Veiled Threat

Veiled Threat
Article by Arwa Aburawa, appeared in issue Art/See; published in 2009; filed under Art.
The guerrilla graffiti of Princess Hijab

Since 2006, the elusive guerrilla artist known as Princess Hijab has been subverting Parisian billboards, to a mixed reception. Her anonymity irritates her critics, many of whom denounce her as extremist and antifeminist; when she recently conceded, in the pages of a German newspaper, that she wasn't a Muslim, it opened the floodgates to avid speculation in the blogosphere. If her claim of being a 21-year-old Muslim girl was only partially true, some wondered what the real message was behind her self-described "artistic jihad."

In her online manifesto, PH declares that she "acts upon her own free will" and is "not involved in any lobby or movement, be it political, religious, or to do with advertising." The Princess insists that, like the ape-masked Guerrilla Girls and Mexico's balaclava-clad Zapatistas, by being nobody, she is free to be anybody. But as liberating as this anonymity may seem, it does leave her work open to conflicting—and occasionally unflattering—interpretations. On the popular blog Art21, critic Paul Schmelzer points to Princess Hijab's work as an example of right-wing street art, surmising that her motivation is to cover the "shame of omnipresent (and often sexualized) ads." Another blogger, Evil Fionna, argues that if Princess Hijab were acting as a fundamentalist Christian, her work would be recognized as "religious extremis[m]" that demonizes women and makes them ashamed of their bodies. And a commentator on the anti-Islam site Infidel Bloggers accused the artist of urging women to submit to the "tyranny of Islam."

These observers also allude to the uncanny similarity between the work of Princess Hijab and that of conservative religious groups that have historically used less literal hijabizing to police the female form. In Saudi Arabia, the 80-year-old government agency known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice is tasked with, among other things, blacking out bare skin wherever it shows up. In line with Sharia law, women in the pages of magazines, on billboards, and in other public images are painstakingly covered up: Katy Perry may be sporting high-waisted hot pants and a tiny top on her cd cover, but once the Committee gets through with it, she's garbed in a long-sleeved shirt with matching leggings. (The group, notorious for beating up men and women engaged in "immoral behavior," have also made headlines for banning Valentine's Day and restricting the sale of cats and dogs, lest they be used by men to attract women's attention.)

And in the U.K. in 2005, the activists behind Muslims Against Advertising (MAAD) began daubing blobs of paint on the underdressed models in street ads for the likes of Dove and Wonderbra, and in some cases ripping down the posters altogether.

The ongoing conflict over hijabs in her home country does give Princess Hijab's work an inescapable political context, or what she calls a "shade of provocation." France's hijab debates first erupted in 1989 when three high-school girls were suspended after they refused to remove their Islamic headscarves at a school in a suburb of Paris. Successive years of controversy led to former President Jacques Chirac passing a bill in 2004 banning "religious symbols" in schools on the grounds that they clashed with France's cherished notions of secularization; more recently, President Nicolas Sarkozy upheld the ban on burqas and headscarves in public spaces, stating, "The burqa is not a religious symbol, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic. We cannot accept women in cages, amputated of all dignity, on French soil."

But Princess Hijab insists that anyone confusing her work with that of either conservative culture-jammers or Muslims supporting freedom of religious expression is missing the mark. "My work supports right-wing radicalism like Taxi Driver support cabbies. I'm using the hijab for myself." And looking through her catalog of work, neither label seems right. If her goal really is to cover up the skin-flashing women in ads, then why leave slinky legs on display underneath the painted-on hijabs? And if she's aiming to make a statement about the dignity of Muslim women, why hijabize male models in Dolce & Gabbana briefs with shoulder-length chadors, leaving their tanned, oiled abs and legs even more preposterously exposed?

A Dolce & Gabbana ad featuring young men in underwear has been hit by Princess Hijab. Their upper-bodies have been spray-painted with black hijabs and headscarfs. The paint drips down their exposed lower-bodies.

In fact, Princess Hijab asserts, her dressing up of billboards is a symbolic act of resistance meant to reassert a "physical and mental integrity" against what she calls the "visual terrorism" of advertising. Arguing that the human right of expression has been displaced by publicists, advertisers, and the machinery of capitalist, commodified culture, she offers that, "My work explores how something as intimate as the human body has become as distant as a message from your corporate sponsor."

"Like that poster of Farah Fawcett," she continues, "with her teeth clenched in fear above her perfect polyester swimswuit. When she revealed her cancer, we had to see her and her body as something capable of tragedy. It's that sort of re-humanization that I aim for with hijabization." Princess Hijab later admitted that this example, and equating wearing the hijab with physical suffering, was a clumsy one, but wanted the point to stand: Her work attempts to remove the hijab from its gendered and religious context and convert it into a symbol of empowerment and re-embodiment.

Equally central to her work is the goal of social equality. She notes that, in France, "You're always being asked your origin, which religion you follow. It's something that is very French, actually; you don't see it in New York or Berlin." Hinting that she is a racial outsider in France, Princess Hijab states that she is never taken at face value, but instead pushed into a homogeneous social group and then judged by a corresponding set of stereotypes. With stratification by gender, religion, place of origin, and sexuality, she asserts, comes groups that are closed off from one another's experiences. Even during her time at university, she recalls her modes of expression being explained away by her origins: "I would be told [that it was] 'natural,' given my background, that I would work on [one] topic and not on another. I felt trapped." But by highlighting everyone's potential "outsider" status by imposing the hijab on public figures, PH asserts that she is "trying to create a connection with and between people."

Another poster by Princess Hijab featuring the woman in the heascarf. Here her headscarf is black and the text beneath her face reads HIJAB-AD

Back when Princess Hijab was believed to be a Muslim, blogger Ethar El-Katatney of Muslimah Media Watch noted, "I'd actually love it if it turns out she's not a Muslim, because it lends credibility to the idea that the dislike of being exposed to 'visual aggression' is not necessarily rooted in religious belief. Fed up with women being used to sell products, hijabizing ads could be a way to 'take back' women's rights to their bodies." Indeed, in Princess Hijab's marked-up art, the headscarf is an agent not of covering but of exposure—of the oppressive nature of the advertising industry, of the displacement and disempowerment of women who are repeatedly told that they are not good, skinny, beautiful, sexy, or rich enough. It's work that owes much more to Adbusters or No Logo than to the Taliban.

Though Princess Hijab's work has gained international notice, like much street art it still actively resists a simplistic reading. And that she uses such a contested icon to wreak artistic revenge on the dual constructs of advertising and social prejudice means her work is ultimately as much about the interpretation of others as it is about her own intent. "People are confused by me," admits PH. "Some say I am pro-feminist, some say I am antifeminist; some say I am pro-Islam, others that I am anti-Islam. It's all very interesting—but at the end of the day, I am above all an artist."

Arwa Aburawa is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom.

Since 2006, the elusive guerrilla artist known as Princess Hijab has been subverting Parisian billboards, to a mixed reception. Her anonymity irritates her critics, many of whom denounce her as extremist and antifeminist; when she recently conceded, in the pages of a German newspaper, that she wasn't a Muslim, it opened the floodgates to avid speculation in the blogosphere. If her claim of being a 21-year-old Muslim girl was only partially true, some wondered what the real message was behind her self-described "artistic jihad."

Comments

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While the art almost makes a

While the art almost makes a good point. I disagree with the message. I love the fact that the hijab and the burqa are equated with the dehumanization and objectification of models on billboards. It isn't clumsy, its brilliant. The hijab and burqa do not empower anyone, they make people as anonymous and objectified as those billboards do. I would like to reference psychological research on anonymity, deindividuation, and group behavior from Kugihara (2001),Robert L. Dipboye (1977), Zimbardo (1969) . It is more likely for those wearing anonymous clothing to loose their sense of identity and assume the identity of their group either allowing them to act more extreme in either a passive way or aggressive way, under their collective identity. Is there a better way to subject control over others then to rob them of their individuality? (i.e. klu klux klan, the Nazi's, the Zimbardo Prision Experiment)

Feeding the frenzy

I am so tired of Westerners who have taken up the hijab and burqa as a sign of oppression. What you so casually refer to as 'dehumanization and objectification' is so typical of this pop culture xenophobia and ignorance. I hate to bring this up as it's been used to the point of being a cliche but the Virgin Mary appears veiled in every single aesthetic representation I've ever seen of her. Has she been dehumanized and objectified?

As a Saudi Muslim (albeit not very active) woman, the "burqa" (which by the way is exclusive to Afghanistan and is not worn in Saudi Arabia), is cultural and traditional aspect of life here that is is HONESTLY NOT THAT BIG A DEAL.

I think just the fact that I am commenting on this article on the Bitch Magazine website kind of blows a hole in your theory or that of Kugihara, Dipboye, or Zimbardo that I have lost my sense of identity and am acting out in 'either a passive way or aggessive way'. That theory is kind of ridiculous. It's an item of clothing, people. That would be akin to me saying the same thing about everyone who wears jeans.

I applaud this artist for using a symbol that is so commonly misconstrued as oppressive in a different light. I don't know her intentions but I thought it was powerful statement that is best left to subjective interpretation.

I am now going to re-chain myself to my stove and continue popping out babies and being beaten by my terrorist husband. I'm sure that's an image of Muslim/Arab women you're all much more comfortable propagating.

A range of remarks

Just a few points, as bullets.

1) Virgin Mary - 2000 years ago. Your point would be slightly more relevant if the Catholic Church were still advocating that every woman dress like the Virgin Mary.* In fact, a closer analogy would be in relation to nuns (about whom I'll speak quite generally now, as I'm not one myself, so don't have a great deal of inside knowledge about their experience). Nuns are covered up as a symbol of their dedication to God, and abstraction from the "real world", shall we say. Often, at least to my understanding, nuns take new names from the traditional female names of the faith. Might this not speak to Anonymous' point regarding deindividuation?

*The idea that women must cover their shoulders and wear skirts/shorts below the knees in order to enter Churches is somewhat different, although does spring to my mind, and might be of relevance to any comparison.

2) "As a Saudi Muslim (albeit not very active) woman, the "burqa" (which by the way is exclusive to Afghanistan and is not worn in Saudi Arabia), is cultural and traditional aspect of life here that is is HONESTLY NOT THAT BIG A DEAL."

Sorry, but where is "here"? If "here" is Saudi Arabia, then your point seems sort of a tautology, as you've already said the item is exclusive to Afghanistan. It being "NOT THAT BIG A DEAL" would be related to that, would it not? Perhaps you could elucidate the point for me? That in Saudi Arabia, no-one has strong feelings on the burqa? I'm not sure that makes a difference to the discussion either way, to be honest...

3) As a related point, I seem to recall reading that there was some public outcry relating to KAUST, the new university where women are unveiled on campus and education will be more "Westernly co-ed" (shall we say) than anywhere else in the country. That would suggest that veiling is still something of a big deal culturally and traditionally in Saudi Arabia, even if the burqa is not at the core of it? I don't pretend to speak from a position of great knowledge regarding Saudi Arabia, but I don't think you paint a particularly balanced/representative picture of it simply by saying, "Well, hey, I'm a woman from Saudi Arabia, and I'm here on this blog, so that means that the principle of veiling women is equivalent to the wearing of jeans."

4) Aside from which, I actually don't particularly like jeans, and avoid wearing them myself, as I DO think that they're unimaginative and deindividuating in some sense. The practicality of them (hard-wearing cotton weave, etc.) provides, in my view, something of a better rationale for their ubiquity than exists for veils, but perhaps you can enlighten me as to the practicality of such garments and the reason why they might have become so "fashionable"?

5) I don't think that your being an exception to the point necessarily completely invalidates the point entirely. It just suggests that there needs to be greater caution in regard to generalisations.

6) Your final paragraph sounds very much like it is about trying to shame people into shutting up and putting aside their subjective interpretations in favour of your own. I personally don't hold that image dear to my heart, and I know lots of Muslim/Arab women who do not reflect it.

Thank you for your

Thank you for your (extremely eloquent) reply. In reference to the Virgin Mary comment, my point was simply that the hijab is not exclusive to Muslims and therefore should not be viewed as a byproduct of our supposedly backwards culture and lifestyle, which is consistently how it seems to portrayed.

Although this is not relevant to the issue at hand, I disagree that nuns taking new names as part of their commitment to Jesus and the church is an example of deindividuation. Like you, I have little understanding of nuns but I always took it more as a shedding of their old identities and an embracing of the new devout presence in their life. Which doesn’t make them lesser individuals.

In response to your question, ‘here’ is Saudi Arabia. In my experience with the Western perceptions of the Middle East (I spent some time in the U.S. as an exchange student last year), it seems that they are constantly using the hijab as an example of how uncivilized and anti-feminist my religion and country are. When I say that the veil is not a big deal here, what I mean is simply, it’s a part of our life. It’s as normal for me to grab my veil as I run out of the house as it is for you to grab your purse. I’m always shocked by how much controversy surrounds a piece of cloth. It’s like trying to create a problem out of air. Hope that clarifies my original point.

I’m going to assume that your comment regarding KAUST (which by the way is a huge step for a country that is less than 100 years old), is based on what you’ve read and heard in the news. The individuals who led this ‘outcry’ regarding this advancement in secular higher education are part of the few and the extreme, who unfortunately, are quite powerful in Saudi Arabia. My point is that the veil is not a big deal here because it is so deeply embedded in the social and cultural fabric. Which is why it is offensive to some to see the freedom that KAUST has offered it’s female students. I personally think it’s a wonderful advancement (but that it’s not going to last).

I think you’re oversimplifying my comment with this statement: "Well, hey, I'm a woman from Saudi Arabia, and I'm here on this blog, so that means that the principle of veiling women is equivalent to the wearing of jeans."

I am not one of few feminists in the country, I am one of the many, although maybe not the most eloquent. My whole point was that it’s utterly ridiculous for people who have no understanding of this part of the world to make so many biased and ignorant judgments about a piece of clothing. I don’t care how many studies have been done. I feel like people have this misconception of the Middle East and Islam and only do enough digging to give their theories the most shallow justification possible. At the end of the day, no one wants to be proven wrong.

Finally, I would never assume to push my opinion on people. I just felt that few Saudi women would ever get a chance to see this article and since I had such strong feelings about it, I decided to comment. I was quite frustrated so that was perhaps not the best mood in which to voice my perspective. Either way, thank you for your reply and for giving me a chance to form my own response.

Weighing in

This should not matter, but I am male. And I think it is very interesting what she is doing, and the message definitely has strong positive points too. While some might see the use of the hijab symbol is demeaning or insulting, I feel the message she is sending is valid. Symbols are polysemic, and people tend to forget that. Why shouldn't it have more than one meaning? And why can't those meanings be different from each other? Diluting a symbol which has been overly used as a sign of controversy might be just the thing to negate it.

In all the championing of the "importance of one's human rights not to wear a hijab", it seems that those very same people forget to take into account the people who's human rights include those who do want to wear their hijab. Why should a single article of clothing or any number of article of clothing dehumanize an individual or cause them to lsoe their identity? Surely, what matters is the person itself and not what they wear. External appearances should not matter. We've been taught that by our parents and teachers all our lives, but suddenly clothing is given so much weight. I agree with the many valid points made by SF and a number of other feminists, focus on what is important, help in a positive manner which is not cynical or discriminatory.

Values differ. Among different groups as well as among different individuals within the same group. What a few say is not representative of an entire group. What is read, seen or heard somewhere or other is not necessarily true. Even if the facts of it are true, the interpretation of said facts are not necessarily true.

External appearances should not be a judge of character, no matter how covered a person is or how scantily clad. Character should be a judge of character. How a person decides to dress is entirely their choice, if as an individual, one is nice, honest, kind, generous and accepting, then surely that is enough? In fact, we (as humans as a whole) could stand to return the favor.

We do live in a decadent

We do live in a decadent world where substance is neglected on behalf of appearances. I really think it's sad and that there are issues more important than clothing items. I do believe that people should have the freedom to wear what they want. The muslims who want to wear the hijab should be able to wear it anywhere and those who do not want it should not be forced into it.
Projecting on the 'other' our fears and negativity is no longer tolerable in a world which became that small!

"Not that big a deal"

HI anonymous, thank you for your input! I have a question.
To me, the ability to grab a purse as I run out the door is a choice. I can take a red purse, a black purse, but I have the freedom to choose to take a purse today, or just shove my wallet into my back pocket and go. NO purse is always an available option.
What would happen if a woman from Saudi chose not to wear a burqa today? My understanding is that this woman would risk many social ramifications, if not her own personal safety.
It's the absence of choice, not having the freedom to choose, that I feel is the root of the burqa 'issue' in the west.
Thank again all of you for this wonderful respectful discussion.

About the Virgin Mary's veil

As an atheist, I have no qualms whatsoever in answering your question about Mary being dehumanized and objectified by the veil: the headcovering required by her culture at that time may not have been dehumanizing and objectifying, but it was without a doubt an instrument of gender subjugation. Judaism was appallingly, rampantly misogynistic; requiring women to actually temporarily move out of their homes every month to a camp outside the city/village/settlement because their menstrual cycle made them and everything they touched spiritually unclean is but one example. There are dozens of other examples scattered throughout the Bible. I'm actually not a feminist; I'm a humanist. I reject any culture that treats 50% of its population as inferior, for WHATEVER reason. The loss to our species in this regard is a tragedy of incalculable measure- what contributions to science might we have had if we didn't cut off half our population from contributing? Or to art? Or to law? What richness of life have we lost by not allowing half our population to participate fully in every aspect of life? This doesn't just apply to the Arab/Muslim world, and you don't have to be "chained to your stove, popping out babies and being beaten by your husband" to be subjugated, marginalized, and have your life's full potential wasted. Such waste happens all over the world, even in my own country. My pride is not so big as to blind me from this; the overall gain and benefit to my species is far more important to me than national or cultural pride.

Anyone who says a burqa is not a big deal is choosing to be blind. Those outside your sphere of belief see this CLEARLY. Just as those outside the sphere of belief of Mormonism see it's obviously made-up by some guy, and those who are outside the sphere of belief of Voodoo see it's superstitious hysterical nonsense. I'm a former Catholic myself, and as such I can now clearly see what a mess Catholicism is. This doesn't just apply to religious belief either; those outside the sphere of capitalism have no trouble identifying its weaknesses.

Saudi Feminist, I understand how hard it is to hear criticism of one's own culture. It's like the old saying, "I can say bad things about my sister, but YOU had better not!" This is basic human nature and we're all susceptible to it, even me if I'm not paying attention. It gives your name of "Saudi Feminist" a particular irony, however, when you say that women being forced by law to wear a garment (ANY garment, but particularly one that shrouds the whole body into a faceless blob of fabric like a burqa), and a legal system that punishes a woman for failing to appropriately cover her FACE (the most expressive part of the human animal and the part of our bodies we humans identify most as our "self") is "no big deal". A feminist who doesn't think it's dehumanizing to "de-face" women? I'm sorry but that's a version of feminism that's as clumsy as a car with square wheels.

Look, i would shoot myself

Look, i would shoot myself before wearing a burqa. My cousin loves hers though. And a friend of mine really (really) couldnt care less about it. It may be hard for you to believe, but everybody thinks differently. Your values are not my values. And there is no one Feminism. There are many feminisms.

And i have no qualms saying that as a nonmuslim woman you have no right to talk about hijabs. You really dont. Regardless of your intentions, you come off as a typical arrogant/self-involved/orientalist western feminist (or humanist) to MUSLIM FEMINISTS. LISTEN TO US. Ok? When we say its oppressive in some settings and it isnt in others, BELIEVE us. And think about the history of western imperialism/colonialism (especially in regards to western colonialisms links to hijabs) before you educate us brainwashed brown muslim folk.

Please, support muslim feminists and the issues we care bout now. Education. Economic empowerment. Sexual empowerment. The right to pass citizenship on to our children. US colonialism and imperialism. Having more female islamic scholars/imams. And i could go on and on. Thats what we care about. Clothing IS important. But you cant color the hijab is being definitively bad (or good).

Reply

Well said and you illustrate your point with brilliant examples. - What would the reaction be if we arbitrarily chose an item of clothing of Western origin, like your jeans example, and then proclaimed it a symbol of mindless oppression?

-vomit- Get off your high

-vomit-

Get off your high western horse. Guess what? You dont know what my hijab means to me, mmkay? "oh, but i read studies!" ugh. Youre orientalist garbage is nothing i havent heard before.

What if i dress really slutty? Does that make me feminist? I would argue that IT DEPENDS. Its all about context. And a hijab is not more "oppressive" than a short skirt.

You know, its pseudo-feminists like yourself that make me happy that im a gender/queer studies major with a hijab on.

Many hijabis looooove their hijabs. Many hatttttte them. Many dont really care. And dont think western/nonmuslim women are immune from these kinds of complexities and contradictions when it comes to the issue of clothing (and the larger issue of "choice") Fucking deal with it.

Freedom to choose

Hijab does not bother me. It may as well be a sweater I don't care! But the fact that Middle Eastern women are forced to wear them bothers. Like you said you love your Hijab but some women "hhhhate" it. Those women who hates them obviously pferfer not to wear it? Do they have a choice? Can they walk out their door and decide not to wear it to the market? I don't think so! That's what bothers me. I'm not a feminist nor a humanist! I'm just a woman with an opinion and freedom to do whatever I want and wear whatever I want! So encourage all the women who are FORCED to wear hijab, take it off and protest for equality! I never seen a middle eastern man covered from head to toe!

veiled message ?

like the concept, but not the pics they...picked lol. it's old. that's crap.
prefer new princess stuff
http://www.rhizome.org/editorial/2988
http://blog.vandalog.com/2009/09/princess-hijab/
http://nouvellemode.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/princess-hijab/

i think the pics they chose

i think the pics they chose are a little old. it doesn't show what's he's doing right now.
http://www.good.is/post/putting-on-the-veil/

shout out

Thanks for the comments. I just wanted to publicly thank Assya for her translation which helped me get to the root of Princess Hijab's message. Thanks again hun
Arwa XXXXXXXXXXXX

Some thoughts on visual terrorism

Several years ago a Brooklyn billboard depicting a semi-clothed Shakira was "defaced" by - presumably - religious Jews who reside in the vicinity of the billboard. No symbolic violence was perpetrated against Shakira. She was provided with a rather attractive shirt instead of what originally appeared to be an ill-fitting bustier.

My issue with sexually explicit billboards is this: in my workplace - and every office in which I have ever worked - it is considered innappopriate to post sexual images around one's desk, in the office environs, or on one's computer (for example, as wallpaper or as a screensaver). It's part of my employer's anti-sexual harassment policy. However, when I step outside the boundaries of my workplace and enter public space, I am subjected to all forms of offensive sexualized imagery, imagery that is harmful not just to other women, but to men, and - I think most of all - children.

This is as a much of an issue of public space/private space and what we have given away as citizens (used in a very broad sense to distinguish from the ubiquitous "consumer") in the name of modern capitalism. "Visual terrorism" - Princess Hijab's own words - is the pervasive, inescapable assault of advertising that can strike anywhere, any time. That's what terrorism is. You board the R train to go home at night and - wham - your face is a few inches from the most degrading beer advertisement this side of Hustler. I'm walking down the street and a bus goes whizzing by with a giant ad for "Nip/Tuck" emblazoned on its side. And, it never ends.

Incidentally, one the most impressive embodiments of feminism I ever met was an Iranian writer who even after moving to the U.S. continued wearing a hijab, but that's not my point in posting.

djihad-artistique

Consider this:

Since women are not allowed to make the same choices as men within the groups that use/require the hijab--- the arguments/rationalizations being put forth are moot.

To what choices are you

To what choices are you referring?

Hijab

I'm a religion writer and as I understand it from Muslim women I've interviewed, hijab is not a particular garment. It's not a headscarf. It's a style of dress that requires a woman to cover her body with loose-fitting clothing, leaving only her face and hands exposed.

I'd love it if some knowledgeable Muslim women would please weigh in and inform us about this usage.

Meanwhile, I think Western culture could stand to learn a little from Muslim women about valuing our bodies and our persons.

I said -- a little. I'm not advocating burqas and headscarves. But when we're heading for the mall, maybe we could wear jeans and T shirts that fully cover our rear ends and belly buttons.

Who do people hate more, muslims or women?

I'm not sure about the intent of Princess Hijab, but I think its important to get beyond our personal beliefs about religion and our personal preferences about how women should or should not dress. I think it is also important to understand the different cultural contexts that symbolic clothing, like hijab or burqas are worn in.

We western women, I think are prone to assume that if a woman is wearing hijab or burqa, it is because her male relatives are forcing her to. But do we know if the woman sitting next to us on the bus is wearing that short skirt because her controlling husband has threatened to leave her if she doesn't dress sexier? Or if a woman got a nose job in order to find or keep a man? We cannot know, and have no right to judge why other women make these decisions.

In a western country like France or the US, where women have the legal right to choose how to dress (or did until the French government got in the way of that), wearing burqa or hijab should be seen as what it is: a choice. Whether that choice is made from a place of empowerment or internalized oppression, we also cannot know or judge.

We, as women, should support other women's right to make these decisions for themselves. We can help inform other women's decisions with our experiences, but we should not condemn cultural traditions simply because they are not from our native culture. Especially in a post 9/11 world, we should realize that the cultural identity of Muslims in the western world is under attack. What we see as pro-woman, may seem anti-muslim from the other side.

I live in the Detroit Metro area, and there are a lot of Muslim-American women. Some wear hijab. Going to community college I met many young, outspoken women who wear hijab. Women aspiring to be doctors. Women who are outspoken when male teachers try to tell them they shouldn't be working during college (with no understanding of class differences). One girl I know converted when she married a Muslim man. For her, it wasn't very different from her Polish Catholic upbringing. I am an agnostic and I could never live that way. But she is happy and "oppressed" is not a word that would ever come to mind from someone who knew her.

Let's try to understand each other better! And realize that when we judge, we too are oppressors.

Reply

Your comment gives a lot of food for thought. - You're right, we have no idea what each individual woman's reasoning is behind her appearance choices. I like your point on plastic surgery choices and dressing revealingly - I bet if you asked most women what their true rationale was behind wearing revealing clothes or having cosmetic surgery and if they were answering honestly, I'd guess that factoring in men's opinion and perception of them play a significant part... In which case, how does choosing to wear a hijab to please your man differ from choosing to get a boob job or wear a sexy outfit to please your man? To my mind, both are much the same - making appearance choices to fit in with men's preferences which personally I find disappointing. I'd much prefer it if all women based their choices on what pleased them. But then again, to return to your point, who am I to judge what factors individual women should base their choices on? They should be free to choose for themselves what factors to consider / be influenced by e.g. religion, fashion, culture, practicality, tradition, comfort, or even men.

Hats off, a genius!

Bloody brilliant message, in my opinion. My Muslim friend holds the belief that many other Muslim women do--that her hijab isn't an oppressive restriction, but rather a form of modesty. While I understand the personal choice to wear one in order to honor your god, the issue isn't individual choices; the issue is the reasoning behind the cultural decision to wear one in the first place. The clash is so obvious: two cultures, one where women must be pure and "modest" lest they be deemed loose whores, preserved through subtle, cyclical oppression by hijab, vs. one where women are objectified on every billboard. The root of the problem is the lowered expectations for men, that they have this insatiable sexual thirst. One culture has decided to guard against this by restricting the women; the other, exploiting them. The idea that they are equally poor/dehumanizing solutions is magnificent. This binary is the essence of sexual oppression to women (and sometimes men), and Princess Hijab has found a brilliant, artistic light to view this in. Bravo.

Accidental re-visitation of my previous comment!

I was looking at her newest works and decided to look back at this (great) article...and stumbled upon my previous comment! I'd just like to add that I don't think I recognized the anti-consumerism streak in her work. In one, a fully clothed couple stands--she added veils over simply their mouths.

And dehumanization!

And dehumanization!

Excelelnt

Excelelnt to know of this Student endorsement. I am really enjoying reading your well written articles.

My Hijab, My Body, My Choice

One thing that continues to both frustrate and baffle me Is the hypocrisy of forcing someone to dress as you see fit to "save" them from the oppression of being forced to dress in the way you disagree with. I'm also irritated by the assumption that "the west knows best" that I couldn't possibly be an intelligent competent human being with the ability too even pick her own clothes. That of course I as a muslim woman must be micromanaged by some oppressive male relative. Is it that hard to believe that someone would choose something different. This is a message to all the feminists out there who want to make it their mission in life to save women like me. Stop making generalizations and assumptions. You loose all legitimacy when disagreeing with dress codes in conservative muslim countries when you support laws governing women's wardrobes like those in france.

I love what princess hijab is doing, I love that she's countering the ethnocentric narrative around the hijab and displaying it as something empowering. Bodies especially women's bodies have become marketing tool, the female body is commodity it's become a billion dollar business but to me my hijab means my body is my business.

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