Monthly Archives: April 2019

Quick Take: Iranian Muslim Women Offer a Nuanced Way to Think about Hijab


Debbie says:

In my experience, the argument about Muslim women wearing hijab can go to a very simplistic place: either the hijab (or other forms of modest dress) represent a woman’s right to express her own religious choices in her own way, or it is a form of oppression against women which should be combatted at all costs. Unless, of course, it’s an appropriate demand placed on women based on a thousand-year religious tradition which should not be questioned–but I don’t tend to be in spaces where that argument is presented.

Masih Alinejad and Roya Hakakian, writing in the Washington Post, have rethought this argument in a really useful way (this article is also available in Arabic at the link):

There are two vastly different kinds of hijabs: the democratic hijab, the head covering that a woman chooses to wear, and the tyrannical hijab, the one that a woman is forced to wear.

In the first kind, a woman has agency. She sets the terms of her hijab, appearing as ascetic or as appealing as she wishes. She can also wear makeup and fashionable clothing if she likes.

In the second kind of hijab, the woman has no agency. Where we lived, the terms were set by Iranian government authorities under a mandatory dress code that banned women from wearing makeup in public and forced them to wear a baggy, knee-length garment to fully disguise the shape of their bodies, over a pair of pants and closed-toed shoes. For a while, the authorities even decreed the colors that women could wear: gray, black, brown or navy.

Thinking this way moves the question from the hijab, which is just a scarf until it’s draped over a woman’s head, to the question of choice: are you wearing whatever you’re wearing because you want to, or because you are compelled to? What do you risk by not wearing something? (The article authors reference a Saudi activist, “Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes after defending the women who have defied the hijab laws”.) Who governs your choices?

Talking about Iran (and Afghanistan, which is facing a potential return of the hyper-misogynist Taliban), Alinejad and Hakakian say:

Women who live under these forms of hijab effectively live under a gender apartheid. The coverings mark women as lesser citizens, legally and socially unequal. In Iran, there are restrictions on women’s ability to travel, obtain a divorce or enter sports stadiums. A woman’s courtroom testimony is in most cases given half the weight of a man’s. The forced hijab honors neither tradition nor religion; it is a powerful tool of misogynist oppression.

They also imply (without discussing, since it isn’t their topic) that in the U.S. and other western countries, a hijab can be an act of not just choice but courage in the face of white nationalist violence.

Last week, I was in Sacramento lobbying at the California State Capitol. It was Muslim Day of Action, sponsored by the California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. Literally five hundred Muslim residents of California were there to engage with their elected representatives, and most of the women were wearing hijab.  I really appreciated seeing the people there.

I have certainly known for a long time about the importance of choice in all areas of life, including clothing and religious clothing; nonetheless, Alinejad and Hakakian have given me a clearer framework to recognize what I am seeing.

Just as Americans must distinguish between violent radicals and ordinary Muslims to successfully fight the former and honor the rights of the latter, so must they recognize that not all hijabs are created equal. [U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan] Omar and other Muslim women who benefit from the freedom that America has bestowed on them are especially well-positioned to speak up for women forced into hijab.

By itself, the hijab is a mere piece of cloth. Tyranny turns it into a symbol of oppression. It is democracy, with its embrace of diversity, that turns hijab into an emblem of power or beauty for those who choose to wear it.

Photos of the Week: HANASHIRO, Ikuko


Laurie says:

I took these photos of Hanashiro Ikuko for Women of Japan, when I was in Okinawa. She is a very impressive woman and an activist and a fine artist. We had long conversations and we are still in touch with each other. Okinawa is a remarkable place and I learned a great deal from the women I photographed and worked with there. I was very grateful.

I’m adding here the comment Hanashiro Ikuko made about this post on Facebook:

I also talked to Laurie and it was a good influence.
And we talked a lot about the US military base issue and the gender issue of Okinawa.(the world?)
On our way to Henoko Nago city Okinawa, we saw wild mongoose running in front of our car.

I felt very special.
The time I spent with Laurie is a treasure for me

And the time I spent with her is a treasure for me.

She was photographed in places and situations that she chose.

I photographed her if front of an American military base near the city of Naha in Okinawa.

This image is at her loom in her home.

And here she is in a sacred place that was important to her.

She wrote the text below for Woman of Japan after I photographed her. I’ve included both the Japanese and the English.

The Experience of Looking at Myself in the Photograph as an Object

I have recalled something after spending time with Laurie, and having been the object of her camera.

In 1972, Okinawa completed “returning to the mainland.” I was in elementary school. My memory of my elementary school has been dyed with the color of the “activity to return” issue, the U.S. military base.

I was living in Koza-city (now Okinawa-city), which is surrounded by the U.S. military base. The schools were closed when the teachers went on strike to oppose the U.S. military. The people who were working for the military just before the return of Okinawa to the mainland had to find new lives.

Teachers, sometimes passionately and sometimes impassively, talked about the needlessness of the U.S. military in front of many children who had U.S. soldier parents or parents who were working for the military. They had us make the Rising Sun, the national flag of Japan, in arts and crafts class, and had us wave the flags we made during the demonstration to return Okinawa to Japan.
When we marched on the streets, the seniors were shouting “Return Okinawa!”

“Return Okinawa?” … from who to whom? Isn’t Okinawa already here?

After the demonstration, I asked one of the seniors who was marching on the streets, “To whom is Okinawa to be returned?”


“Then are we going to be Japanese?”

“Because we are Okinawan now?”

“There is no Okinawan.”

“… Hmm, then how can we become Japanese?”

“ By completing the return.”

“So we become Japanese after the return?”


“Then who will be making us Japanese?”

Since Laurie and I ate a meal and talked together, and since she pointed her camera at me, I have recalled things I had forgotten.

The question: who made me Japanese?

The presence of my vague self, living in an undefinable, ambiguous area.

Also, the sense that it is nice existing in ambiguity.

A year after the return, I went to a school in Osaka. I couldn’t share a common memory of early childhood with my classmate, We couldn’t have a natural conversation on the subject of sweets or a price, because I had used dollars. (Actually, I had used cents more, as I was a child.) I ate Campbell’s canned soup almost every day, as my mom was a lazy cook. My friend seemed to think the canned soup that was made in a foreign country was luxurious and cool.

For about eight years or so, after the return, I cheered the U.S.A. at the Olympics. I noticed this the first time when my dormitory roommate pointed it out.

Laurie and I talked about gender, our cats, the era, the ethnic sense of value, and those matters that flow in a conversation. It was very delightful. She patiently listened to my poor English. Also, she laughed with me many times.

She has the power to pull out potential by pointing her camera. As Laurie left Okinawa, I was able to see my past from a new point of view.

「沖縄を返せ?」・・・誰から誰へ? ここは沖縄なのに?