It seems that feminism and its religious ties are often ignored, or kept in disregard. Surely, the whole debate of feminism circles around the full human rights of women. The movement has naturally been categorized into several schools, simply put as categories of feminism. There are feminists that enforce lesbian and LGBT right, or ones who narrow in on workplace discrimination as well as salary law enforcement with regards to fair distribution within it. Recently, the becoming of religious feminism has made its way to headlines within Western media over the past 10 to 20 years. The evolution of Muslim feminism has erupted, more so in North America, due to increasing immigration rates and the issues that have arisen prior to the forming of the multiculturalist West. To Muslim women, and plenty of others, their practice of feminism is just and goes without question. They are merely, just like any other woman who promotes their own rights, raising awareness for equal treatment. We are all advocating for the same thing. But funny enough, within the various divisions of feminism stereotyping of women by other women has started to occur- partially, I believe, due to the religious and cultural debate that differs between global continents.
A huge focal point to this feminist tug-of-war refers directly to the hijab/burqa/niqab worn by Muslim women in the West. We knew I was going to address it, so please, let’s not be too surprised. As a student and female who lives in North America, I was taught what I know about Islamic culture and their practices from high school, online research and okay, movies too. I know women, no matter what their background, heritage, hometown, or upbringing may be, are required to cover themselves in an acceptable garment or headpiece when visiting SOME Middle Eastern countries. Now, I make a clear disclaimer – hijabs are not a symbol of threat. Those who perceive it in that way are simply associating a kitchen knife with a means other than for cooking. A hijab is used primarily to conceal a woman’s beauty and to remain modest when being confronted by an unrelated man. To Westerners, defining the hijab as a religious or cultural practice is, for one, controversial and certainly not clear cut. However, feminists are held irresponsible and uneducated when they claim the hijab is a symbol of oppression.
A recent hashtag went viral, #lifeofamuslimfeminist, which brought a lot of stereotyping of, wait for it, Western feminists. The hashtag insisted that Western feminists are oppressive in the sense that they are trying to “liberate” Muslim women by freeing them from wearing their headdresses. First, this assumes that all white women who advocate for equal rights, are fighting to rid these women of their hijabs. This is not the case. Truthfully, what makes this a very confusing and difficult scenario to address is the fact that is it never known whether or not hijabs are cultural, religious, forced, or chosen to be worn. There are girls who are forced to wear a hijab growing up in North America and there are girls who chose to wear it as a sign of respect and dignity. In one country, a hijab is forced and in another, it is a sign of culture and modesty. Now I can understand why Muslim women feel that their choice of clothing should not be up for debate; but in all fairness, the hijab is used as a way to dismiss many gender issues. And if it’s going to be used to promote or denote either men or women in various cases, then it’s a topic to be discussed.
McGill University took this feministic bull by the horns a few short weeks ago, when they were confronted by a group of Muslim females, who wanted women-only gym hours. Their reasoning was simply to make women “feel less intimidated in the weights section,” said Soumia Allalou, and for their own religious reasons. To me, this really dampens the image of Muslim feminism. I feel hijabs are not meant to be used to retain treatment that actually goes against the whole point of feminism. Feminism isn’t meant to give exclusive rights to a specific group of people, and it surely isn’t meant to promote segregation between the sexes even more. McGill made the call to dismiss the notion of women-only hours, and honestly, as an institution they seem to know more about feminism than feminists themselves. No feminist would ever fight to be dismissed from co-ed gym hours because they feel intimidated by boys lifting weights.
The way I see it is this: If women are arguing that they have the right to choose to wear a hijab, and that it is not an oppressive garment that they are being forced to wear, so be it. BUT in choosing to wear a hijab, it does not mean that others will cater to or even be aware of your specific needs, that follow from making that choice. If you choose to wear a headdress for modest reasons and claim that no religion, man, or law is inflicting it upon you, why is it fair to inflict gender separated gym hours in order to fit these needs? For any human being- Muslim, non-Muslim, black, white, gay, straight- to accept the freedom of choice, you must accept freedom of consequence. There are several women’s only gyms or establishments that frankly, if you choose to feel more comfortable there, you are required to go out of your way in order to receive this comfort. It is not the role of a man or anybody for that matter, to make a woman feel comfortable. And that’s what feminism is all about. In my opinion, if you fight to be an independent, empowered female, you have to go out of your way to do so.
Call me misunderstood, uneducated or unaware of Muslim feminists. I am not an expert and I will always have questions. But the one thing that stands in similarity between us all is the fight for an equal right. And this example here, doesn’t fight for anything but two steps backward.