Tag Archives: modest dress

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.

Tuesday Linksday

Debbie says:
A very rich selection of links this week:

Extreme wheelchair sports provide great visuals:

occupied wheelchair hangs upside down in front of the crowd

Wheelz does what he calls WCMX, or wheelchair motocross. It’s like BMX, except with four wheels instead of two. Oh, and a disability thrown in just to keep it interesting.

Wheelz practically invented the sport. There are other wheelchair users out there doing WCMX, but Wheelz is the undisputed king. He’s gone bigger and jumped farther than anyone. You ever see an average guy in a wheelchair do a double back flip? No? That’s because only Wheelz can do that.


Pamela Raintree is my hero. In an attempt to overturn an anti-LGBT-discrimination ordinance, Shreveport, Louisiana councilman Ron Webb started quoting the Bible.

Pamela Raintree, a transgender woman … called out the Bible-quoting councilman, daring him to stone her to death.

“Leviticus 20:13 states, ‘If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, they shall surely put him to death,'” Raintree began. “I brought the first stone, Mr. Webb, in case that your Bible talk isn’t just a smoke screen for personal prejudices.”

Webb withdrew his repeal measure just minutes later, without calling for a vote.


What do Muslim women and gay black dads have in common? Reductive stereotyping, perhaps?

First, Maureen Ahmed at PolicyMic takes on the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research:

Here’s my two-cents: Why do we only see studies on women’s visibility from Muslim-majority regions? People everywhere have pressure placed on them to represent a society’s shared systems of value and belief.

Does anyone truly think that women in the United States are not subjected to similar forms of scrutiny? Just take a look at the discourse around rape culture here, and you will quickly find your answer.

Then, Courtney Baxter at Feministing looks at the Kordale and Kaleb viral internet sensation:

There’s something about the virality of these photos, including that they were stripped from an Instagram account, that yells: “OMG black men can be gay and they can be gay-dads and isn’t it the cutest thing you have ever seen?!” It sounds like they’re talking about goddamn puppies.

—> These Black Dads and Their Three Kids Golden Retrievers and Their Puppies have the Cutest Instagram Ever…Much cuteness. Such adorable.”

What’s happening here feels like, to me, a dangerous tokenization of these very daily, “normal” black and queer lives. It reduces and co-opts their normalcy into something that can be put on Huffington Post, and Policy Mic, and BuzzFeed and shared on social media. And so I’m frustrated and conflicted – we do need visibility around the “normalcy” of our queer lives.

I can’t speak for Maureen Ahmed, and I know sociological studies are very different from Instagram pix, but I imagine her having some of the same frustration and conflict.

The only reason Laurie and I didn’t pick this one out of links to write a whole blog about is that we couldn’t think of one more thing we would add to Shannon Barber’s piece about skin-bleaching at Nudemuse. Read the whole thing.

I was at the dirt mall beauty supply store and came upon a skin lightening product. The woman told me if I used it I could be “fairer” and my skin would look pretty.

I went for it.

Of course I did.

I bought and used it twice a day for months.

At first I only used it on my dark spots but when those faded I used it on more of my face.

You know what happened?

First my skin was kind of okay and then it just really wasn’t. I burned my cheeks, my little Ashanti style sideburns were burnt off, I got darker marks on my chin and a scar by my left ear that did not fade for almost a decade.


And for a different kind of body imagery, Ria Misra at i09 found this remarkable collection of old medical illustrations.

cutaway of a hand with metal workings shown inside

Aside from my usual sources: Feministe, Feministing, io9, and Shakesville, the Wheelz link came from Jay Lake.