I have been meaning to write this article for a long while now and it occurred to me that 39 minutes before midnight on a Saturday evening is the perfect time to cogitate with an attempt at depth. Or tie myself up in vicious knots with my own rhetoric. But please, stay with me a while and watch me untangle my mind.
The hijab. Yes. A lot of people have a lot of opinions about it. I started wearing it, oh maybe, 3 years ago. No one forced me to put it on, no one asked me to put it on. No, once my brother mentioned broadly that I “should” wear it and then I told him baldly to mind his own business and my covering was my choice and he let me be.
As a woman, I’ve always struggled with body image issues. I mean, I can’t imagine a woman who does not deal with body image issues. Case in point, I was on the skytrain once and a very pretty lady was leaning against the door, looking everywhere except at her reflection staring at her in the glass. Just like many other women, I have a complicated relationship with mirrors.
Just as I have a complicated relationship with my body. Ever since I have been young, society and people have told me that I need to look a certain way, present myself in a certain manner in order to be liked by others. My body did not belong to me; it wasn’t an instrument (or whatever) to bring me pleasure but a tool through which others found theirs. Pleasure, I mean. The clothes I wore, how they fit, my curves, the number on the scale, the lipstick on my lips, the perfume I wore–these are all supposed to make me alluring to others.
But the trouble was that no matter how much I tried to fit in, I was always the wrong shape, the wrong size, the wrong colour. I think the breaking point, the moment these feelings that were simmering in me boiled over, came when a creative writing professor at my alma mater sat me down and told me that I couldn’t write and no matter how much I tried, I wouldn’t be able to complete a novel.
Have you ever felt a colour? Ever felt defined by the shade of your skin?
I did. Oh gosh, I did. Being one of two brown girls in the class had made me aware of my own difference but couple that with being told that my experiences, because they were foreign, could not be true as ‘that is not how things are here,’…well. Yeah.
I got angry.
I got very angry and decided that if I was going to be treated like I was different, I was going to express this difference as explicitly as I could. So I started wearing the hijab. I put it on, along with a smile, and faced the world.
And you know what happened?
I gained ownership of my body.
This might seem like a strange thing to say because of course you have ownership of your body always but when I wear the hijab, I feel like I choose who I reveal it to. I choose who can see my hair, my…skin. It’s a heady feeling and I fully understand that you don’t need to wear a hijab to feel it but I did.
Wearing the hijab feels powerful; it feels like I can now choose something that I previously didn’t even know choices existed for (and yes this sentence is grammatically suspect but you know what I mean).
I marked myself conspicuously different; I claimed ownership on the Other label that this world insists on labeling me with. I put on the hijab and with it I got powerful.
There are people who say that the hijab is oppressive and Stephen Harper, the ex-prime minister (I will not ever get tired of saying “ex”) made the niqab an issue because according to Western society a woman’s body is public property, something I believe our American neighbours are quibbling about. Men (and some women) feel threatened about the hijab for different reasons but let me speculate:
Men fear the hijab because they rightly suspect that it is a powerful weapon. If women found out that they can choose who they reveal themselves to, well.
Women fear the hijab maybe because they see a strength in women who do choose to wear it that they do not have themselves–an insecurity in their own choices. I don’t know.
Honestly, I don’t care if you wear it or if you don’t. I’m a huge proponent of people living and letting others live as they see fit (within reason of course). What matters is that it’s a choice and anyone trying to take away that choice is the oppressor. If I had been forced to wear the hijab, that would have been a very different story and I fully acknowledge that there are women out there who are forced to wear it. I don’t condone that. But to view all hijabis as being oppressed reveals a deliberate simplification of issues, a simplification that is suspect and can be viewed as propaganda but that’s another post.
I wear the hijab because I want to, because it makes me feel strong, and because it is an expression of my Otherness. I wear it because my body belongs to me and wearing the hijab is my way of expressing that.