The burqa, the cloth sack that covers Muslim women from head to toe, represents one interpretation of Islam: preserving women’s modesty by hiding them from the gaze of men who, at the sight of one square inch of skin, would become uncontrollably lustful. It’s the sartorial equivalent of a ball and chain. Would we celebrate the first news anchor to appear on national television in such a sack? I don’t think so.
But when the sack is reduced to a headscarf in the form of a hijab, which represents the same idea (in this case, men are driven wild by the sight of hair), then a hijabi who does something for the first time becomes “courageous” or “empowered” or a “role model.” I see that as misguided, for all that is doing is celebrating a form of religiously mandated sex discrimination. Why should women clothe themselves to suppress the lust of men? Why don’t the men simply control their lust, and not burden the women with uncomfortable garments?
Indeed, what would be more courageous, more of a role model, and more empowering, would be the first Muslim woman to do something, regardless of what she wore. But that’s not the way it works. Such women, like the Muslim model Iman (married to the late Davie Bowie) aren’t seen as courageous or empowering, though they embrace exactly the same faith as do hijabis.
Now there’s one caveat here: with the likely rise of anti-Muslim sentiments in Trump’s America, and in Europe, those who wear the hijab are proclaiming themselves as Muslims, and so it may inspire Muslims in some way. But in the end what is being celebrated is both a headscarf and the repressive, misogynistic theology that inspires its wearing. Would we expect to see, for instance, an article extolling the first Jewish anchorman to wear a yarmulke on television? I don’t think so—and the yarmulke, while still a form of fairy-tale costume, is less a symbol of repression than a hijab.
So by all means celebrate the first Muslim woman to do something independent, bucking the norms of the faith, but let us not celebrate the scrap of cloth she wears on her head.
Case in point: Ginella Massa, a television reporter in Toronto who, according to the Regressive Leftist Guardian, filled in as an anchor for CTV News in Kitchener Ontario. She isn’t, as the headline says “Canada’s first hijab-clad anchor,” for it was a one-off appearance. But never mind; what bothers me is how everyone including the Guardian thinks this is wonderful:
Massa recognized the personal career strides she had made after stepping out of the anchor desk, but she said it took her editor to point out the larger significance.
“It wasn’t until my editor said, ‘Hey, great job! Was that a first for Canada? A woman in a hijab?’ And I said yes. And so I tweeted about it. As much as I knew it was important, I didn’t expect the reaction that I received. My phone hasn’t stopped buzzing for the last week,” Massa said.
“I’ve talked to many women who are journalists in the US who work behind the scenes and they’ve told me that they face multiple challenges trying to get on air,” said Massa. “They’ve been told because of their hijab, that’s not going to happen. That makes me really sad because they’re being held back by someone else’s idea of what the public can or cannot handle.”
Although the reaction to Massa’s anchor stint and reporting role has been mostly positive in Canada, she said she has received a handful of negative comments and Tweets.
Oy! A handful of negative comments and Tweets. I get that on a good day! This is not harassment, and, as expected in Canada, it’s not particularly courageous to appear on television wearing one. Those who prevent hijabis from advancing simply because of their scarf are, of course, exercising a prejudice, but this isn’t simply a celebration of overcoming that prejudice.
And would the Guardian go into paroxysms of joy about the same thing for the first woman anchor to wear a burqa? The first Jew to wear a yarmulke? Nope. Nor would they do it for the first non-hijabi Muslim to become an anchor, although there are plenty of them. Why the difference? Because the Left is celebrating the hijab itself, a symbol of oppression.
The last sentence of the Guardian piece is telling:
“But this is all the more reason in today’s climate to see positive images of Muslim women,” [Massa} said. “They are a symbol of Islam when they wear the hijab and that carries a powerful image. It’s so important to see positive images of us in the media.”
Yes, perhaps we need positive images of Muslim women, but not Muslim women succumbing to misogynistic theology. And don’t tell me that Massa chose to wear the hijab, for we don’t know that. I’m deeply dubious of people who say about others that they wear it by choice, and even about those who wear it themselves. There is social pressure to don the headscarf in families and Muslim communities, and before the Islamic revolution, many fewer women wore it in Iran, Afghanistan, or Egypt. That alone shows that it’s largely indoctrination rather than a personal decision.
It’s time to stop celebrating the first hijabi to do X, Y, or Z. It’s like celebrating the first Muslim woman to wear a burqa on television, or the first penitente to give the news while lashing himself for Jesus.
h/t: Alexander H.