Maryam points out, in agreement with Adele Wilde-Blavatsky, that the hoodie and the hijab are not the same. Wilde-Blavatsky published an article arguing that on the website The Feminist Wire on April 13.
What I take issue with here is the equating of the hoodie and the hijab as sources of ethnic identity and pride. The hijab, which is discriminatory and rooted in men’s desire to control women’s appearance and sexuality, is not a choice for the majority of women who wear it. The hoodie, on the other hand, is a choice for everyone who wears it. The history and origin of these two items of clothing and what they represent could not be more different; like comparing the crippling footbindings of Chinese women with a `Made in China’ Nike trainer.
This is not neo-colonialism either. Muslim feminists have spoken out against the burqa and hijab, and even supported the French ban in schools. Fadela Amara explained her support for France’s ban:
The veil is the visible symbol of the subjugation of women, and therefore has no place in the mixed, secular spaces of France’s public school system.
When some feminists began defending the headscarf on the grounds of “tradition”, Amara vehemently disagreed:
They define liberty and equality according to what colour your skin is. They won’t denounce forced marriages or female genital mutilation, because, they say, it’s tradition. It’s nothing more than neocolonialism. It’s not tradition, it’s archaic. French feminists are totally contradictory. When Algerian women fought against wearing the headscarf in Algeria, French feminists supported them. But when it’s some young girl in a French suburb school, they don’t.
Shock-horror – she actually said the hijab is rooted in men’s desire to control women’s appearance and sexuality. She actually quoted Fadela Amara saying it is the visible symbol of the subjugation of women. This must not be! So a group of women signed a Collective Response (uh oh – the very name makes me turn pale with nausea) to explain how terribly wrong it is to say that the hijab is a symbol of the subjugation of women. It’s badly-written, and jargony, and stupid, and wrong.
An article recently published on The Feminist Wire’s website and circulated via its facebook page has prompted this note. In her article, “To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals,” Adele Wilde-Blavatsky attempts to address the important question of what it means to be an anti-racist feminist in the 21st century. Her article, however, serves to assert white feminist privilege and power by producing a reductive understanding of racial and gendered violence and by denying Muslim women their agency.
In her article, Wilde-Blavatsky takes “issue with … the equating of the hoodie and the hijab as sources of ethnic identity.” Oblivious to the important cross-racial and cross-ethnic connections and solidarities made in light of the tragic murders of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi, the author contends that the hoodie and the hijab cannot be compared because “the history and origin of these two items of clothing and what they represent could not be more different.” For her, Trayvon Martin’s hoodie signifies a history of racism, whereas Shaima Alawadi’s hijab signifies only male domination and female oppression. Revealing her own biases, Wilde-Blavatsky writes, “The hijab, which is discriminatory and rooted in men’s desire to control women’s appearance and sexuality, is not a choice for the majority of women who wear it. The hoodie, on the other hand, is a choice for everyone who wears it” (emphasis in original).
And that’s all they say about that. They don’t say why Wilde-Blavatsky is wrong to say that the hoodie signifies a history of racism while the hijab signifies male domination and female oppression. It would have been helpful if they had said why, because frankly I have no idea why they think that. How would the hijab not be such a signifier when women get whipped, beaten, fined, imprisoned, and sometimes killed for failing or refusing to wear it? Does anybody anywhere get whipped or killed for refusing to wear a hoodie? Does The Man force anyone to wear a hoodie?
And then what’s the crap about the important cross-racial and cross-ethnic connections and solidarities made in light of the tragic murders of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi? What is it that Wilde-Blavatsky is “oblivious” to? What does it have to do with her point? She’s certainly not arguing that women should be murdered for wearing a hijab, so what is it that she’s oblivious to? People can agree across racial and ethnic differences that no one should be killed for wearing the wrong kind of headgear, and Wilde-Blavatsky wrote nothing to interfere with that view. That claim looks to me like a meaningless piety rather than an argument.
To us, it is deeply troubling to be patronized by a person who insists the hijab is never a choice made of free will. But what is even more saddening is that such opinions are being propagated on a feminist site with a commitment to highlighting the consequences of the “ill-fated pursuit of wars abroad and the abandonment of a vision of social justice at home.” The consequences of such wars have included the demonization, incarceration, and oppression of Muslim men, women, and children at home and abroad.
Non sequitur follows non sequitur. It’s not patronizing to point out that the hijab is not always “a choice made of free will” – and W-B in fact didn’t say it’s never a free choice, so they’re being simply dishonest in saying she “insists the hijab is never a choice made of free will.”
As feminists deeply committed to challenging racism and Islamophobia and how it differentially impacts black and Muslim (and black Muslim) communities, we wish to open up a dialogue about how to build solidarities across complex histories of subjugation and survival. This space is precisely what is shut down in this article. In writing this letter, we emphasize that our concern is not solely with Adele Wilde-Blavatsky’s article but with the broader systemic issues revealed in the publication of a work that prevents us from challenging hierarchies of privilege and building solidarity.
Bullying nonsense. Nothing was “shut down” in the article; nothing prevents them from “challenging hierarchies of privilege and building solidarity.”
Maryam offers a much better statement.
We extend our full solidarity to Adele Wilde-Blavatsky for such a clear and rare analysis from feminists in Europe and North America, in which women’s resistance to the Muslim Right -including by resisting all forms of fundamentalist veiling – is made visible and honoured, rather than sacrificed on the altar of anti racism and anti imperialism’.
* Marieme Helie Lucas, sociologist, Algeria, founder and former international coordinator of the international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws ( wluml), coordinator Secularism Is A Women’s Issue
* Fatou Sow, Researcher, Senegal, international coordinator, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
* Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/UK
* Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, Rutgers University, U S A
* Khawar Mumtaz, Shirkat Gah, Pakistan