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Some questions about feminism from a Muslim.

(156 Posts)
StatelessPrincess Fri 23-Jun-17 17:05:43

I'm a Muslim woman and I've been told I can't be a feminist and practise my religion (although I've never claimed to be one) but I've also seen and heard many times that a feminist is simply anyone who believes that men and women should have equal opportunities. So I'm a bit confused by feminism and have been trying to learn more about it. This has raised some questions-

Islam teaches that men should protect women. I've been told by feminists that this is backward and sexist. These same feminists are strongly against men and transwomen being able to use the same toilets as women and say that women are much more likely to be raped or assaulted than men. I also hear the phrase 'rape culture' mentioned a lot. So why is it wrong to say that women should be protected?

Many feminists feel that society judges women based on how sexually attractive to men they are and that this is wrong. They object to women feeling that they need to wear high heels or make up. Many Muslim women wear hijab to avoid this, to be judged on our words and actions alone and not our appearance. We are told by feminists that this is wrong, so how should a feminist dress?

I've been told that the decision I made freely to wear hijab is not in fact a free decision, that actually I am brainwashed. This implies that I do not have the intellect or backbone to choose my own clothes and neither do millions of other women. Does anyone agree with my feeling that this view is patronising and oppressive? Many Jewish, Christian, Sikh and Hindu women cover their hair, are they all brainwashed? And can a woman submit to God and be a feminist or are religion and feminism incompatible?

I'm not trying to start a fight or even a debate really, I'm genuinely just trying learn more about something that I hear so much about but struggle to understand.

NoLoveofMine Fri 23-Jun-17 17:20:50

I'm a Muslim woman and I've been told I can't be a feminist and practise my religion

Anyone who tells you this is talking absolute nonsense. There are so many inspiring Muslim feminist women (and I've also read pieces by Muslim men who are strongly supportive of feminism). Malala Yousafzai is an example of a Muslim feminist who is an inspirational figure, and one of many.

So why is it wrong to say that women should be protected?

My issue with the notion of women being protected in general is that it's protection from male violence - so the need for women to be protected is only there because of the threat of male violence. This angers me because it's a way women can be controlled and women's lives limited because of things some men choose to do to us.

We are told by feminists that this is wrong, so how should a feminist dress?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to wear the hijab. Many Muslim women choose to do so. Many women women choose not to. Both choices should be respected so anyone who insults your agency by saying you haven't made a free choice is being rather insulting in my opinion.

I have an issue with the notion any woman should dress in a certain way to avoid being judged or viewed sexually by men - this I see as separate from women wearing a hijab though. I think it's the responsibility of men and boys not to objectify women and suggesting women should dress in a certain way to avoid it is a step down the path to victim blaming. Women and girls are harassed no matter what we wear, so it's up to men to stop doing it.

I don't know enough about religion to say enough about whether religion and feminism are compatible but I do know there are a lot of feminist Muslims, Christians, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh. They know more of their religions than I do so it does seem there is compatibility even if the texts many religions are based on aren't great for the position of women.

I'm no expert on any of this of course!

IndominusRex Fri 23-Jun-17 17:23:23

Hello! The answer I would give is that feminism is about breaking down the patriarchal rules that exist in society. There are short term goals, like creating safe spaces for women because those are needed now, and long term goals like changing society so that men no longer view women as objects to be abused.
I don't know enough about Islam to comment specifically on that and wouldn't attempt to 'islamsplain' to you wink but I think the examples you state are in line with short term goals of keeping women safe but not long term ones of changing the structure of power if that makes sense?

StatelessPrincess Fri 23-Jun-17 17:31:34

Thank you NoLove I think I agree with everything you said!
Indominous Yes that makes sense, thank you.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Fri 23-Jun-17 17:32:14

There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to wear the hijab

If however you describe this as "dressing modestly" you may find that people who don't "dress modestly" or who don't think there is any need to "dress modestly" dislike the term.

They object to women feeling that they need to wear high heels or make up But women don't need to do this. Many women don't. There is no religious coercion to do so and no punishment for failing to do so.

You choose to wear hijab but there are countries where women have no choice other than to wear it. Your choice to an extent therefore is validating the enforced wearing.

OneFlewOverTheDodosNest Fri 23-Jun-17 17:32:48

I think a key thing to remember is that there are many different strands of feminism and they are incompatible in many ways so just because one feminist says something doesn't mean it's true for all feminists.

For example, there are feminists who believe that prostitution can be empowering to women because they look at an individual level and it can help a desperate woman to earn money so they believe it's ok. However I am a radical feminist (meaning looking at the root of the issue, rather than extreme) and see prostitution as harmful to women as a class and believe there should never be a woman desperate enough to need to sell her body.

As to whether religion and feminism are compatible it depends on whether you believe your holy text is the absolute word of God or whether you see it as the interpretation of God's message by fallible humans. Nearly all holy books state that women are subservient to men - if you think that God has mandated this then it's difficult to reconcile that with the core beliefs of feminism, it becomes easier if you see it as a reflection of the time it was written.

NoLoveofMine Fri 23-Jun-17 17:34:46

Thanks StatelessPrincess I'm glad grin

NoLoveofMine Fri 23-Jun-17 17:36:35

I've never used the term "dress modestly" except to criticise it.

StatelessPrincess Fri 23-Jun-17 17:38:34

Your choice to an extent therefore is validating the enforced wearing. I've heard this a lot but I can't agree with it. To me it's like saying no woman should get married because some women are forced into marriage.

NoLoveofMine Fri 23-Jun-17 17:39:03

StatelessPrincess bear in mind Lass isn't even a feminist and regularly states this.

Fruitcocktail6 Fri 23-Jun-17 17:41:17

I'm sure you'll get some really great answers, my thoughts are less coherent and academic, but here's what I think about your points.

The issue with women being protected is the fact that they need to be in the first place. If men would stop harassing and raping, then other men wouldn't need to protect us. Women should not fear telling men to leave them alone or that they are not interested, without fear of being assaulted because pathetic arse holes can't take no for an answer.

There is no right way for a feminist to dress. You should be able to show skin and wear a hijab, but it should be YOUR choice. Some women are coerced into porn/prostitution and forced to show skin, women in some countries are forced to cover up. Neither of those things align with feminism.

I am not religious. I have no idea why women are expected to cover their hair in so many different religions, but if women want to do it then fine, that's their choice.

NoLoveofMine Fri 23-Jun-17 17:41:45

I also completely agree on some feeling the need to wear make up and high heels. It's been discussed on another thread but there are all sorts of things many of us do which we could say we're choosing to do, and no-one is forcing us, but we still do them - I sometimes wear make up and often shave my legs for example, and could claim them as entirely free choices, yet my brothers never would.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Fri 23-Jun-17 17:45:26

NoLove did I say you used that term?

Are you so disengenous to suggest you haven't heard that expression? There have been numerous threads on MN discussing "modest clothing" with posters describing themselves as "dressing modestly"

49281730209a Fri 23-Jun-17 17:47:56

I absolutely agree that you should have the right to choose to wear the hijab but I think that it is naive to suggest that any of us make truly free choices....all of our choices are influenced by the culture in which we live. Why should women have to wear the hijab in order to be free to be judged on their words and actions rather than their appearance?

NoLoveofMine Fri 23-Jun-17 17:48:02

The kind of oppressive regime which forces women in some countries to "cover up" wouldn't stop if no Muslim women in other countries wore the hijab. Muslim women freely choosing to wear the hijab as many do in no way validating it being enforced - the only responsibility for that lies with the oppressive men enforcing it.

NoLoveofMine Fri 23-Jun-17 17:49:32

Lass you replied quoting something I posted and said "you" so I thought you could be. Now you're insinuating I'm being disingenuous which is bizarre seeing as I've never said I've not heard that expression. Not entirely sure why you're saying such a thing but never mind.

StatelessPrincess Fri 23-Jun-17 17:52:30

I dont think that most people who talk about modest dress think that all other clothes are immodest, it just seems to be a word that's suddenly being used a lot to try and be more inclusive, not less. I think there is a lot more to modesty than clothes. But I do try and avoid using the word because it does seem to offend people.

OneFlew I'm just actually reading an article about different kinds of feminism, I didnt realise that there were so many opposing views, it's interesting. Kind of like with religion grin

NoLove I'm always being told on mn that my choices aren't made in a vacuum and I'm sure that applies to our desire to look pretty etc too. But If we are happy with our decisions and feel that we make them freely then I can see the problem.

Thanks to everyone who is contributing, I'm slow at typing so miss posts to reply to but I am reading and appreciate it, I was really nervous to post on this board actually!

StatelessPrincess Fri 23-Jun-17 17:57:46

49281730209a We don't have to, and it's only one of many reasons why a woman might choose to wear it. But I've experienced life with and without wearing hijab and there is a huge difference in the way I have been treated, and as prefer the treatment I get when I wear it, its one of my main reasons for doing so.

IndominusRex Fri 23-Jun-17 17:58:38

Hijab to me is the same as eg stripping. Liberal or 'choice' feminists will say that as long as the individual has chosen then it's a positive act. Radical feminists will say they're bad for women overall because they perpetuate objectification.
I'm not going to say that you're wrong for wearing one, but I would like to see a world where women dont have to have restrictions on their appearance for the sake of men, either to make them more attractive or more modest.

Agree with PP also about choices not being made in a vacuum - like Offred in THT chose to be a Handmaid's because the alternative was the colonies, or someone having to choose between having sex for money or not being able to buy food. A shit choice isn't an empowering one.

NoLoveofMine Fri 23-Jun-17 18:01:10

None of us make choices in a vacuum but we have to fight to make sure women and girls can make these decisions as freely as we can in my opinion. I know lots of Muslim women and girls wear the hijab and many also don't so it's good there's the ability to make this choice. Likewise many women and girls choose to wear make up and have a genuine love and interest in it - I have friends who see it almost as an art form - but I can see that others can and do feel pressured into it. There's no reason men and boys shouldn't be free to be interested in make up as well but appearance is something women are judged on more, no matter our choices or what we do. I think feminism in this respect is about making sure all these choices are made freely and shouldn't be about judging women or girls for making any of them.

Of course I'm far from an expert in any of this so can only state my opinions and hope I'm making sense!

NoLoveofMine Fri 23-Jun-17 18:03:14

Oh and don't be nervous to post on this board - I found it extremely welcoming when I started to and I've learnt so much from many of the fantastic women who post here.

IndominusRex Fri 23-Jun-17 18:03:33

OP I crossed posts with you. I totally understand your reasons for wearing it, but I do wish that other people treated you well and as their equal both with or without it (and I mean both men respecting you without and people not being abusive or islamophobic with).

IfNot Fri 23-Jun-17 18:05:09

Personally I don't think religion (any religion) would even exist if men didn't feel some need to supress female sexuality and power. Every religion has elements of treating women as though they are dirty and lesser, so I would struggle with the idea that you can follow any organised religion and really be a feminist.
I don't expect anyone to agree with me though!
I mainly see the hijab as a symbol of being a Muslim, much like the yamulke that orthodox Jewish men wear. I have seen lots of girls wear it as a fashion accessory (beehive style) and have fun with it, so I don't see it as necessarily anti feminist in itself. I do have a problem with niqab, as I don't think that any woman can be physically comfortable in it.
I also don't believe men are inflamed to rape by the sight of someones hair. Part of feminism is about seeing men as adult, humans who have responsibility over their own actions. Just like women are. Equal.
As for protecting women-the men who are expected to do that are effectively protecting women from other men. This is entirely a male problem, so I don't see why women should have to change anything about their dress or behavior.

IndominusRex Fri 23-Jun-17 18:07:02

Excellent comment IfNot!

StatelessPrincess Fri 23-Jun-17 18:15:13

IfNot I agree with some of what you say, I definitely think that men should never use women's dress as an excuse for their abusive behaviour, and I don't really think it makes a difference anyway. Would a man decide not to rape a woman because her hair was covered? I doubt it.

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