To put it bluntly, the white feminist movement has always excluded women of color. The voices of women of color are continuously pushed to the side as white feminists paint the narrative of what does or does not fit the description of a modern and free woman.
This is purposefully excluding women who do not fit the Western mold of a “free woman.”
This has become especially clear with the development of modern women’s marches. The rise of new movements such as the “Free the Nipple” campaign spread the wrong mindset of personal freedom to the general population —. More often the idea that fewer clothes equates to more control over a woman’s body.
Women’s marches are filled with white activists stripping in the streets, chanting the slogan “Nudity is Freedom.” White feminists see the hijab as the manifestation of male control over women and the female form, so they translate the fabric to a noose of restrictions over their choices.
Hijabis have been painted as the perfect example of the necessity of feminism in such oppressive cultures. The white savior complex comes in many forms against hijabi women but has been more commonly seen in their ignorance to the cultural and religious significance of the hijab and the blatant racism against these women. This correlation between nakedness and freedom has widened the gap between their movement and women of color.
For Muslim women, hijab is empowering. The purpose of hijab is to represent a woman taking control of her own body and how she chooses to present herself to the outside world.
Hijab is a manifestation of dedication to their religion. A woman in hijab is representing her love for Allah, the same way a Chrisitan woman would wear a crucifix necklace. It is a symbol of love to not just her religion but her community as well. What white feminism continuously ignores is that, for most women, hijab is a choice.
“I feel like the hijab is more of a commitment made by Muslim women to be modest, not only in terms of clothes but also lifestyle,” Fateha Zannath, a Muslim woman and public health and economics major at John Hopkins University, said.
Zannath goes on to specify her definition of conservatism.
“I know that everyone’s definition of modesty is different, but equating any sense of conservatism to oppression, especially when it comes to wearing a hijab, undermines the purpose that it is a Muslim woman’s choice to wear one and incorporate it into their life,” Zannath said.
Zannath does address the arguments against hijab, specifically the accusation that Muslim women are forced into wearing hijab.
“I have heard a lot of anecdotes of women who are forced to wear one by their family, which is where a lot of the oppressive misconceptions stem from,” she said. “But when you look into the situation, a lot of it just comes down to cultural pressures to be deemed ‘acceptable’ and have nothing to do with what Islam actually has to say about hijab.”
Overall, it must be understood that one’s experience with hijab does not represent everyone’s experience with hijab.
“It is easy to put an umbrella term over Muslim women and the Muslim experience, we are all different people who live different lives,” Miriam Al-Sheer, a pre-med major at Georgia State, said. “What connects us as Muslims is not all shared experiences but our dedication to our religion.”
Zannath says that “it is important to note that my ideas stem from my experiences with hijab, which can be drastically different from any other Muslim women. Because the topic of hijab is so complex and personal, I think the best thing to do is just ask how a hijabi feels about their circumstances before making any judgment about it.”
Muslim women are not in need of saving. In order to push the feminist movement forward, there needs to be more understanding from our allies. Hearing from Muslim women will definitely help push the movement forward in the right direction.