“The first X to do Y”, where X represents a hijabi and Y represents a Canadian news anchor

November 26, 2016 • 1:45 pm

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.

Ginella Massa (photo: AP)

h/t: Alexander H.

80 thoughts on ““The first X to do Y”, where X represents a hijabi and Y represents a Canadian news anchor

  1. Welcome to Trudeau’s Canada, where a hijab is seen more as a celebration of cultural diversity, and less as a subject of religious oppression.

    BTW, there are other Muslim news anchors on CBC like like Natasha Fateh, Zulekha Nathoo and one more (I forgot her name), who are a Canadian as they can be, we no head covering or any such overt religious symbols.

    1. Oh, I think it’s kinda silly to celebrate a woman in the West for wearing hijab. But I’ll take Trudeau’s Canada where it’s celebrated, over any country where a woman wearing hijab faces public harassment — or worse, of course, where a woman can be compelled by law or custom to wear it.

      1. Double standards – In same Canada, if a woman cannot terminate her pregnancy because of religious restrictions, it would be a subject of criticism. But if a woman is forced to cover her head because of religious restrictions, it would termed as exotic and any opposition would be termed as racism/insult to multiculturalism.

        And I have posted before in other comments – Kathlyn Wynne – Ontario’s openly gay premier had no trouble covering her head and standing at the end of a Ramzan prayer congregation.

        As an immigrant, I can’t believe that the silly traditions and double standards that bother us in our home country, come and chase us in Canada.

  2. Agreed, it is a symbol of repression, and, like women who voted for Trump, it’s sad to see them deluding themselves.

  3. What about Sikhs wearing turbans? Yes, they are men and not women, but they had to take shit for years from racists because they stood out and they did it anyway? I bet if there was a Sikh man on TV wearing a turban people wouldn’t say he was brave and empowered but he totally is. And yes, we do have Harjit Sajjan as our Minister of Defense and we rightly just think of him as “bad ass”. 😀

    1. It’s same issue. Canadian’s are too nice and people take advantage of nicety under the garb of multiculturalism.

      “Ethnic” communities face a lot of issues due to cultural baggage. But no politician is willing to talk about it or address that issue, because it would automatically lead to loss of votes and election.

      Canada has been nice enough to accept you. As an immigrant, you owe it to the country to assimilate and shed your cultural baggage to maximum extent as possible.

      P.S – I am an “ethnic” immigrant to Canada.

      1. In Britain labour panders like mad to the hard line “community leaders” who in turn get to define their community. Women don’t get approved by the patriarchal network system i think its called Burrani system – to run unless they are very conservative. That’s not to say there isn’t real discrimination e.g. in US post election some people feel free to threaten muslims now. This is a real problem
        But punishing people who harass, threaten or discriminate on ground irrelevant to the job should not be confused with pandering to ultra conservative religious sensibilities.

    2. I agree with your point.

      Of course, with Sikhs, it’s the dominant gender who are wearing the costume and therefore it can’t be seen as a symbol of gender oppression, so it’s a bit different from the hijab.

      (As an aside, what do Sikh women wear? I don’t know).


      1. When we lived in northern New Mexico near the Sikh colony there, all of the Sikhs wore white, and the women also covered their heads. The only thing that I resented was that they would almost always beat us to the wild asparagus that grew along the highways and byways.

        1. I once went to the grocery store to get coriander and some Indian people had just made off with all of it. Curses! My Indian friends thought this story was pretty funny.

            1. He greasy was just as funny because I saw them walking away with it. It was a shot of the empty coriander a pan around and then the zoom in on the people walking away with it.

        1. Not exactly. Yes, it’s not about gender oppression but how is wearing a hijab in the west brave? You are seen as virtuous by everyone? Wearing a turban for decades before anyone knew of the hijab in Canada and sticking with it despite the racist treatment is much more in line with bravery.

          1. Im criticising the portrayal of wearing hijab like its a social virtue – but just saying the sikh turban is less oppressive and a different matter. It annoys me why they target the most sexist gear and defend that as somehow essential identity above individual rights but no one ever proposes sikh turban day. Considering Muslim women’s rights by criticising the hijab is racist only because Muslim community leaders reliably portray it so and Whitey community leaders are scared to stand up to them for fear of being portrayed as racist by the regressive left and by other Muslims

      2. No, I know it’s not a symbol of gender oppression but in Canada, there have been Sikh men wearing the turban for decades before we were exposed to the hijab and they did it even though they were treated badly by ignorant racists. So, I think they are the brave ones, not the ones wearing hijab by choice.

        Sikh women I know don’t wear anything obvious other then the bracelets (Kara) that both genders wear.

    3. The only Sikh I know is an international student who walks around barehead here in Bulgaria but puts on a turban when returning home in Germany because, as he said, his dad is very religious. That is, the usual case of a pater familias drown in religion and forcing it down the throats of his children.

      1. Yeah. I know of several Indian women that don’t where all their bangles when they are married and then only put them on when their mother-in-law comes to visit in Canada. Parents can be a PITA, especially mother-in-laws for Indian women.

        I knew some sikh boys who got beat up all the time for their Rumal (we called it a “door knob” and it wasn’t a performative because they called it that too) and when they grew up they didn’t wear a turban. So, at least they had a choice. Most of the Sikhs I know or interact with don’t wear turbans though I do see the younger folk doing it more now at university. Maybe they are feeling more comfortable since I think we have changed as a society and racist behaviour is not tolerated.

  4. At the end of the conversation the question must be asked of all, is the Hijab a symbol of female oppression within Islam? Yes it is. Therefore it cannot be a positive image of the female Muslim woman.

    When I was just a young kid in elementary school in small town rural Iowa, there were a few farm boys who wore overalls to school and the town kids made fun as they do. It was considered okay to make fun of them because the assumption by the town kids was that this was their style and they wanted to dress like that. The fact was, they dress like that because they were poor and it is all they had.

  5. As a nonconformist I am philosophically opposed to any garb, male or female, that identifies with a religion. The sole exception I would make is that religious “professionals”–priests, monks, nuns, and so forth–can wear them as part of their professional activity.

    Consider the case of military and police personnel. Consider employees of a company who have to dress alike (shirts with logos, etc.). How are those things different? Well, if you go to work for a company you do not have to wear a company uniform, but if it’s a job requirement, they can fire you. They can’t kill or torture you.

    Like it or not, dressing in a way that distinguishes you from others, and in particular that identifies you as belonging to some sect, is going to cause other people to not see you as an individual, but as a member of a group and as a person whose allegiance is to others within the group.

    To change the subject a bit, I am not sure why getting tattoos is so popular these days. I have never had any desire to get tattooed, but then I’m 74 and generations removed. I don’t understand what makes this generation tick.

    1. I have read that, nuns used to wear black robes, cover their hair and wear wedding rings as “Brides of Christ” because that was the traditional garb of married women when this custom originated. (There may still be a few European villages left in which some of the married women wear black and cover their hair.)

      I haven’t read about when priests started wearing robes. Maybe it was when they were no longer permitted to marry and were, to that degree, emasculated. Maybe they were also seen as “Brides of Christ”?

      What the Pope wears probably is intended to convey his authority over all Roman Catholics in the same manner as an emperor or other similar powerful ruler.

    2. I don’t mind that others want to dress a certain way that identifies them as belonging to a religious group and the reason is that though I would not do it, I remember being forced into conforming to Christian dogma and how that ate me up inside and gave me headaches. I think telling people they cannot dress a certain way is a form of making them conform to other people’s standards and I wouldn’t want to tell someone they can’t express themselves however they want (with the exception of harming others) because I know how painful it is to be forced to be like everyone else.

      1. Oh I certainly agree with you on that. When I wrote “philosophically opposed” I might better have said that I personally don’t think it’s a good idea for me, and for much the same reason that I don’t put bumper stickers on my cars.

        I do understand that hijab is seen also as an inward expression of religious piety rather than as an advertisement of faith. To me it still says that person identifies with a belief system, and that is what I’m opposed to.

  6. Since the purported reason for the hijab is to display modesty by covering what is considered an ornament, the hair, I think that a real display of courage for the hijabi wearers would be to shave their heads.

    1. I have read that Orthodox Jewish women do not display their own hair, but wear wigs. I don’t know if all of the Orthodox Jewish wig-wearers shave their heads, but I understand that this is common.

      Orthodox Jewish men wear side-locks and hats or yarmulkes. Most of the ones I’ve seen pictures of also all wear dark suits.

      Projecting your religious beliefs by your clothing and your hair is pretty common. For example, Amish and Mennonites dress “plainly”. The women usually don’t cut their hair and may wear head coverings in addition to wearing long-sleeved and long-skirted dresses. The men may have beards and not wear clothes with zippers. Etc.

      Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian religion, I was not permitted to wear trousers
      unless zippers were not in front. Trousers with zippers in front were men’s clothing and women can’t wear men’s clothing.

    2. but they are supposed to attract their husband in private. Its all about mate guarding. Not that Id suggest banning it of course – but Troudeau celebrates it

  7. I can see arguments both ways. If there is discrimination against Muslims, then the first time an (identifiable) Muslim fills the job is certainly worthy of note. As, for example, is the first black president.

    I agree the first non-hijabi Muslim might be even more worthy of celebration, but then nobody would know, would they?

    Otoh I disapprove of the hijab as such, as I do of yarmulkes and ostentatiously worn crosses, as being visible tokens of religious superstition that look rather stupid and I would sooner not see. (Though not half as much as the modern trend of wearing bits of metalwork stuck through ones face, which I find moderately revolting).


  8. The hijab would be quite useful for bad hair days. I might have to get one, and when my hair looks awful (which is quite often imo – I’m a woman affected by society’s expectations after all) I’ll don the hijab and pretend I’m doing it in solidarity with Muslim women being oppressed and get all sorts of kudos for it.

    Actually, the niqab would be quite useful for all the issues society throws at women. I could hide away permanently.

    But it’s almost summer here, and it’s too hot for a hijab, let alone a niqab, so I’ll have to leave my campaign until about next June. 😀

    1. and when my hair looks awful […] I’ll don the hijab and pretend I’m doing it in solidarity with Muslim women being oppressed and get all sorts of kudos for it.

      And when you get your hair back under control (beat it with clubs, or whatever gets done) and drop the hijab, along will come Jihadi John to take revenge for your perceived apostasy, in line with “society’s expectations”.
      Not only can you not win, you can’t stop playing.

      1. Good point! Though the original Jihadi John is dead, I’m sure he’s got plenty of former mates willing to step up.

    2. For ‘bad hair days’ the women here (in SA) resort to the ‘doek’, a colourful piece of cloth that has no religious or otherwise oppressive connotation.
      Note, women here, particularly coloured women, are obsessed -one would nearly say oppressed- by their hair.

    3. The Canadian series, Little Mosque on the Prairie addressed this once but it was about people being able to tell that the person wearing the hijab had a bad haircut. 🙂

  9. I think this sentence goes to the heart of the problem:

    “Nor would they do it for the first non-hijabi Muslim to become an anchor”

    Therewith disappears awareness of diversity among Muslims on the part of the left.

    If non-Muslim people started doing it simply to piss of your odious president elect and his equally odious supporters/voters, I would find that a worthy cause.

    Muslim men who think this is necessary should be treated in the same way as we’d treat someone who hasn’t been toilet trained as a child — a degree of pity and understanding, while also helping them realize they are unfit to appear in public until they learn to deal with it. Or wear a blindfold.

  10. In the ’60s a Dutch anchor appeared topless on TV (I think feminism was still a movement against oppression then).
    Now if a Muslim woman would do that (including free-flowing hair), particularly if in Saudi, that would actually be courageous -if not suicidal.

  11. I’m afraid we’ve missed the train on this one. I live in London and the muslim women who wear it are legion. Many more than when I first arrived.

    White liberals at universities absolutely equate muslim woman with some form of islamic veil. The general opinion tends towards it being “authentic” as opposed to “westernized” or even “colonized” islam. Women who don’t wear it are in a “chilly climate” environment: curious comments from whites about why she’s not wearing it when it’s supposed to be such an empowered affirmation of one’s personal choices and a proud statement against racism and intolerance; and the pressure from their muslim neighbours, whispers about being a bad muslim, a dodgy woman, etc. This is daily life in east and south east London.

    Unfortunately bans don’t seem to work. I supported the French bans but in real life what it’s done is to polarize identities. Imams capitalize on it selling the “us versus them” idea, that attacks on the veil are attacks by Europe on muslim women, that European politicians hate them personally and they’re better off with their own people. You see a lot of these young muslim women hating on white people, often to the surprise of their more moderate parents.

    I’m at a loss as to how to counter the advance of religion in the west. The enlightenment did it with christianity. The same methods aren’t working with islam.

    1. “I’m at a loss as to how to counter the advance of religion in the west.”

      Yes, as long as countries have religion build in into government, such as a state religion in the UK, or political parties with “christian” in their names and who rely on “christian values,” such as Angela Merkel’s party, this will be very difficult. In London you have a Muslim mayor who wants to ban alcoholic beverages in airports. In Germany, making disparaging comments on Islam can cost your job. I strongly support the French concept of laicite, and the idea that the public space has to be kept free from religion. I personally find the display of gory crucifixes in public spaces highly offensive.

      1. Having a state religion in England (note, not the UK) hasn’t stopped us becoming one of the most secularised, least-religious countries on Earth. Arguably, it’s contributed to that state of affairs.

        And I believe the idea of banning alcohol from airports is not based on religion, but is proposed as a measure to curtail the phenomenon of booze-fuelled disorder and “air rage” on flights, of which there have been several well-publicised incidents recently.

        1. So why do you have a state religion in England if you are one of the most secularised, least-religious countries on Earth? Is the Anglican Church some kind of carnival?

          1. Our state religion in England is a historical relic. It was set up as matter of convenience by Henry VIII as a quick means of granting himself a divorce when he decided to replace Catherine of Aragon with nubile young hottie Anne Boleyn.

            And yes, the Anglican Church is a kind of carnival really. It carrys on its ritual functions but only a few percent of the population attends its services regularly, and the vast majority of people take no notice of it. It’s just part of the background furniture of England. Like rain, warm beer and losing at penalty shoot-outs.

              1. I think the ‘warm beer’ meme (or is it a trope?) arises from the perpetual complaint that the beer isn’t cool enough. 😉


              2. Most all Americans in the past have preferred beer kept in the refrigerator. Sometimes it is served in near frozen mugs. Compared to this norm, cool beer could be called “warm”.

            1. ‘background furniture’ is probably a good description, literally.

              Go to any small town / large village and it will have a beautiful old stone church which nobody wants to see torn down. So somebody’s got to look after it, and English Heritage / National Trust couldn’t handle all of them.

              So the C of E doubles, in many cases, as the owner/curator of these old buildings.


  12. Fewer insults to the Guardian, please. It may sometimes give a platform to regressive leftists. More important to me is that, while the US mainstream media was obsessing over Clinton’s emails and Trump’s tweets, the Guardian kept the focus on Trump’s actual misdeeds.

        1. I wanted to add this is the type of thing that has caused people to thank me for being critical in the past. They are fearful that in being critical, and making suggestions like “maybe that criticism of Hillary is excessive under the circumstances”, will get them banned for breaking the roolz. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m simply asking whether this is the type of atmosphere you want to foster here?

            1. 🙂 I woke up on the wrong side of the bed for a week and was super pissed. It did not go well for people annoying me.

              1. Ha ha – then maybe the wrong side is just rolling in the bed because you can’t get out.

    1. Beyond appalling.

      There used to be a religious column in the local paper in which a clergyman answered reader’s questions. Once a woman wrote in asking how she could honor her wedding vows in light of the fact that her husband continually beat her. After an lengthy lecture on the importance of the marriage covenant and of honoring her husband, the priest told her she might want to get & wear a football helmet.

  13. A serious question: if a woman shaved her head would she be able to go without a hijab? I believe the hadith requires the hair to be covered, not the head. Might make a suitable form of protest for the brave women of Teheran!

    1. You may have found a loophole though I wouldn’t want to test it out where morality police can whip you; I suspect they aren’t very good with nuance.

  14. Hi Jerry,

    While I agree with the general thrust of all this, I do disagree with the characterisation of the Guardian as a ‘Regressive Leftist’ paper.

    There is no doubt a large amount of hand-wringing regressive left content on the site – and several commenters and journalist who utterly fit the bill (eg Owen Jones) – but there are also others who are very critical of the movement and extremely forthright on the subject of free speech.

    For instance, Nick Cohen is a regular columnist for the Guardian and he’s hardly ‘Regressive Left’….

    Much obliged.

    1. Jerry just recently highlighted some of Nick Cohen’s work. I don’t view the Guardian as badly as Salon, but even they turn out a good article once in awhile. It isn’t all black and white.

  15. Not iron. Cast iron would be impossibly heavy and wrought iron isn’t produced these days.

    I think more likely steel. (I wonder what mediaeval armour was made of?). Stainless steel sheet would do nicely.

    But I think these days, plastics would be both less cold and more comfortable. Kevlar or similar, possibly. Or carbon fibre for extreme rigidity and strength to resist concerted nefarious attacks.


    1. And damn, that was a reply to chrisbuckley at #19.

      I think I’m going to start a jihad against WordPress. Or a fatwa. Or something…


      1. You’re too kind, I thought the weight of cast iron would serve both as a barrier and a source of both physical pain and energy depletion to prevent lustful thoughts from ever overtaking the women, who are prone to Satanic compulsions. To wear one of these on live television would be a true act of courage.

        I’ll also join you in your jihad against WordPress, as the lack of an edit function leaves all mistakes on display. I wonder who will be the first to post here on this site wearing a hijab?

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