One Woman’s Pride, Another Woman’s Oppression

While some in the West hail the hijab as a symbol of identity and freedom, in some Islamic countries women are fighting for their right to do away with it.

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One Woman’s Pride, Another Woman’s Oppression

Shak Saidjanov, Editor

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On January 21, 2018 (a day after the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration), women across the country took part in what is commonly referred to as the Women’s March, a demonstration that claims to advocate for pro-women and pro-human rights legislation including (but not limited to) women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, equal pay, and freedom of religion.

However, though nothing on the Women’s March website directly indicates that President Trump was the leading rationale behind the march, it was clearly evident through the demonstrator’s signage and the media’s portrayal of the day (and the fact that the Women’s March held their first national demonstration the day after President Trump’s inauguration) that the paramount reason for the Women’s March isn’t sensible or bipartisan advocacy for feminist values, but rather another protest of Trump; in fact, The New York Times originally ran their story on the march as such, citing “defiant” rallies “the day after what many had assumed would be the inauguration of the first female president.”

At the time of this year’s demonstration, the protests were hailed as brave and defiant by some, while others dismissed them as the pointless cries of a disconnected left. But nearly a month later, one element of this year’s march particularly remains bothersome in the eyes of many conservatives, an element that is a worthy topic of debate not only for our nation, but for the world.

What was most striking about the Women’s March was its impeccable timing of a particular message about religious freedom. Alongside anti-Islamophobia banners and messages of unity, there were multiple posters promoting the hijab, including an image of a woman wrapped in an American flag hijab.  

The image of an American flag hijab to represent female empowerment is a misjudged, woefully misguided representation, and it is a misrepresentation that could not have come at a worse time.

Members and supporters of the Women’s March seem to be completely oblivious to the absolute turmoil currently unfolding in the Middle East over the hijab: young women activists, specifically in Iran, continuing to earnestly and unsuccessfully protest Iran’s restrictive dress code, which requires them to wear a hijab. CNN reports that as of February 3, 2018, there have been 29 public arrests of women in Iran for their involvement in hijab protests; other women have simply gone missing, including Vida Movahed, a woman whose video of a defiant speech she gave in Tehran without a hijab on went viral on Twitter. Her disappearance has recently sparked the hashtag #where_is_she, with many suspecting Iranian government involvement.

For a comprehensive page that documents all the women of this movement, look at human rights activist Shadi Sadr’s Twitter page, here.

I believe in the rights of women. I believe in religious freedom, no matter what form that may take. But taking a garment that is currently oppressing and degrading women and claiming that it is somehow a symbol of freedom or solidarity against Trump is horrendous. Implying that the American flag, a print nearly synonymous with freedom, would restrict women in such a way, is outrageous.

Of course, we must not ignore the fact that for many in the Muslim faith the hijab is a symbol of cultural identity, of religious tolerance, of tradition, of purpose, and of connection. In fact, some countries in Europe have gone as far as banning or prohibiting certain face veils or the hijab in pursuit of Western fundamentalism or idealism. That, clearly, is not just. But regarding the Women’s March, I find it ironic that something that so prominently advocates for the betterment of women (in a country where women are absolutely legislatively and culturally equal to men) would so blatantly ignore actual oppression happening in the world, in countries where women and minorities don’t share the rights that we as Americans do. And then to imply that the American flag, a flag that was not necessarily born under the same values as those that the hijab was, would somehow play a part in it is misinformed, to say the least.

Women who are actually living in Islamic countries are fighting for their right to do away with the hijab. The Women’s Marches of the United States have misused what is both a sacred element of religion and an oppressive and restrictive garment to many women in a dire attempt at virtue signalling and personal gain.

Supporters of the American Flag hijab image argue that an American flag hijab represents America’s support of religious freedom. Clearly, America must absolutely protect religious rights, specifically those of Muslims at a time of rampant Islamophobia. But I cannot help considering those who literally risk their lives in more troubled parts of the world for their right to remove it. America should be a place that they feel safe doing so, and an American flag hijab sends the wrong message. 

Yes, many women in the Muslim community see the hijab as a testament to their faith. Though that is to be respected and supported thoroughly for them and their faith, the fact that so many women are indeed oppressed by it throughout the world should mean something. Supporters of the American flag hijab image are wrong. 

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Elham Manea, an Arab academic and contributing writer for Huffington Post, had this to say to organizers of the Women’s March: “Given the complexity of the headscarf (veil) and what it represents, your choice of it as a symbol for the Islamic religion and the minority of Islamic faith was ill advised. Why choose a symbol ― considered a tool of oppression for many women in different parts of the world ― as a symbol of a rich and diverse religion like Islam? It is not only misguided, it is an insult to all of these women, who have to wear it and bear the psychological scars of that imposition.”

I couldn’t agree more. Do not showcase the hijab, an article of clothing that is so oppressive that Muslim women across the world would rather suffer public shaming, arrest, kidnap, and torture than wear it, as a way to express your own political agenda.

And definitely do not imply that Old Glory would have anything to do with it.

Creative Commons photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/belakangtabir/8116278336/in/