Women representing the Islamic otherness: My Body Is My Ownbusiness

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at SPAMprimenet.com
Tue Aug 15 07:54:48 MDT 2000

Greetings Comrades,
    Mine posted an interesting article from the Globe and Mail in Canada.
The main point of the article is to defend the Muslim dress codes for women
that a particular woman phd in Toronto writes about.  While not something I
know a great deal about, there is clarity I think in such dress codes which
I would like to propose.  Using this woman's comments what is she really
saying about the labor process of dressing that this religious point of view
is asserting?

I get the whole gamut of strange looks, stares, and covert glances. You
see, I wear the hijab, a scarf that covers my head, neck, and throat. I
do this because I am a Muslim woman who believes her body is her own
private concern.

Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light
of its original purpose to give back to women ultimate control of their
own bodies.

What is being asserted here?  Freedom from how another person looks at a
woman.  This asserts that someone else's looks are powerful enough to
determine one's life.  The only look that broadly could be this look is a
male look.  Within the general structure of religions in the west, the
fundamental strength of the bible or Koran is the word.  Not the appearance
of things, but the word.  The truth behind appearances is the classic
religious concept.  So going from the religious groundings of her background
this woman asserts that the look goes against the word symbolizing her inner
thoughts of being free mentally.  The Koran and other religious texts are a
means to assert kinds of social structure beyond the appearance of things.
The social structure of the religious word is supposed to do the following
things for Naheed,

Because it gives me freedom.

When women reject this form of oppression, they face ridicule and
contempt. Whether it's women who refuse to wear makeup or to shave their
legs, or to expose their bodies, society, both men and women, have
trouble dealing with them.

In the Western world, the hijab has come to symbolize either forced
silence or radical, unconscionable militancy. Actually, it's neither. It
is simply a woman's assertion that judgment of her physical person is to
play no role whatsoever in social interaction.

Wearing the hijab has given me freedom from constant attention to my
physical self. Because my appearance is not subjected to public
scrutiny, my beauty, or perhaps lack of it, has been removed from the
realm of what can legitimately be discussed.

No one knows whether my hair looks as if I just stepped out of a salon,
whether or not I can pinch an inch, or even if I have unsightly stretch
marks. And because no one knows, no one cares.

Feeling that one has to meet the impossible male standards of beauty is
tiring and often humiliating. I should know, I spent my entire teenage
years trying to do it. It was a borderline bulimic and spent a lot of
money I didn't have on potions and lotions in hopes of becoming the next
Cindy Crawford.

What is it about the traditional word that frees women?  It frees women by
believing in Allah.  By practicing the religious path as opposed to the
worldly path, a woman will find the "truth" behind appearances.

For a Marxist we want to liberate the working class.  In materialist manner
we want to be in the world.  Appearances and commodities in capitalism have
a certain commonality, in so far as workers have no right to control the
system.  So deception of commodity production is used to conceal how
capitalism oppresses us.  Deception and hiding the reality of things.  It is
certainly true that women in capitalism are oppressed.  Is the road to
liberation through more concealment?  Or is liberation about the whole class
being in motion and moving toward liberation?

Naheed is concerned with her private concealment, and we are concerned with
the class as a whole liberating themselves.  Within that there is a sense of
the whole to how workers view themselves.  That is women workers have the
same rights as men workers.  That sense of the whole is missing from Naheed.
She sees herself as privatizing herself to free herself.  She sees men's
looks as oppressing her irrespective of the class content.  She defines her
freedom in such a way, that class disappears, and the wholeness of the
system disappears into solutions about how one wears one's clothes.  Freedom
is wearing clothes that hide her body from men.  That way she no longer has
to worry about her appearance in public.  She can take comfort in her
religious beliefs.  She can read the Koran listen to the Mullahs, etc.  She
need not consider the problems any longer with what her hiding her body
symbolizes.  The freedom from men's looks has liberated her.
Doyle Saylor

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