Linda Sarsour once stated that she wanted to kick two other women’s asses, and in doing so rescind their vaginas.
I want to open with that to remind everyone what kind of “feminist” Linda Sarsour is, especially given that one of the women she wanted to fight, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is a victim of female genital mutilation. The other woman was Brigitte Gabriel, and according to Sarsour neither women deserve to actually be women. Their crime? To criticize the hijab amd Islam.
I actually read “Infidel” by Ali, and it was a very good book describing Ali’s victimization by Islam. It is understandable she is a fallen Muslim – for reasons similar to the fallen Catholics that are my parents. Whatever your view on Ali’s other politics, there is no denying that Islam caused her great misery, and causes other women great misery because of its patriarchal dogma. Which is no different from Christianity and Judaism, which when practiced in their pure form are very oppressive to women.
In a misguided attempt to fight hate, however, American liberals have embraced the hijab, and have been touting the line that Islam is a peaceful religion that doesn’t inherently oppress women.
Oh bullshit. All three Abrahamic religions hold women as second class citizens. When you have a Muslim, Christian, or Jew who does not oppress women, it is because they have discarded key aspects of the religions. They are reformists, and the fact that all three religions have a reform movement is quite telling.
Desparate to score social justice points, American liberals, including liberal feminists, have taken the important fight against Islamophobia to a whole new level by embracing the hijab as a symbol of empowerment. American women bravely donned the hijab in support of “choice” – all while women in places such as Iran are fighting to get rid of it.
And such women are suffering the consequences. Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad is in exile because of her campaign against the compulsory hijab in Iran, and women all over Iran have been jailed for joining her.
I listened to a wonderful interview of Alinejad on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Alinejad tells of her personal history with the hijab, along with her oppression by the intersection of Islam and Iranian culture. The most memorable incident is when she was told by a prison guard that she was pregnant, who was informed of this by her husband, who knew because Alinejad told him she had missed her period – and she herself didn’t know this meant she was pregnant.
FYI, my Sicilian-American mother thought she could get pregnant by kissing well into her teens. Many parallels between conservative Catholicism and conservative Islam.
In the Fresh Air interview, Alinejad connects the dots between compulsary hijab and the tenets of shame around the female body in all Abrahamic religions. The hijab is used both in reaponse to these beliefs and to reinforce them. She also describes how the hijab was used to oppress her movements and freedom within society, and compared her desire for freedom to her brother’s actual freedom – and rightly associates the hijab with a history of denying women full citizenship in societies. For Alinejad, the hijab is the most visible sign of female oppression of women in the Middle East.
Which she tried to explain to Linda Sarsour back in February when Macy’s decided to sell hijabs. In a CNN interview entitled “Macy’s Decision to Sell Hijabs Sparks Debate Among Muslim Women,” Sarsour responds to Alinejad’s examples of actual real life oppression with claims of empowerment, personal narratives, and goes so far as to state that the hijab has only ever been spiritual – much to the evidence of actual history. Sarsour, who loves the hijab and believes it can be powerful because of her personal feelings, has never spoken out against the compulsory hijab and refuses to acknowledge its actual origin – the policing of women’s bodies. She also comes across as incredibly entitled when she compares the “challenge” of wearing the hijab in the United States to the plight of Iranian women fighting AGAINST the hijab. Sarsour is clueless and individualistic, while Alinejad calls her out, along with Western femininsts who aren’t Muslim, for a complete lack of vocal support for the Iranian women fighting against the hijab.
Women in the United States, like Linda Sarsour, are priviliged in that they can choose to wear the hijab. These women are also ignoring the meaning and origin behind the hijab – mainly because they believe that claiming empowerment somehow washes away history and patriarchy, AND because they don’t live in a society in which it is compulsory. It is classic, neo-liberal viewpointp that is obsessed with the personal narrative, and believes that every personal narrative is correct and positive
Liberal feminists often accuse feminists who critique the hijab of infantilizing Muslim women, of acting as white saviors, and would be shocked to hear the many Muslim women who speak out AGAINST the hijab. These women do not divorce the hijab from its historical aand nx current purpose and view it as a symbol of female oppression. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s succinct class and structural analysis of the hijab in The Guardian article “As A Muslim Woman, I see the veil as a rejection of progressive values” stands in stark contrast to Sarsour’s neo-liberal love of and obsession with personal narratives – in particular her own. I especially like Alibhai-Brown’s criticism of young girls wearing the hijab, and how the hijab basically implies that by default women and young girls are sexual beings. She is also not afraid to state that all religions cast women as sinners and temptresses, and how this relates to the hijab.
And no matter how a woman personally feels about the hijab, it doesn’t change what the hijab means in society as a whole. Wearing it normalizes philosophies that are harmful to women.
Many women who defend wearing the hijab claim it is subversive by stating it liberates them from societies’ expectations of women. This is an outrageous claim, given that women shouldn’t have to hide aspects of their body to be liberated from society. What this means, too, are that societal expectations are left intact, and instead of destroying them, the onus is on women to dress and present themselves in a way that “protects” them, or “liberates” them, from society.