As women, we are often raised within the confines of a zone where there is a constant demand for justification. Most women are familiar with the justification zone and have mastered various coping mechanisms against this chronic need to explain how they sit, what they eat, wear and stand for. McBrearty’s 1983 Academy award winning Canadian short film “Boys and Girls,” based on Alice Munro’s short story beautifully captures this in a teenage girl’s every day struggles.
The coping mechanism ranges from strong resistance and protest to the most dangerous forms of all, repetitive justification of their acts. A lot of hijab wearing muslim women I know are trapped in an eternal justification zone. While, a lot of Muslim women I know have various interpretation and personal relation with their hijab, their reasons ranging from political, cultural, spiritual and anti-capitalist and as a protest against sexual objectification of women, personally, my hijab fails to find meaning or stand for any of this. I feel fortunate to be finally out of the vicious cycle of justification but there are times when I wonder if my hijab is inferior due to its inability to epitomise a “larger than life meaning” other than the most natural rights of all, freedom of choice.
About a month ago, I came across Hanna Yusuf’s viral-video on “My Hijab has nothing to do with oppression. It is a feminist statement” on the Guardian website. Being a hijab wearing feminist myself, I could not wait to watch through the video and share it. I was disappointed within first few seconds when Hanna’s accusing tone of “how people would not understand hijab” started listing down what Hijab is. I shared my frustration with a friend and soon after forgot about it. A few days back, I was browsing through other articles written by Hanna Yusuf when I read her piece retributing the comments that followed on the video, writing, “unsurprisingly, all the critics were either non-Muslim or ex-Muslim”.
This is precisely why I decided to write on why Yusuf’s justification of why she wears Hijab, the kind of feminist derivations she elaborates upon and the frequent use of the term “we” wrongly homogenises all hijab-wearing Muslim women’s experience as “the modestly dressed squad of women rejecting the notion of sexual allure and resisting commercial imperatives that supports consumer culture.”
Personally, I do not wear the hijab for any of these reasons. There was a time in the past, when I started wearing hijab, that I felt the need to bring in all sorts of justifications. I am glad I grew out it. It was exhausting. On being asked on several occasions in the UK as to why I wear a scarf and when did I start wearing it, I have repeatedly given probably the most unconvincing straight-forward answer. I wear a head scarf because I want to. In a lecture class one day, a classmate asked me why I wear a headscarf and what it signifies for me, the discussion was on “choice and various forms of violations with a specific focus of FGM.” I told him that my head scarf was just like another piece of cloth I was wearing, I just chose to wear it. He tried to convince me that there was a more meaningful conscious decision behind this practice. I told him that unfortunately, there wasn’t. Sometimes, the repetitiveness of the questioner trying to derive meaning from my head scarf sounds as ridiculous as a study on “why people wear socks!”
I was also once asked by a friend about how I would feel if I stepped out without a headscarf. I answered that I would probably feel uncomfortable and she said, “I understand, I don’t think I would want to go out without my bra.” Some of the feminists from 1960s would not be very delighted about that. The shunning of bras to protest against rigid ideas of beauty goes back to the 1968 Miss America protest when feminine products of beauty and pots were burnt in the famous freedom trash can. The movement finds a bizarre parallel to Yusuf’s protest against “sexual allure and…a market that pressures women to try and attain, the unattainable.” The reason why both these forms of very different protests fail to convince the majority of their significance is because they fail to validate their own substantial ground. As Hanna speaks against a scenery of white women in lingerie about how capitalism constructs women as both merchandise and consumers, she fails to acknowledge the large hijab fashion industry and the new hijab trends which target Muslim women in similar ways, thus “supporting the commercial imperatives” and promoting “consumer culture.”
And frankly, this endless debate about what sexualises and de-sexualises women is exhausting. During my internship with an amazing feminist based charity in London, when I was being instructed on “do’s and don’ts,” I was told not wear anything that would display ample cleavage. An immoral display of legs was also prohibited. The brief lecture only caused discomfort and I was disappointed in how an organisation which has been on the frontline of promoting diversity and equality at various levels could worry itself with something as personal as their colleague’s wardrobe. Likewise, the denouncing of “women who wear next to nothing” in her video as targets of consumer culture and at the same time, upholding everyone’s freedom of choice and homogenising veil wearing women’s experiences causes confusion and an equal level of discomfort.
Photo credit- Adrian Snood (flickr)