March 27, 2009

Kameelah Rasheed: I Am Not Asking For Your Approval

Kameela Rasheed has an interesting essay at Mecca.com in which she tells the world that she doesn't need their approval in order to wear hijab. In the middle of the essay is an anecdote about a "conversation" (really a monologue) she had with a South African man who tried to "reason" with her that by covering herself she was denying him his "need" to see her, her hair, her body. In this world, where scantily clad women are the norm for advertising, where cable news has become cable nilf, where even female politicians rely upon sex appeal, is it any surprise men "need" women to be "accessible?"

While most comments at this institution were reserved for private discussions, the college experience as well as my time in Johannesburg, South Africa provided an opportunity to understand what literally annoyed people about my Hijab. While in Yeoville, a hybrid inner-city/suburb of Johannesburg, I was approached by a man who was intent on liberating me from not only my gender oppression, but from my racial confusion. Apparently, 'I am not free' in Hijab and Islam is not an African religion. I had committed not only the ultimate sin of embracing a faith that 'forced' me to be modest; I had chosen a faith that had no roots in Africa. Let's not bother with the contrary historical facts, as that is the least of our concerns.

What I found of the utmost importance in this monologue (yes, because I was unable to get a word in edgeways) was that he conceptualised my channels of freedom via the ritualistic removal of my Hijab and his penetration or sexual conquest. I never knew that my freedom toolbox included an instruction guide - I will keep this in mind.

As he continued to speak in a series of poorly phrased insults, I realized that this was no longer about gender oppression or black authenticity; it was about the politics of accessibility to certain bodies. He repeated almost in a hypnotic fashion, 'I cannot see you… I cannot see your essence'. In wearing Hijab, it was his argument that I was making myself inaccessible to men, and particularly to him. Choosing to place myself off the radar was not a choice I could exercise.

In fact, I was required to make myself available and accessible to his gaze as well as the gaze of other men. Thus, the crime I had committed was not one of accepting my subjugation as a Muslim woman and 'confused African woman', but of refusing to situate myself in his myopic discourse of liberation that ultimately puts me at his mercy. If I was mistaken in this assumption, it was further validated by a number of men in Johannesburg and in America who have told me similar tales of my inaccessibility, as a reason why I should not wear Hijab.

They started with a narrative of genuine concern for my oppression and devolved into a shallow desire for a free pass to accessibility. It was not always about what was said, but the delivery of these diatribes. In many of these situations, these men used aggressive and paternalistic tones. They attempted to silence me by raising their voices. They worked to discredit my line of defense by telling me I did not know enough. Most of all they were surprised that I was able to put together a sentence and to give as well as I was given. It was a reminder that the covering of my head is not a covering of my mind or my mouth.

HT: my hijab = my *diamond* crown

5 comments:

George Carty said...

Why is the "hijab = oppression" meme so hard to shake? A thought that's bugging me a lot currently is "am I a misogynistic scumbag because I adore hijabis?"

Is it because of a general anti-religious bias within the contemporary West? (I've never seen an argument in favour of modesty or of feminine dress that did not fall back on religion as a crutch...)

Or does it have something to do with contemporary Western civilization emerging in one of the world's cloudiest inhabited regions (northwestern Europe)? Think of how much money must be being made by selling sun-and-beach holidays!

Oh, I noticed something very curious once in that vein. If you take a map of Europe and Western Asia and plot the 2000 hours sunshine/year isohel, it almost exactly traces out the historical northern limit of the Islamic conquests! It separates al-Andalus from the Christian remnants in northern Iberia, it separates the Ottoman Balkans from Austria and Poland, and it separates Russia from Crimea (once a Muslim khanate), Chechnya and Kazakhstan. The only big discrepancy is peninsular Italy (with more than 2000 hours sunshine per year, despite never being Muslim).

JDsg said...

A thought that's bugging me a lot currently is "am I a misogynistic scumbag because I adore hijabis?"

Heh. Not in my book. ;) Granted, I am biased (my wife is a hijabi, as is her mom and sister, and most of the female half of her extended family). However, I not only see the pious side of hijabis but the aesthetic side as well: the hijab as fashion accessory. In this part of the world, there's no suggestion that one must always wear black; tudungs here are very much color-coordinated with the day's outfit, helping to create a more fashionable look to those who cover themselves. From a fashion sense, I think women who cover themselves look better than those who don't. So I don't necessarily see any problems with your adoration of hijabis. (Unless there's another reason why they're making you hot and bothered. ;) )

I think there are two main reasons why the oppression meme hasn't been shaken off. The first is that people bought into the feminist narrative that women shouldn't have to cover their hair. This wasn't directed solely at Muslim women; in fact I'd suspect that Catholics were first targeted, at least in the US. I was raised Catholic and remember my mom wearing a scarf to Mass every week when I was a kid. (And my mom certainly wasn't alone in that regard.) But how many Catholic women wear a scarf to Mass today? Very few, I would imagine. And even for those people who didn't buy into feminist ideology the anti-scarf argument was too good to pass up, especially if it confirmed their prejudices against Muslims.

Likewise, the Orientalist/Crusader mentality of Westerners, which is largely based on ignorant, prurient fantasies about the sex life of Muslim males, also confirms prejudices. It doesn't matter that it's not true; the fantasy is more important than the reality.

Is it because of a general anti-religious bias within the contemporary West?

No, because religious Westerners, especially in the US, are just as fond of the "hijab = oppression" meme as anyone else. That ties in with their fears about Islam.

Or does it have something to do with contemporary Western civilization emerging in one of the world's cloudiest inhabited regions (northwestern Europe)?

Heh. You haven't been to SE Asia yet (with respect to "world's cloudiest inhabited regions"). :) I think that has to do more with changing fashions over time (long-term trends instead of annual changes). I was watching a clip of Warren Beatty's film, "Reds," today, and was struck by the number of men and women who were wearing some sort of head covering. In some cultures, the hat or scarf becomes part of the daily dress; men and women wouldn't dream of going outside of the house without something on their head. The trend in the West over the last 40-50 years has been of either wearing no hat or scarf or of wearing a hat in a socially acceptable form (e.g., the ubiquitous baseball-style cap). Just like wearing a cowboy hat into a disco is going to raise a lot of eyebrows, the hijab raises eyebrows because it hasn't become socially accepted yet.

If you take a map of Europe and Western Asia and plot the 2000 hours sunshine/year isohel, it almost exactly traces out the historical northern limit of the Islamic conquests!

I tried looking for a map like this online but couldn't find one; do you have a link or file? Hugh Kennedy, in his book, The Great Arab Conquests, noted something similar, at least for the Iberian Peninsula:

Within five years of the initial invasion, almost the whole of the Iberian peninsula had been brought under the control of the Muslim armies. There was, however, an important and, as it turned out, fatal exception to this rule. In the north of Spain, as in some areas of the Middle East, the 1,000-meter contour line represented the limit of the territory held by the Muslims. (p. 317)

George Carty said...

From a fashion sense, I think women who cover themselves look better than those who don't.

I don't think that's necessarily true per se. I think that men crave femininity more than anything else. Since the feminist advocacy of androgyny has no good secular counter (as I mentioned in my previous comment), the more feminine women tend to be the more religious (and therefore more modest) ones.

No, because religious Westerners, especially in the US, are just as fond of the "hijab = oppression" meme as anyone else. That ties in with their fears about Islam.

I was a bit surprised that Coffee Catholic seemed to have such right-wing, pro-war views, given that she likes Muslim clothing.

By the way, what's the most accurate term to describe someone who believes that if their nation does not dominate others, it will inevitably be dominated by others (as expressed in that post I linked)? "Imperialist" is too general, but "fascist" doesn't feel quite right...

I tried looking for a map like this online but couldn't find one; do you have a link or file?

Here's the map I was using.

Heh. You haven't been to SE Asia yet (with respect to "world's cloudiest inhabited regions").

According to the map linked, SE Asia has little sunshine compared to most other parts of Asia, but the only part of Asia with as little sunshine as Britain seems to be the Siberian tundra.

JDsg said...

I don't think that's necessarily true per se.

It's a personal opinion.


I think that men crave femininity more than anything else.

Agreed.


...the more feminine women tend to be the more religious (and therefore more modest) ones.

I don't know about this; I'll have to give it some thought.


By the way, what's the most accurate term to describe someone who believes that if their nation does not dominate others, it will inevitably be dominated by others (as expressed in that post I linked)? "Imperialist" is too general, but "fascist" doesn't feel quite right...

I'll have to give this some thought too. In the US, I'd normally call this type of person a wingnut. ;)

BTW, just to twist the knife a little ;) , when you wrote, "am I a misogynistic scumbag because I adore hijabis?", does that mean you think I'm a misogynistic scumbag? Or that most Muslim men are?

George Carty said...

BTW, just to twist the knife a little ;) , when you wrote, "am I a misogynistic scumbag because I adore hijabis?", does that mean you think I'm a misogynistic scumbag? Or that most Muslim men are?

No, for some strange reason I thought it was only misogynistic for non-Muslims. (Don't know how I worked that one out though...)