Choice and Oppression

I went to a “world hijab day” event on Wednesday night, and one of the ladies I exchanged contact info with emailed me after a friend of hers said that she thought hijab was oppressive to women, wanting to know if wearing the hijab was a choice for me. Since I ended up spending a fair amount of time writing a reply, I thought I’d post it here too:

It’s absolutely a choice for me.

And I believe that it can be a powerfully feminist choice.

I am choosing who gets to see which parts of my body and rejecting the idea that as a woman in public, it’s my responsibility to be an aesthetically pleasing display.

There are countries, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, that legally mandate the hijab, and I absolutely reject that. I see it as just as bad as countries like France and Turkey that legally bar it. When you legally require a woman to wear a hijab, you are actually denying her the right to wear it out of religious devotion. It goes against everything the Qur’an says both about respecting women and about not using compulsion in matters of religion.

Unfortunately, idiotic men who want to micromanage women’s lives are a world-wide problem.

When people think the hijab is somehow inherently oppressive, I like to tell them about the idea of women changing their name when they get married. It’s largely unheard of in the Muslim world. I’ve had conversations with women from Muslim countries who can’t understand why an American woman would have to change her name when she gets married. She’s still the same person, she still comes from the same family, and she’s not her husband’s property, so why would American women put up with something so obviously oppressive?

There’s nothing inherently oppressive about changing your name, and there’s nothing inherently oppressive about wearing a headscarf, as long as it’s a choice that’s being made freely.

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