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In July 2021, and to widespread criticism, the Norwegian women's beach handball team was fined by the European Handball Federation (EHF) for wearing “improper clothing”. Read: shorts, similar to their male counterparts, instead of bikini bottoms. Within a few days, singer and songwriter Pink offered to pay their fines.
In the same week, Germany’s female gymnasts wore full bodysuits instead of leotards at the Tokyo Olympics. The team explained they wanted to feel comfortable, and to protest being sexualised. Meanwhile, the European Court of Justice ruled that EU businesses are permitted to sack women for wearing a hijab if they claim a policy of “neutrality”, or if it is to avoid “social disputes”. The different reactions to these events reflect Muslim women’s experience as a whole. Covering is empowering and praiseworthy on white, Occidental women, but on Muslim women, it’s oppressive and irrational.
The outrage is evident when women are fined for wearing fuller shorts, as demonstrated all over the news and social media in the past weeks, but when Muslim women are fined for wearing burkinis and are forced to take it off, it seems acceptable to the general public, as that form of modesty is excessive, improper and even morally perverse according to Occidental lawmakers and feminists.
There is a pattern here. In August 2016, a woman was confronted by armed police on a French beach, and forced to remove some of her clothing, as part of a famous ban on the burkini. Celebrities and social media users did not rush to voice their disapproval like they did for the Norwegian team.
When it comes to women’s rights to wear whatever they want (just how hard is that request to understand?), let’s be clear: just because Muslim women do not share the same idea of modesty, doesn’t mean that others have the right to force them to wear what they deem as acceptable. Punishing women for covering ‘too much’ or for covering ‘too little’ comes from two sides of the same coin.
Imagine the outrage if the female teams were told that the fines were justifiable since officials have a right to force them to wear the usual bikini bottoms and leotards to avoid “social disputes” - and that if they don’t like the rules they should leave the team. This is a reality for Muslim women, minus the public outrage.
In July 2021 (decisively an interesting month for women’s rights to choose their own clothing), top EU courts ruled that the hijab could be banned at work. Muslim women are expected to accept the fact that they have widespread legislation policing their bodies, and are being forced to choose between their jobs and their identities and principles. And when we do protest, we are told to live in another country or to take our headscarves off. But our hijabs aren’t the issue. People’s ignorant prejudices are.
The truth is that modern Occidental feminists are so clouded by their old age civilising mission that they see the removal of hijabs as a victory for gender equality and freedom. Yet they forget that the same patriarchal system, which is being used to force Muslim women to conform to acceptable Western standards of femininity (that is, to unveil) and punishes them for not conforming, is the very same system they say has been oppressing and over-sexualising women in the media, sports, and other industries for years.
Banning hijabs, burkinis, burqas and niqabs does not bring equality between men and women. All it does is make both Muslim women and Occidental women follow the same ideological western standard of femininity. Muslim-exclusionary feminists are distracted by the lie that inequality only exists in Muslim and migrant communities, and this causes them to act as if the status of women in the West is perfectly fine. It’s not, by the way. And this is how patriarchy survives.
French legislators and politicians stated that the hijab ban in schools would prevent girls who wear the headscarf from coercing other girls into wearing it too. No other garment is discussed as a threat to other people’s human rights. The Norwegian and German women’s clothing was seen as an individual choice, not a tactic for coercion.
When Muslim women say their hijab is an expression of the self or individual conviction, they are simply not believed. People who know nothing about the subject tell us we are “forced” to wear a hijab by Muslim men, or that we are “brainwashed” into thinking that we made that choice ourselves. Muslim women experience this gaslighting on an institutional scale. We are treated like we do not have the intellectual capacity to make rational decisions, and so the state and feminists must act and speak on our behalf to “save us”. This white saviour like benevolent complex isn’t enforced on Western, non-Muslim women. No one argued that the Norwegian and German women were forced or brainwashed by the males in their lives to cover, and no one cried for legislation to stop their oppression.
Muslim women are burdened with the exhausting task of constantly having to explain why they have the right to autonomy over their own body just like everyone else. Our identities are on trial, literally, and we have to prove the obvious: that banning our clothing choices violates our freedom of expression, religion, and dignity.
Policing women’s bodies in the name of female liberation is simply illogical and plainly untrue. Some women find expressing their sexuality liberating, others find modesty empowering. Not everyone has the same opinion, but everyone should be free to choose what they want to wear. Including Muslim women.