Before I begin, let’s make one thing clear. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all share common traits like virtue, modesty, and honor. All three religions have existed in male dominated societies and many believers in each faith believe in gender equality. No religion is more or less oppressive to women and believing in one religion does not automatically mean you’re a misogynist.
All three religions believe that women should be modest, virtuous, and honorable. The most devout Christian or Catholic women cover themselves up. Nuns wear wimples. Orthodox Jewish women also wear clothing which cover their heads, shoulders, and knees. However, I have yet to see any single article or public outcry about how Christian and Jewish women are oppressed by their modesty. Instead, the Internet is flooded with articles about how Muslim women are held back by their headscarves—like Fox News’ post “Facebook Posts Show Iranian Women Tossing Hijabs, Praising Freedom.” It is a common misconception that headscarves prevent freedom.
Apparently burqas, niqaabs, and hijaabs are the only form of modesty which prevent women from being their best selves. Countries have even gone so far as to ban women from wearing headscarves in public.
France, Turkey, and other Western countries limit this religious expression because they think headscarves and Islam limits women’s “freedoms.” France banned headscarves in public schools in 2004—and then in all public areas in 2010—because government officials believed that the public religious expression violated secular principles. However, wimples are very much still allowed in public.
In the post-Iraqi and Afghanistan invasion era, America has become obsessed with “saving” Muslim women. Women in burqas and hijabs are the victims of their religions and the men within that religion, while Orthodox Jewish women have no such connotation. They are merely seen as religious women.
As Gayatri Spivak famously wrote, this is all about “white men saving brown women from brown men.” The obsession of women in hijabs and Muslim women’s modesty is further justification of Western involvement in Muslim communities and the moral superiority of the West. Muslim women are not oppressed because they wear modest headwear. Many women across the globe in numerous different cultures and societies are oppressed because of patriarchal social structures.
Take the United States, where there are no modesty guidelines for women. Instead, there is an obsession with women as sexual objects. As a result, many believe that women who follow modesty guidelines are free from sexual objectification and are supposedly valued for their intelligence and contribution. Women often use it to express their religion and values, but it also serves as another fashion statement about their passions and politics, such as the woman with the American flag hijab on Fox News. Judging modest women and refusing the right to wear their head coverings aren’t just limiting their freedom of religion, but it’s actually applying more oppression on them.
Hanna Yusuf writes that her hijab is “symbol of feminism.” She believes that wearing a hijab means rejecting “the message that women must be sexy but not slutty, stick-thin but still curvy, youthful but all natural…there’s nothing inherently liberating in covering up, just as there’s nothing inherently liberating in wearing next to nothing. But the liberation lies in the choice.” It is her choice to embrace her modesty and that should not be taken away from her.
This isn’t to say that women in conservative communities aren’t oppressed or that all women in modest clothing don it by choice. This article is just about public perception of Modest Muslim women and modest women of Western faiths. Moreover, the oppression is far more complicated than just changing what a woman is and is not allowed to wear. One cannot judge a woman’s freedom on her clothing or prevent her from fulfilling her religious obligation. After all, one would not judge a nun. The freedom is in the choice.
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