I remember once having a heated argument with a friend about why any woman would voluntarily wear a hijab. As a non-religious Iranian, I come from a country where the hijab is forced upon women as law. Being arrested for something as minor as not covering your head sounds like something out of the 6th century (which this particular law is from).
When I thought about wearing a hijab, my selfish inner voice, who yearns for the world to see her expensive highlights, cried why?! My friend explained, however, that she had good friends who chose to not only wear the hijab, but even the full dress – the niqab (that covers everything but the eyes) or the burka (a full covering). Like many things in life, having a choice is what matters.
When I attempt and fail to create loose beautiful waves like those silent Instagram beauties, I am aiming to express myself through my look and dress. That is the same with women choosing to cover their heads and bodies. They are expressing themselves (and their faith) in dress. So what exactly is the threat?
Similar to the outrage that women would become too ‘slutty’ when they wore mini skirts in the 60s, we are now attacking another form of women’s dress because we think they could be potential terrorists. Women’s dress, just like their bodies, has always been political.
Denmark has become the latest country to ban full Islamic dress for women, ironically citing that it helps to protect women. I say ironically, because these laws are actually doing the opposite by criminalising women for basically wearing what they want.
In 2010, France – the Republic founded on “liberty, equality and fraternity” (and, um, colonialism) – passed a law banning the hijab in schools on the condition that no religious dress should be used in a secular (um, Catholic) country. Other European (and some African) countries have similar bans despite the fact that the numbers of women wearing the niqab and the burka are relatively low in Europe. These laws are not only problematic but verge on the ridiculous as shown by Austria when it tried to enforce a law where any full face coverings were banned. Let’s just say that things got a little chaotic for a man in a full body rabbit suit…
Despite the fact that there are many grey areas around its wording, the targeting of the veil is clearly an assault on women. Just as forcing the veil onto women is a form of oppression so is creating a law that prevents them from wearing it. If we want to uphold the freedom of expression that the Western world is so proud of, then this is a rather fucked up way of going about it.
The veil (I use this term to encompass most types of women’s Islamic dress including the niqab, burka and hijab) is a symbol of a women’s faith and her devotion to that faith. It is a personal relationship and therefore a woman’s personal right to express herself how she wants without anyone else getting a say.
Historically, the veil has been in use since ancient times, often serving to differentiate the various classes as was the case in Ancient Greece and Persia where the veil became fashionable to the masses as those in the upper echelons wore them. Yet in today’s world, the veil has become a symbol of oppression and is often used to cast Middle Eastern and Muslim women as victims. While some may be (because let’s be honest, there are sadly female victims in all societies), so many more are not. Some women even use that same veil to symbolise empowerment.
In popular culture, the famed artist Shirin Neshat focused on veiled women in her photography series Women of Allah; the skateboarding vampire wears a chador like a super hero cape in the film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night; Huda Kattan reigns over a beauty blogging empire constantly supporting other Muslim beauty influencers; and Munira Ahmed became the literal face against Trump when a photo of her face veiled by an American flag hijab was used as a poster during the Women’s March. In fact the list of Muslim women leaders and activists in the US alone is numerous.
We cannot deny the effects 9/11 had on not only the people who were directly affected but the rest of the Muslim world as well. The veil as a symbol of Islam is often the easiest to attack, as it is so visual. There are various videos online of covered women being attacked and assaulted by complete strangers and Islamaphobes including a viral video that showed a 27 year old woman raging against Mehpara Khan and her friend in Huntly last year. Over the ditch, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson even wore a burqa in parliament in a diabolical protest. Of all the many, many things that can kill you in Australia, I’m pretty sure a veiled woman would be quite low down the list.
This obsession with women’s bodies and what they choose to wear is not limited to Islamic dress, but it paints the same bleak picture. What you choose to wear gives you agency over your own body and if we’ve learnt anything over the years it is that the patriarchy (and Pauline Hanson) is terrified of any woman with a mind of her own.
It’s your body, your choice.Support Villainesse