I recently came across an article titled ‘Muslims Are the True Feminists‘ by Gabby Aossey on The Huffington Post who is an American privileged woman. THis article tried to establish the fact that only “Muslim” women are true feminists, because Muslim women cover themselves and thus, are more empowered. This is not the first time that I came across such a hypothesis – which I undoubtedly find very disturbing.
Another great manifestation of the theory is in the form of benevolent sexism. “Which toffee is more worthy? The one that is covered or the one that isnt on which flies are placing themselves and contaminating it? Of course, the one that’s covered. The same proves why Muslim women are worthier.” Benevolent sexism is when men basically sugercoat their prejudices and try to justify their sexism by things such as “Women are fragile creatures that’s why they should….” and in this case, “Women are always at a risk of male harassment, they need protection and therefore they should…” The major flaw in this argument as well as in the article is that it promotes the idea that only well covered women deserve respect.
“And they do not get attention from showing off their figure, but they get attention by how they present themselves. Muslim woman get respect and are looked at beyond aesthetics; they are actually taken seriously in their communities.”
The argument that Muslim women are more empowered because they do not use their bodies like Western women to attract attention is fatally wrong. Firstly,there is no such thing as ‘objectifying yourself’. The only form of self-objectification which exists according to psychologists is when a person starts measuring their worth according to their looks rather than their qualities as a person, thus thinking of themselves as objects rather than humans. This sort of self objectification exists in society thanks to objectification in the first place, and nowadays it’s not just women but also, men-owing to the blatant glorification of six-packs and ‘size zero’ bodies in the media-who are suffering from this, something which manifests itself in the form of anorexia, depression, social anxiety among others.
In this context, if women are resisting society’s pressures and choosing to cover themselves not caring a pence if they appear too ‘plain’ by society’s standards is certainly empowerment, but this is not the only argument of this article. The article’s argument revolves around the idea that they are not objectifying their bodies by choosing to cover it because of which they are empowered. The article clearly states, “They don’t get attention from showing off their figure.” The flaw in the argument, however, is that the writer does not think it is the ‘choice’ of how they dress but rather the ‘dress’ itself which is empowering them because they do not want to objectify their bodies and attract attention. The article blatantly says, “That in the Muslim world, modest women are respected and called upon.”
The type of objectification being referred here is ‘sexual objectification.” This argument implies that women command respect when they dress modestly but objectify themselves when they are scantily clad. But the problem is, only the person who sees her and chooses to view her body as a sexual object can objectify her, not herself. A person can choose to objectify a woman even if she has covered her skin from ‘top to toe’ simply because in his mentality women’s bodies are meant to be objectified – a thing which middle class brown women are quite fond of experiencing at local markets where being stared at like a meat is not an anomaly.
Therefore, saying that “Muslim women are true feminists” because they liberate themselves from the pressure of being sexually appealing is a totally wrong argument since one cannot objectify themselves in the first place as proven above. The article targets at the Free The Nipple campaign which was actually an attempt against sexual objectification based on the notion that female bodies should not be sexualized, even if topless. Whether the campaign was an extreme one or not is another argument altogether, but the fact that the article states that ‘Free the nipplers’ haven’t liberated themselves from a man’s judgemental gaze again seems to blame the women, and not the male gaze.
The article thus, instead of condemning objectification of female bodies, subtly hints that sexualisation of female bodies is an inevitability. This argument is thus formidable because it reinforces the stereotype that a woman dressed in skimpy clothes is doing it for making herself “sexually appealing”- obliterating all ideas of choice and self expression. It is only these types of notions which promote rape culture as they justify rape by saying the women’s clothes ‘asked for it’. Instead of promoting the idea that women should expect disrespect if dressed scantily, we need to ask our male counterparts to stop objectifying us.
Another troubling aspect of this article is how the writer quotes about the lives of Muslim women, despite her background and her lack of representation for the group being cited. “In the Muslim-American community, and even in parts of the greater Muslim world, modest woman, whether they wear hijab or not, are respected and called upon, despite what our mainstream media feeds to us.” Harassment rates in Muslim developing countries like Yemen and Egypt certainly have a very different story to tell.
On top of that, the article also clearly states that hijab is not ‘imposed’ on Muslim women but laws in conservative countries like Iran and Saudia Arabia have taken away the right to choose how to dress and have obliged women to wear hijab and burqa. Coming from a South Asian background, I can clearly verify that over here, a woman’s parents and then later her husband usually decide how she should be dressing-seeing that she represents their so-called honour and thus, her family members ‘must’ ensure she is dressed honourably. I find it quite disturbing that the writer has blatantly commented on the situation of Muslim women around the world and painted this utopian picture, totally ignoring the struggle and challenges faced by Muslim women.