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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not (...)

To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals

Saturday 28 April 2012, by siawi3

by Adele Wilde-Blavatsky 

- Source : The Feminist Wire, April 13, 2012

Last month, an American-born Iraqi woman, Shaima Alawadi,
was viciously murdered in the United States. According to
reports, her daughter stated that a racist note was left
outside the family home before the attack. Alawadi’s death
came shortly after another allegedly racially-motivated
murder, that of African-American man Trayvon Martin. CNN
reported: media users quickly compared Alawadi’s death to
 that of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, calling both hate
 crimes, and drawing a parallel between a hijab and a
 hoodie... On Sunday morning, the authors of the
 parenting Blog, Momstrology, tweeted: `A teen murdered
 for wearing hooded sweater. An Iraqi woman beaten to
 death for wearing a head scarf. Our hearts ache for

To be clear, murder or violence motivated by hatred based on
skin color, race, age, gender, or sexuality is wrong and
should be condemned.

A `One Million Hoodies’ march was organised to demand
justice for Martin. As Brendan O’Neill argued, this use of
the hoodie is questionable enough. The wearing of `One
million hijabs’ to show public solidarity and outrage at the
murder of Alwadi? I cannot think of anything more ironic and

What I take issue with here is the equating of the hoodie
and the hijab as sources of ethnic identity and pride. The
hijab, which is discriminatory and rooted in men’s desire to
control women’s appearance and sexuality, is not a choice
for the majority of women who wear it. The hoodie, on the
other hand, is a choice for everyone who wears it. The
history and origin of these two items of clothing and what
they represent could not be more different; like comparing
the crippling footbindings of Chinese women with a `Made in
China’ Nike trainer.

So why has the anti-racist debate taken this rather bizarre

The Misplaced Sanctity of Culture

A common liberal response to this issue is that if Alawadi
(and other Muslim women) had freely chosen to wear the hijab
or burqa - in the same way that some women freely choose to
have breast implants - then it could be a symbol of racial
pride and identity; and any criticism of their choice is
cultural prejudice. Germaine Greer, the renowned Australian
feminist, made similar comments about female genital
mutilation (FGM) as practiced by women of African origin
both inside and outside Africa. In The Whole Woman, Greer
argued that attempts to outlaw FGM amounted to "an attack on
cultural identity", adding: "One man’s (sic) beautification
is another man’s mutilation."

Even if we accept that some women make such choices `freely’
(which is clearly debatable), this response conflates two
issues. First, the freedom to choose something (if we take
that to mean the absence of `obvious’ force); and second,
the ethics of the choice itself. I am not a cultural
relativist like Greer and think her views on FGM represent
`a misplaced sanctity of culture’. If we become cultural
relativists on human rights, then it also means we cannot
question a woman’s `choice’ to become a prostitute, a
hardcore porn star, or to engage in endless amounts of
plastic surgery and dieting. All highly questionable choices
for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, unless such
practices are clearly non-consensual or cause significant
physical harm to women and girls (such as FGM), then they
need not be banned either.

I am a libertarian at heart.

Whether it’s a hijab or a mini-skirt, the question we must
ask is the same. When women `choose’ to wear these clothes,
is it really a free choice? What does such clothing
represent in their culture and why? Is it worn predominantly
to please religious leaders and men, to fit in, to be
accepted, and (for some women) to avoid punishment?

`It’s Not Tradition, It’s Archaic’

This is not neo-colonialism either. Muslim feminists have
spoken out against the burqa and hijab, and even supported
the French ban in schools. Fadela Amara explained her
support for France’s ban:

 The veil is the visible symbol of the subjugation of
 women, and therefore has no place in the mixed, secular
 spaces of France’s public school system.

When some feminists began defending the headscarf on the
grounds of "tradition", Amara vehemently disagreed:

 They define liberty and equality according to what
 colour your skin is. They won’t denounce forced
 marriages or female genital mutilation, because, they
 say, it’s tradition. It’s nothing more than
 neocolonialism. It’s not tradition, it’s archaic. French
 feminists are totally contradictory. When Algerian women
 fought against wearing the headscarf in Algeria, French
 feminists supported them. But when it’s some young girl
 in a French suburbs chool, they don’t.

Z.M. Hosseini also recently argued in Criminalising
Sexuality that the patriarchal rulings on the hijab are used
even today to sanction control over women’s bodies and
freedom, and that it was only recently that the hijab became
a marker of Muslim identity and faith. Author and human
rights campaigner Malalai Joya, often referred to as `the
bravest woman in Afghanistan’, one of the fiercest critics
of the Afghan government and the foreign occupation of her
country, recently referred to the burqa as `disgusting’.

Other women are taking more direct radical action to
challenge the dogma of the hijab. Egyptian naked blogger
Aliaa Mahdy addresses the notion that a woman is the sum
total of her headscarf and hymen by showing that nakedness
and sex can become weapons of political resistance.
Similarly, this week in Paris, Femen feminists from Europe,
the Middle East, and North Africa came together to join
forces and protest. Among the participants were Iranian
human rights activist Mariam Namazi, popular Lebanese
actress Darina Al Jondy, and well-known French feminist of
Arabian origin Safia Lebdi.

Nakedness and sexuality have long been effective weapons in
the feminist arsenal (bra-burning and free love). However,
feminists take note: (as Greer also later claimed) this
`sexual revolution’ was also hijacked by a male-dominated
and misogynistic media who managed to sell back to women a
distorted form of sexual freedom and nudity that was more
about pleasing and servicing men’s sexual desires than
genuine liberation. It has not all been a waste of time,
though. A small minority of women who benefited from the
second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s do have far more
freedom and control over their bodies than ever before.

I have heard some Muslim men (and women) claim that the
hijab can be used to challenge and reclaim the idea of
female freedom from the hyper-sexualized porno West with an
alternative idea of sexuality and femininity about covering
up, modesty, mystery, and so on. Nice as it sounds, it is
the classic virgin/whore false dichotomy, yet again.

Whatever women wear (or don’t) to challenge their
oppressors, it is important not to lose sight of the root
source of their bondage. Let’s not forget amidst the public
cries of `racism’, the silent truth that the killers of both
Martin and Alawadi were men.

Racism and a Global Culture of Male Supremacy and Violence

The chief problem with much of the mainstream anti-racist
debate is its failure to recognize the gender dimension.
Focusing an anti-racist gaze on a person’s skin color alone
misses one of the most crucial aspects of racist violence:
patriarchal power and domination.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that ALL men are racists,
sexists, or violent either. As Hollywood actress Ashley Judd
recently stated, in response to the media’s obsession with
her own physical appearance:

 Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which
 both women and men participate. It privileges, inter
 alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily
 integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women

The fact that Martin’s murder generated far more headlines,
public outrage, and support shows that a man’s death is
still considered worse than a woman’s. Yet, with three women
per week in the U.S. being murdered by their former or ex-
partners, why is that? Paying lip-service to the notion of
equality and justice, by tagging Alawadi’s death on to
Martin’s murder, insults everyone’s intelligence.

The equating of the hoodie with the hijab misrepresents and
denies the root source of Alawadi’s murder. Ironically,
Alawadi and her family fled to the United States trying to
escape the effects of state-sanctioned male aggression and
violence, otherwise known as the 1991 Persian Gulf War. By
wearing the hijab in the U.S., Alawadi was doing the `right
thing’ by the Iraqi patriarchal `team’. Yet, it produced the
opposite effect in men from the U.S. ’team’. This clash of
patriarchal ideologies on the issue of female sexuality and
physical appearance certainly exposed the hatred of `other’,
that other being `woman’. Alawadi’s `mistake’ (like all
women blamed for victimhood) was not fitting the home team’s
vision of appropriate femininity and freedom.

It really is time to re-frame the tired, mainstream debate
on racism.

Racism is not skin-deep: white vs. non-white. If that were
the case, then why has there been centuries of caste
discrimination and violence in countries like India? Why are
Muslim women beaten and murdered by Muslim men for refusing
to wear the hijab ? How did both these deaths occur in a
country that is led by a black male President? How does it
explain the fact that about 150 black men are killed every
week in the U.S. - and 94 percent of them by other black
men? This is not to play the `race card’ nor the `violence
card’. This is to make sure we do not miss the major

The social constructs and divisions of race are clearly
drawn by those who hold and control religious, economic, and
cultural power. So however much mainstream anti-racist
discourse claims this is about race, or fear of `hijabs’ and
`terrorists’, this is too simplistic. Scratch the surface
and what is underlying racist fear and violence is an all-
pervasive global culture of male power and domination. If
people want to see an end to racism, and I certainly do,
then we need to see an end to the celebration and
perpetuation of patriarchal norms, values, and institutions.
In the twenty-first century, to be anti-racist is to be

As Shaima Alawadi tragically discovered, whether it is white
men in the U.S. or brown men in Iraq, women are literally
`damned if they do and damned if they don’t’.

Dedicated to all the brave, beautiful, and forgotten women
who have been raped, tortured, murdered (and blamed), for
not wearing `suitable’ clothes.