Originally a comment by sambarge on Only when it is nothing more than a personal choice.
When the practice of hijab becomes nothing more than a personal choice, only then may it be considered a feminist statement.
I would argue, even then, that the choice to wear a hijab would be feminist neutral. There is nothing inherently feminist in the choice to wear a hijab and its history (whatever it may develop into in the future) is rooted in oppression.
A choice by a feminist is not necessarily a feminist choice. Allow me to give a non-veiling example:
25 yrs ago, I was an under-grad, thinking about grad school and my unwieldy last name. My parents were Italian immigrants and our family name included the dreaded “gigli” combination that English speakers find almost impossible to pronounce. Tired of the mispronunciations, I looked into the cost and process of changing my name. Initially, I chose my mother’s birth name. No feminist reasons, only that it was a family name I felt an ownership to, I had cousins with that name and it was easier for Anglos to say. But the cost was prohibitive and I didn’t like the idea of a new a birth certificate, as if SamBarge had never lived. It was weird. Also, my parents were uncomfortable with me changing my name. It seemed like a rejection, which is certainly wasn’t but all the same, what would they tell their friends? I didn’t hate my birth name, I just didn’t want to lug it through my whole life. I wanted life in my Anglo country of birth to be a little easier.
While I considered my options, my then boyfriend (now spouse) and I decided to get married. Suddenly, I was offered the opportunity to change my name to a lovely Anglicized German name for the low price of $26 (the cost of a new driver’s licence). My family’s protests about me changing my name disappeared. They were thrilled that they wouldn’t have to explain to their friends why I changed my name. All their friends completely understood this sort of name change. No one wondered why, my birth certificate stayed the same. This name change was easy, peasey, lemon-squeezy. It was as if society had been set up to make this choice easy.
And, of course, society was set up to make this choice easy. And it was my choice. My spouse would never have forced me to change my name and was a little surprised when I chose to do it. I had a lot of good personal reasons to make the change but he knew that I was a feminist who didn’t view marriage as an erasure of my previous existence for a rebirth as Mrs. Husband’s Name.
So I made a choice to which I had the privilege as a heterosexual woman to access. I made that choice as a feminist but it was not a feminist choice. It was a choice that was expedient and useful to me but it was a choice that upheld a patriarchal tradition.
That point was driven home a few years later when our friends were getting married. At the reception, the groom insisted that I tell the bride to change her name after marriage. Apparently, she wanted to hold on to her easy to pronounce and spell (and frankly preferable to her new spouse’s) name. Why would I tell her to do that, I asked? Because I had done it and I was a feminist so she should do it too, was his reasoning.
And so, every act by a feminist is not necessarily a feminist act AND sometimes our actions help to keep our sisters who would choose otherwise oppressed.