Western feminism enthusiastically points to the hijab as the ultimate manifestation of women’s oppression.
Replace the word hijab with heels. When it comes to heels, western feminism is not so quick to judge.
Heels are not the most functional shoe. Balancing the majority of your body weight on a couple of square inches of toe is not an easy feat. Science confirms that heels lead to long-term feet and back problems.
Yet, we regard heels as the norm for women’s attire in many workplaces. The 2015 Cannes Film Festival banned women from the red carpet for not wearing heels. Stories of women being sent home from work for not wearing heels aren’t uncommon.
Heels make your legs look longer, your butt perkier, and give you a “feminine gait.” Society decided that heels make a woman sexy, and sexiness is more important than spinal alignment, basic comfort, and the ability to walk.
Heels encompass the policing of women’s bodies, the perpetuation of beauty norms, and subjugation of women’s bodies for male pleasure. Maybe the argument should be that heels are the ultimate manifestation of women’s oppression.
This is the hypocrisy of western feminism.
Any western feminist who condemns the hijab, without also taking a careful eye to the customs of their own culture needs to re-evaluate their beliefs.
Other arguments say that hijabs represent male ownership. But so do western marriage customs of the woman taking the man’s last name, and the father walking the daughter down the aisle.
Some say that hijabs symbolize a distorted female sexuality. But so does porn and the sexualization of women in media.
The point isn’t to say that all these expressions of femininity are definitively oppressive. Many of these examples – heels, marriage and porn – are topics of contentious debate within feminism. They depend on context. They depend on the individual.
Every woman is different in her experiences, personality and feelings. The tendency to put an ultimatum on what is, or isn’t feminist, is misguided. A woman who’s into heels, marriage or porn, isn’t inherently anti-feminist.
So why are hijabs not afforded the same consideration?
If no good answers come to mind, chances are your judgement is being made by your inner xenophobe or Islamophobe, not by your inner feminist.
Beyond the hypocrisy, the judgement that hijabs are oppressive in all circumstances counteracts many of biases that feminism has been combating since day one.
Feminism fought hard to establish that a women’s values cannot be determined by the way she is dressed. A modestly dressed woman is not a prude who doesn’t know how to have fun. A scantily dressed woman is not a dumb slut. A hijab-wearing woman is not anti-feminist.
When it comes to western “feminism” this belief is held with unwavering strength, yet, as soon as the woman is Muslim, these principles fly out the window.
Non-muslim feminists have no place arguing whether the hijab is, or isn’t oppressive. That question is outside of the scope of western feminism, and that is not the point to be made.
The hijab can be oppressive in many contexts. Many countries require women to wear hijabs. This lack of choice is what constitutes oppression. Just like the case of makeup, fashion, marriage and porn.
In western countries, many women wear the hijab by choice. The hijab is not oppressive in every context. With choice, comes empowerment. To reject the value of a women’s choice is to reject women.