Be yourself. It’s supposed to be the most empowering thing a woman can be true to. We have to put so much work into being ourselves. It takes up all our time. And our money. Empowerment is an expensive process. It’s also a scripted one.
It’s no secret we’re living in a largely Islamophobic world. Even among Pakistani circles the constant spiritual abuse we have fuelling the way we talk about religion has led to a party among the more liberal minded to do nothing but sneer when women choose to dress according to their own preferences of what they deem chaste or modest as per their religion. In fact according to some among self-proclaimed liberal minds, words like chastity and modesty (and by default the entire concept of hijab) is retrograde and must be attacked. I acknowledge this is due to the less than stellar representation of Islam by some among the self-proclaimed piety police. But this has left a moderate and observant Muslim woman of conventional, mainstream Islam, with no choice but to be dispossessed of a home to call her own, even in Pakistani territory.
To counter this Islamophobia, women who wear the headscarf are constantly told to somehow stand out and above the crowd. To prove they are not meek submissive Stepford wives in the making. To “be themselves.”
And there is no line too crazy to cross.
Somewhere along the pathway to visibility, Muslim women – by no means a monolith – have been asked to perform harder and harder. This applies to all who qualify as minorities in the international playground.
Among Muslim women we hijab wearing women especially have to prove we’re so integrated we can cross just about any line because nobody controls us, least of all the patriarchy. It is so important for our social esteem to prove we aren’t enslaved to any brown man who believes if he dies a martyr he’ll get 72 hours. Nope. That would be backward. That’s why we’ll give interviews in a magazine founded by a white man who created the Playboy phenomenon. By embracing the most ludicrous aspects of the culture of our former colonisers, we may finally gain that Holy Grail of visibility and climb up the social ladder to be acknowledged as fully human. Woohoo.
I’m tired of hearing the narrative of “Women have the right to” always ending in something that appears counter-culture but is actually incredibly mundane.
It should be noted Playboy while more widely known for its bunny eared porn has regularly featured interviews and short stories by fully clad human beings. Noor was approached to give an interview along with other hijab wearing Muslim women (who rejected the interview opportunity). Playboy has been attempting to rebuild their image from the bottom of the gutter to the newly progressive minded magazine giving a side-wink to feminist-savviness. They needed a woman in hijab to further their agenda. And they got one.
Noor Tagouri’s interview was thoughtful and a joy to read. It was also in the wrong place. Noor Tagouri believes she did the right thing.
Muslim Girl founder and entrepreneur Amani al-Khatahtbeh when given the same choice decided against doing the interview for a bunch of reasons you can read about here.
Did she have the right to? Sure. Do I have the right to reject her as a role mode? Can I bring religion into a debate where the other side has already used religion to ornament their argument? In feminist circles in Pakistan where religion can be a dirty word (another news flash – it’s not going anywhere so all we can do is tweak its public manifestations), what do the religiously observant mainstream Muslims do when symbols of their religion are co-opted into supporting positions they simply don’t want to be seen supporting?
Playboy by no means has abandoned its quest for more vanilla shades of nudity. I can’t even find it within myself to blame it. Playboy followed what the people wanted…because whenever we talk about the sexualisation of women in media, what’s offered as a solution? We need more “diversity” of bodies. We need more natural looking women. We need average bodies. And I say, really? That’s what’s wrong? That instead of commodifying women with unattainable body standards, what we should have been doing all along was commodifying average looking women?
But that’s what the conversation is. It’s never about averting the male gaze (which is – news flash – the lens through which the patriarchy peers out at the world) but about feeding its insatiably money making bottomless pit of an agenda with either unreal imagery or realistic imagery. Objectification is the only diet that sells. We need bodies. Therefore we will sell you empowerment through the message the only way you can be truly liberated is to be objectified.
To be liberated in the truest sense of the world, we must not be enslaved to anyone. The pen writing our story must not be guided by industries built on our oppression. We must not be cajoled into manipulating our identities to suit anyone’s agenda, whether the creed of the extremist religious side of the spectrum, or the capitalist structures profiting off our nudity. How can we be in control when we’re propping up entities that only exist to control us?
In the middle of such corruption there is, in my opinion, a fierce beauty in opting out. That is what the hijab is to me. A snub to the nudity industry that would profit from me without my permission.
And I can only speak for myself, just as Noor Tagouri can only speak for herself. She may well have her supporters, and I respect their right to applaud her.
If we are heading towards a time when anyone who wears a headscarf can grab a podium and give their opinion, I believe I speak for a lot of women (and men) when I say I view mental, physical and spiritual hijab as a human value. Personally my headscarf is a physical reminder to me that I opt out of overt sexualisation. I neither submit myself to it nor do I celebrate others submitting themselves to it. I practice lowering my gaze, old fashioned rebuff to an image-heavy world that it is, and I believe I’m mentally at peace for it. I would not enjoy Playboy (of all businesses!) benefitting from my aversion for celebrating objectification (even voluntary objectification). When Noor Tagouri was chosen for the interview on the basis of nothing else but the fact she wears the hijab, that is exactly what happened.
I may observe hijab according to my beliefs with a view towards the Hereafter, but it’s an injustice to a political act to delegate it to merely that: something that might come in handy for me when I’m dead. And I don’t actively cover myself for ridiculously misogynistic memes comparing men to flies climbing over an unwrapped lollipop. I engage with the values of hijab to get by in a world that has, to my eyes, clearly lost the plot. And in my way to claim ownership of a body that would, quite simply, rather be itself.