Posts Tagged ‘perceptions’

Ulterior Motives

March 4, 2012

My friend, a man from work*, told me recently that he has me all figured out. He tells me all the time that I remind him of him when he was younger, which usually wins me over.

He said he didn’t believe that I wore my headscarf for “all the normal reasons,” for religion or anything like that. (Me: what the?) I just like being an outlier, he said, and I delight in outlying in all the different identifiable categories. Surprisingly liberal hijabi, e.g., or surprisingly conservative feminist.

Not too far off, I guess. Rebel Without a Keffiyeh, how does that sound?

*New job and new city since the time I really wrote last. More to come (I hope).

Video: Dawah Addict’s “I’m Jealous of Hijab”

August 4, 2011

A friend posted this video on Facebook a few days ago. The guy is charming enough to watch:

A pleasant reminder of how my grass is greener, at least some of the time.

His predicament reminded me of a paradox that totally struck me when I came across it in college (before then, I was totally ignorant of the idea):

The context was one of those unsavory “who has it worse” conversations regarding microaggressions of homophobia and racism. While people who identify as gay constantly have to tackle (often painfully) others’ incorrect assumptions that they are straight, people of color find that the assumed stereotypes of their perceived race are often imposed (also incorrectly) upon them. Both ways, it’s a considerable discrepancy between how people think of themselves and how other people think of them (based on their appearance). The former struggle to distinguish themselves; the latter couldn’t “pass” if they tried.

Video: Chimamanda Adichie on the Danger of a Single Story

July 2, 2011

Hijab and Race

April 18, 2011

This past weekend I attended a conference in Boston where I got to spend a lot of time thinking about race and racism in the U.S.

Contemplating the topic alongside this blog, I’m back to questions of public perception. What is the hijab’s power to racialize (i.e. to give a racial character or context to) one’s identity?

Note: I’m using the word “race” in this post as what we think of regarding physical characteristics, NOT biological clusters or national/cultural groups (which would fall more closely to “ethnicity”).

There’s zero question that racial and visible religious identifiers intersect, making it really hard to come to any real conclusions. In my own case, my race is decidedly non-European*; my skin tone is medium-brown and I have fairly South Asian features.

*I chose to identify this way (first as what I’m not, then as what I am) only because it’s a relevant detail in the United States. Hijab or no hijab, my experience would be different if I were white.

So, I’m interested in the ways my hijab might interact with my perceived race. Some possible options:

  • Accentuation of race: This is probably most often the result given my particular racial appearance. Though my other clothes betray me not at all (they come mostly from the Gap and its sartorial cousins), the hijab really adds a “foreign” look to my style. (How exotic!) I’m willing to bet that the headscarf, more than the color of my skin, leads people to believe (as many do initially) that I’m an immigrant.
  • De-emphasis of race: It’s also possible that the headscarf is so distracting that it overpowers any racial signifiers I would set off with my skin color/physiognomy. It’s pointless to try and measure, but it’s worth mentioning because the two don’t totally go hand-in-hand, either. For example, when I meet new people of my own race (a situation where race would be less of a glaring indicator of difference/individual identity), the hijab sends off signals of heightened religiosity (sometimes more than I’d like). So, maybe it shifts people’s attention in general from one kind of categorization (racial) to another (religious).
  • Contradiction/counteraction of race: This doesn’t really happen to me, but it might if I looked Irish or Norwegian.

New question: does it matter? Why is this important?

Maybe it’s not, but I think it’s worth calling attention to the fact that so often, hijab is just incorporated into race (e.g. when hijab-related hate is called “racism”). Neither can operate independently, but they don’t exactly equal the same thing.

Being a Hijabi Feminist

April 13, 2011

…means understanding the fact that 100% of people will assume otherwise. And sucking it up.

Addendum to My Hijab Story

April 4, 2011

Part of the reason I’m uncomfortable posting my “hijab story” narrative from Friday is because of what it implies about my submission [i.e. to forces other than spirituality]. Certain lines (e.g. “I certainly would not have ended up at that particular destination all on my own”), while still being true, can be read as “I was brainwashed by my upbringing” or “I didn’t actually think for myself about the decision.”

I concede the validity of that reading; given my actual story, it isn’t hard to see how someone coming at it from a different perspective would reach those conclusions. I don’t agree with them, however, and what’s frustrating is that it’s not exactly a right/wrong scenario. That is, I can’t prove the other person wrong—I can speak only for my perspective.

Touching on larger philosophical questions, I guess. How are we ever to argue with a claim that we’ve been brainwashed?

A Matter of Language

March 6, 2011

This blog is hard to write in part because I find myself worried so much about tone. Language is inevitably political, so how can I choose just one vocabulary on every related point?

1. I can have lunch with a wonderful Muslim friend and feel a warm sense of pride in what we share, ready to come back and relay that enthusiasm for faith. 2. I might have a fantastic, effervescent conversation about sexism and make a mental list of all the fascinating gender-and-sexuality-related things that it occurs to me to consider. 3. The class I’m in reminds me of the importance of careful research and even more careful articulation, but I can’t stand the idea of sounding unapproachable or lofty. 4. I’m also worried about sounding too sure of myself because I am rarely all that certain about anything. (And so on.)

I think about how some people (myself included) tend to write off experiences that are too one-sided or fanatical, immediately off-put by any of a number of buzzwords. So I try to tone down the zeal a little bit, even just for myself, leaving traces of betrayal.

It’s not about balance: there’s no “right” formula, because they all apply at once.

What Would Bill Maher Do? Start an Arab Sexual Revolution

March 1, 2011


Thanks to Muslimah Media Watch for the alert about Bill Maher’s latest cause: the plight of Muslim women. Specifically, calling for a sexual revolution in the Middle East because The Men Have Got It All Wrong.

If you have a few minutes, watch this conversation between Maher and Tavis Smiley on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. (I couldn’t embed the video, but isn’t this screen shot a gem?)

In short, this is the argument:

BM: We (American men) treat our women better than they (Middle Eastern men) treat theirs.

TS: Okay. But should we be telling them what to do?

BM: Yup.

It’s easy to get caught up in Bill Maher’s logic, I’ll admit. But he’s simplifying like nobody’s business, and Tavis Smiley impressed me in standing his ground. Sara Yasin blogs about it nicely as well:

“While the Western world has made wide strides for women, acting as though it is a finished project ignores the work that we still have to do as American feminists and treats feminism and equality like a video game.” (Read more: MMW, “Knight in Shining Armor or Idiot in Tinfoil?”)

Why My Women/Gender/Islam Class Sometimes Makes Me Uncomfortable

February 24, 2011

For the standards of this school, it’s a pretty large discussion class, with over 20 people sitting around a sort-of-pretentious boardroom table. Though I’m only auditing and don’t have to turn in any written assignments (which is GLORIOUS), I’ve been trying my best to keep up with the readings, of which there are a lot!

What makes me uneasy sometimes is that our discussions force me to confront some really, really bad stuff about Muslims. Not about Islam—and the professor is fantastic at pointing out this distinction as well—but about the people all over the world (and the history of the world) who profess to profess Islam.

Today, for example, someone brought up the story of Faleh Hassan Almaleki, the Iraqi man who ran over his daughter with his car, then called it an “honor killing.” Which led predictably to the topic of religiously justified honor killings in general, naturally causing me to SUIMS.*

*Shift Uncomfortably In My Seat. (Duh. A GOOD ONE, RIGHT.)

Something else I can’t forget, probably the worst thing that’s happened so far, is what I overheard a girl say to a classmate before class one day:

“I just don’t see how, based on what we’re learning, you can be a feminist and religious at the same time.”

Yikes!

But I keep reminding myself:

  • The preconceived notions of smart, informed, cultivated liberal arts college kids are SO hardly the worst of what’s out there. Their opinions are a good window into what kinds of misconceptions exist in general, giving me a better idea of how to communicate on the subject.
  • This type of confrontation is EXACTLY what is healthy in the realm of identity study; it’s an excellent thing, even if I don’t speak up every time. The Bad Stuff isn’t going to go away if I just don’t think about it.

There’s also my self-consciousness about being an obvious Muslim female perspective in a “Women & Gender in Islam” class. I’m always worried about representing Muslims poorly or unjustly, but I do think it’s mostly self-consciousness (and that I’m distorting my own authority in my head). Working on it!

Overall—and I’ll tell anyone who has a half-second to listen—I am madly in love with the class. The readings are great, the professor is great, my fellow classmates are great, the discussions are great. The 75 minutes whiz by every time.

Hijab and Submission vs. Subversion, part 2

February 19, 2011

The word “Islam,” translated from Arabic, literally means submission or surrender (to the will of God). Accordingly, the name for the submitter/surrenderer is a variation of the same word: “Muslim.”

Both words come from the same root as “salam,” which means peace, so that’s pretty cool (haha) and something to be proud of. It makes sense, too, for a religion to emphasize the importance of yielding [one’s individual self] to a greater good/deity/community.

Despite all that, and as was hinted at in the last post, I’m infinitely more interested in subversion, what we might consider to be a directly opposing idea. Not necessarily subversion of God, but more broadly of structures and society (conceivably, the ones God allows to exist).

It’s because I’m still young, probably.

The act of hijab itself can fall easily under both categories. The ritual veiling that’s been passed along for ages is certainly a form of submission—to cultural tradition, to religious convention, and (arguably) to a global legacy of patriarchy.

At the same time, hijab subverts another entire set of norms, especially where and when I am. Rarely in the United States is a hijab-wearer not in the minority, so if we take for granted that [at least in the U.S.] hijab is a choice (as opposed to skin color, for example, which isn’t), doesn’t that imply subversion?

In this context, the subversion would be directed at a specific set of assumptions in Western culture (dominant ideology, master narrative, whatever). It works against normal American expectations for a few different reasons, including:

  1. Islam isn’t the dominant religion. (Let’s pretend the link between hijab and Islam is obvious.)
  2. Religious expression is also rare, and faith is considered largely a private matter. (Hijab is a visible, near-blinding example of religious expression.)
  3. There is a standard of what basic items make up women’s attire, and hijab isn’t among them. (As far as head-covering is concerned, anyway.)
  4. There is some level of consensus about which female body parts are appropriate when bare in public, and which aren’t. (Hijab overshoots the mark here in designating hair, among other things, as inappropriate.)
    …and the list can go on.

The real point is trickier to articulate. If you believe that the dominant ideology objectifies women’s bodies—not exclusively, and not always, but in general—then you can see how one MIGHT imagine hijab to be an act of subversion (/rejection) of that culture. (By “dominant ideology” here I mostly mean pop culture media, past and present. For examples, refer to: anything. ever.)

Is the subversion effective? I think so, but it’s not enough to just say that. I’ll keep thinking about how to express the ways that it works.