faith, of age meant to be part of? What happened to the feminist dream? For all we’ve advanced, for all we are equalizing our lives with men, it seems we’re simultaneously doing twice as much to pull ourselves down as lift ourselves up: We cant demand equality unless we demonstrate it ourselves!
I once text a friend commenting on the questionability of another friends choice of trouser. Karma being karma, the message sent to the friend in question. What kind of sisterhood was I demonstrating there? My “friend” went from feeling great in her new purchase, to feeling self conscious, insecure. My intention wasn’t to hurt her, but that’s what I did, and even if she hadn’t ever learnt of the text, I’m ashamed I wrote it. I should have answered her “do these look good on me” questions with a response echoing how they obviously made her feel instead of judging her and sharing that judgement with others..laughing at her for her choice. Yuck. Who on earth am I to judge whether something looks good on you? Who are we to allow media and fashion industries to dictate what looks good? Why did I allow myself to buy into that dictation?
Whenever I hear comments on my headscarf, I think back to that text. My action wasn’t made out of ignorance, but out of something worse…it came from having bought into a propoganda image of what’s chic, whats acceptable as fashion in our time; there’s no excuse for a an apparently educated woman almost in her twenties to buy into that image (except societal conditioning from birth.. but that’s a whole other post). When people make comments on women who choose to wear hijab, ababya, or full burka, most of the time they do so from ignorance. Misunderstanding of what it means, no comprehension of why ‘liberated’ women would choose to conform. That’s more forgivable than my actions were.
We had a house guest over Eid al-Adha last week. Amongst other things, we talked about education of children to the beliefs of others..the duties of parents to expose children to other religions, of schools to explain the religions, detail the beliefs. In the society within which we live where a woman in shorts can board a metro next to a burka clad lady, with the buzz words of terrorism and fundamentalism ringing in our ears every time we listen to the news, it is imperative children understand that it is people to blame not a religion and it’s important that they know that religion is different from culture; it is, I think, equally imperative, to teach children that – whether we like to admit it or not- we’re all conformists of sorts. We conform to the (generally good) norms of our family, those of our communities, those of our schools, but also the norms built by media and advertising, subversive relayed to us as we go about our day. The most important lesson I feel I can give my child is that he’s free to make choices; I can arm him with the resources he needs to learn and explore all his options, but the choices he makes should be his – starting with the clothes he will wear. I have no doubt that I’d cringe walking down the street with an eskimo in green tartan, but that green confused eskimo would be less cringe-inducing to me than my son ever feeling he can’t attend an event through not looking the part or of his ever making the same text message mistake as I.
Yes, it is a shame that because I choose to wear hijab – old friends and I no longer go for drinks, shop together, share hairdressers, exchange skirts, but what’s more of a shame is that those friends, the people who know me, continue to equate the clothing choices I make with the feminism I fight for. That’s the saddest part of it all.
Life’s complicated enough, why make it harder?