Let’s say a woman wrote into Ask A Manager asking about what to do about a coworker. This man seemingly exorcised his publicly-stated resentments towards management about being forced to participate in a gift exchange by giving her a bad gift. That gift consisted of a garment designed to cover a part of her body that she and most of her other female coworkers don’t normally cover, along with a book which states, among many other questionable things, that women should cover that part of their body lest they tempt men into sexually assaulting them.
Most would consider the gift inappropriate and would think his act misdirected and possibly discriminatory, not find the story hilarious. Yet somehow, when it’s a tweet written by a Muslim man rather than an advice letter written by a woman, people find it funny. To wit: A screencap of this tweet was uncritically splashed onto my Facebook Timeline courtesy of several never-Muslims I thought should know better.
My workplace is forcing me to take part in SecretSanta. Jokes on them. Linda from HR is getting a copy of the Quran and a Hijab.
— عرفان (@Irfan_Aliii) December 5, 2016
There is a bit of humor here, but mostly, it’s just cringe-inducing misogyny — and specifically, for those who have lived experience with Muslim men pressuring us to cover our heads, chill-inducing slut-shaming.
Any non-woman-hating laughs generated from this tweet are ones that I understand. The overall cultural pressure to celebrate Christmas in the US is frankly obnoxious. In most situations, you can’t work on that day even if you wanted to, and are forced to take PTO for non-mainstream holidays that might be as important to you as Christmas is to those who celebrate it. I am not happy about the fact that, because of the way in which my workplace operates, I have to take the two days bridging the Christmas and New Year’s holidays out of my future PTO as well as budget PTO for both Eids (I could take unpaid leave, but I cannot afford that financially). My whole life, I’ve been utterly unimpressed by the expectation that I must love Christmas despite lacking the appropriate cultural background to have nostalgia for it.
So yes, I get the pressure, and I hate it too. Sometimes, I have been petty about it. However, turning that into an excuse to tell a woman to cover her body veers decidedly away from the goal of combating that pressure and into Very Much Not OK territory.
“What’s the big deal?” some might scoff. “It’s just a book and a piece of cloth. He’s not telling her to do anything.”
Giving someone a garment loaded with significance that is strongly associated with — if not wholly derived from — modesty standards? Standards laid out in an oh-so-helpfully-accompanying book and that disproportionately target women? In what universe is that a neutral act? The gift is not just a scarf or an otherwise neutral piece of cloth, he outright called it hijab, and included the manual for its proper use to ensure that its religious meaning was not lost.
Meanwhile, on the rest of the bleeding-edge socially-progressive Internet, women applaud each other for wearing what they want in spite of or even to specifically spite men. A while back,I did a tongue-in-cheek Misandry Fashion Month to revel in wearing things that the Internet told me men didn’t like on women. People, aside from chill girls and other misogyny apologists, mostly found it funny and understood the point I was making. This warranted hostility towards men telling women what to wear shouldn’t dissolve into wishy-washy so-called tolerance when the misogyny is decked out in Islamic trappings.
Add it to the long list of Things I Thought I’d Never Have to Assert: Misogyny isn’t a-OK just because it comes from a Muslim man.
While this tweet is real in terms of the sentiments that underlie it, it’s unlikely that he is actually going to do what he says he will. If the Secret Santa gift is a real thing, however, I hope Linda from HR uses it as a handkerchief top or a belly-dancing scarf. If she goes for that sort of thing, I hope she seduces all the hot people she wants with that scarf as the only piece of cloth covering her body, or suggests other NSFW uses for it to them. As for the copy of the Quran, I hope she reads it and sees for herself why every aspect of every interpretation of Islam isn’t worth defending.