Recently, I heard of a man of Muslim background who is so offended by headscarf-wearing women that he refuses them entry into his home. While people have the right to freely associate or not associate with whomever they wish for whatever reason, I was disgusted to hear of it as well as the defenses of his behavior. The idea of a man policing women’s clothing in particular seems to me to be an extension of the same patriarchal norms that lie at the root of hijab itself. Obsessing over the garb that women choose to wear or to not wear is to turn women’s bodies into battlegrounds for ideology, a common strategy used by sexists of all stripes.
In other words, forcing women to take it off is just like forcing women to put it on. In both cases, women are being forced to adhere to the norms set by a man who wants her clothing to conform to what he likes or doesn’t like. Why not let them wear what they want to wear?
This was hardly the only or first situation where I found myself in deep discomfort over some man’s obsession with unveiling women to suit his own tastes.
At an atheist meeting, I once came across a man whose face lit up when he found out that I was a former scarf-wearing Muslim. I was then, as I am now, happy to talk to people about my apostasy, so I responded with matching enthusiasm. It was a trap. He wanted to not only tell me about his harassment of women in hijab, he expected that I would approve of it. Given that I am maybe a little bit something of a feminist (couldn’t be), I was not amused by his stories of saying things like “I’d tap that” to headscarf-wearing female strangers.
He seemed surprised by my dour-faced reaction. He proceeded to posit a spirited defense of his behavior. It would “shock” them to the point where they might leave Islam, just as I had, he claimed. In his mind, he thought that if he sexually harassed them, they would see that hijab didn’t protect them from prurient interest, which would lead them to question Islam.
I knew from experience that what he had stated was a patently absurd prospect. I told him about how scared I had been during my first week of college, when a random male student came up to me and asked me if I was a “total freak under there.” I spent the rest of that day hiding in the library and the rest of the week praying to Allah to forgive me for not covering myself enough to have prevented a man from lusting after me. I wept sincere tears and hopes that my fate would lead me to a husband sooner rather than later — a man who, unlike my father, wouldn’t forbid me from covering my face from becoming part of some man’s sexual fantasies.
I may have left Islam less than a year after that, but it wasn’t because of that campus trolling. If anything, I engaged in more religious activity and devotion after it happened.
That led the harasser to argue that what he did was “funny.” Now, where have I heard that one before? The one where men seem to think that if they harass for the lulz rather than for the faps, then the harassment is okay? I wasn’t buying it and continued to look at him questioningly. “Well, I still think it’s funny” were his last words on the matter. He had gone from a self-styled noble liberator to a man going after women with lewd remarks for a laugh.
A man preoccupied with women wearing or not wearing what he thought they ought to wear or not wear for reasons of his own that have nothing to do with them? We have a word for that.
Hiba wrote about the various reasons why someone might be wearing hijab and why you should probably respect them regardless of those reasons. People who wear hijab are not Allah’s ambassadors here for your amusement. Harming them won’t rectify any ills perpetuated by Islam. More people would do well to take the accounts of former hijabis like her and me and many others more seriously when deciding how to treat current ones.