Talk about reification…

Something I’ve noticed in passing before but noticed more slowly this time: referring to people as “hijabis”. It was in a Twitter exchange between Adele Wilde-Blavatsky and someone I don’t know.

appNick Nipclose @NickNipclose

Criticism of hijab is irrelevant: event was opposing harassment of hijabis not arguing that hijab is flawless

Adele Wilde-Blavatsk @lionfacedakini

but in promoting the event many equated the hijab with the hoodie and symbolically it appeared that way too

Nick Nipclose @NickNipclose

I’m not comparing murders, it could be sad that harassing a hijabi is worse than bothering a hoody clad kid1/2

It struck me more forcibly than it had before what a horrible way to refer to a person or set of people that is. It’s so dehumanizing. She’s not a person, she’s the thing she wears to conceal her head because her religion treats it as an “obligation.”

It’s obvious that the guy doing it sees it as a particularly respectful way of talking, but it isn’t.


  1. Cuttlefish says

    Prediction: one or more suits will come here, and complain that it’s just as bad for them since they get called suits.

  2. says

    It’s a good example of how people with black and white thinking operate. They need a way to create an easy category to mentally manipulate issues, but it’s easier to make the mental tool about the people and not the issue. This is the creation of the mental outgroup as a problematic logical bias.

    The important part is the issue of course and a person who interacts with an issue honestly will make the mental tool the issue and appreciate the diversity of the people interested in the issue.

  3. says

    “Hijab” and “hijabi” are two different words. I googled “hijabi” and saw several websites like this one, where Muslim women who wear the veil refer to themselves as “hijabi.” As it apparently means “wearer of the hijab” there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it.

  4. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Bus drivers all over North America would disagree:

    Would everyone please move back? We’ve got a wheelchair coming on.

    Not to mention restaurant servers, cops, nurses’ assistants, and airport aides.

    Maybe you?

  5. says

    I haven’t counted, but has anyone considered that this usage may be an effect of the character limit? (Which would be yet another reason Twitter sucks).

  6. says

    With “wheelchair” is the bus driver referring to the person, or rather to the wheelchair and the amount of space and clearance it needs?

    Also, which is it – fedorans, or fedorites?

  7. says

    ivyshoots, sure, I know that’s what it means, but I’m saying that’s what’s dehumanizing. Why would people call themselves what they were on their heads? Especially when it’s a garment for only one sex (and that the one that’s not calling the shots).

  8. Shatterface says

    It’s not a unique: people who wear hoodies are also known as hoodies.

    Police may be badges, uniforms or boys in blue, commandos or Special Forces are Green Berets and are counted as boots on the ground, the monarchy is the Crown.

  9. says

    ivyshoots, 1. no, it’s not? 2. I didn’t tell them the way they refer to themselves is “horrible”; I said “what a horrible way to refer to a person or set of people that is.” Talking about X calling Y that, not telling Y the way Y refers to herself is horrible.

  10. anne mariehovgaard says

    Shatterface @8: Precisely. Uniforms are worn to erase individuality and turn a human being into a part of a “machine”. And in many contexts the monarch is supposed to be a symbol of the nation, not an indiviual.

  11. medivh says

    Shatterface, #8 and anne #12:

    Also, “badges”, “uniforms” and “coppers” tend to be used like “suits”. A way by people feeling forced under by the group ethos of the police (or corporate management for suits) to punch up, even if only in private. You know, with the admission that some of the more “civil” dehumanising ones get used by detectives who don’t consider themselves to be the same as beat cops any more to punch down because they got it when they were beat cops.

    Ivyshoots, #3:

    I can’t think of a good reason for a person who doesn’t wear a hijab habitually to refer to such people as if one of them is interchangable with any other. There’s a very different power structure between a woman who wears a hijab calling another “hijabi” for solidarity and an ally (or maybe “ally”) casually throwing the word around “to show solidarity”. I’m pretty sure that an obvious example should be coming to mind when it’s laid out like that. If not, the example I’m thinking of is a term of solidarity in one situation and a racist epithet in the other, and starts with “N”.

  12. says

    I’ll stop referring to people as “atheists”, fancy categorising complex human beings by one thing they happen to *not* believe! Actually it doesn’t make much sense, but that’s humans for you.

    Or maybe those “atheists” also have a bunch of other characteristics that have nothing to do with that non-belief. So it’s just easier to refer to all those that have the shared non-belief using a single word. Assuming they identify in that way and I’m not forcing it on them, so any negative connotations that exist in society clearly don’t bother them. Maybe I’m not being dehumanising at all. Assuming I’m referring to them in a context that makes all that clear anyway. Phew, carry on, nothing to see here.

  13. Ian Bertram says

    I’m happy to be identified as an atheist – in contexts where the topic of belief/non-belief is the issue. I’m not happy to be identified as an atheist in other contexts because it has no bearing – eg the fact that I’m an atheist has no bearing on my work as an artist.

    If hijabi means hijab wearer (I have no idea) then the specific tweet is perhaps acceptable – however I suspect that the tweeter is no more aware of the facts than I am and uses it as Ophelia is concerned about. It’s like the use of ‘illegals’ to mean people designated by the state as illegal immigrants. A person is not illegal, a person is not a hijab.

    ‘Suits’ is a figure of speech (synecdoche?) and I accept that hijabi could be construed in the same way. However ‘suits’ works because the suit wearing is associated with a particular mentality/attitude in certain business sectors and is thus voluntary and to a degree self identification. Hijab wearing is imposed as a by-product of a particular religious sect and is not a truly voluntary activity.

  14. Ian Bertram says

    As an aside it used to be common in hospitals to talk about patients on the ward in terms of their ailment – ‘the hernia in bed 3’. That sort of works as a way of keeping track of a transient group of people but unfortunately it often tracks over into the dealings between medical/nursing staff and the patients and dehumanises them – just as hijabi/illegal does and to be fair – suits.

  15. Dunc says

    Would referring to “women who wear the hijab” be equally dehumanising? If not, then what’s the difference?

    It seems perfectly reasonable to refer to a set of people which is solely defined by the fact that they share a particular characteristic by that characteristic. Gamers have nothing in common beyond enjoying games. Cosplayers have nothing in common beyond wearing costumes. Carpenters have nothing in common beyond working with wood. Are any of these terms dehumanising? If not, then what’s the difference?

  16. says

    oolon – what’s your point? Referring to people as “atheists” isn’t comparable; what’s comparable to that is referring to people as theists or Muslims / Catholics / etc, which is not what I posted about.

  17. says

    I’m still on the fence on this one. However, one thing that differentiates “hijabi” from “atheist”, “gamer”, etc. is that the hijab literally erases the person from view, giving the descriptor a significance the others don’t have.

  18. rnilsson says

    @ Ian #16: I was just going to make your point, only about “the kidney stone in ward 3”.
    That’s all.

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