The Oxford Dictionary (OD) defines feminism as ‘The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’. Subsequently, we can argue that most non-bigoted individuals are automatically ‘feminists’ (a person who supports feminism-OD), after all, who, in a civilised, western society where liberation is undoubtedly at its peak, would oppose the idea of women possessing equal rights to men?
Yet as a Western woman, why is it that I, and many like myself, hesitate as to whether or not to adopt the label of ‘feminist’ today?
Alongside the discrepancies of current feminist campaigns and attitudes, here are 2, (slightly in-depth) reasons why:
1. Define the ‘liberated’ woman?
Ironically, some Western feminists appear to have a preconceived idea of the ultimate ‘liberated woman’; an ideal which should be universally accepted as the epitome of ‘free’. To some, a woman who chooses to cover herself with a hijab or niqab due to her faith apparently defies this preconceived notion.
If a feminist defines his or herself as advocating a woman’s right to choose basic freedoms including how to dress, then it would be natural to assume that he or she will universally support a woman’s right to dress how she pleases, whether that’s covered or uncovered. Why do we then have, not only resentment (which although unpleasant, is perfectly acceptable), but physical opposition from feminists calling for or supporting the ban of garments such as the niqab in public places? Whilst understanding and accepting its need for removal for identification in public buildings including banks and airports (for which a woman who may wear such garments is obligated by her faith to comply with nonetheless), why should a supposedly, none-interfering government dictate whether a woman can cover or not? Where are the feminists campaigning for the women whose right to dress freely has been revoked by law?
Similarly, why are those who choose to cover by wearing wear a niqab or even a hijab, looked upon by others with pity or as oppressed in the first place? Despite most people accepting that Western Muslim women who wear these garments do so willingly, many follow this acknowledgement with an insinuation that the hijab and niqab signify oppression, largely due to the fact that unjustifiably, many women in different parts of the world are forced to wear it. It is a travesty that there are women who are forced to wear such clothing due to social customs, and more needs to be done to educate those who justify coercing women to wear niqabs, hijabs and abayas, for ‘religious’ reasons, yet are ignorant to the Islamic principles they break whilst doing so.
“There is no compulsion in religion.”
The holy Quran 2:256
As a woman who chose to wear the hijab recently, I recognise that it is this very choice which allows a Muslim woman to appreciate that the hijab is much more than what its basic purpose serves. Compelling a woman to adopt such clothing deprives her of experiencing the spiritual enhancement and beauty that encompasses it.
Having said this, why should Western Muslims be expected to deprive themselves of their right to wear a certain item of clothing for their beliefs, purely due to the fact that men abroad are abusing it as a means of control? Arguably, a similar kind of abuse occurs by men controlling female dress in the music, film and modelling industries, here in the West. Is this not the same kind of abuse, albeit with different clothing? Although not as extreme, should Western women also boycott and be shamed for choosing to wear mini-skirts, and bikinis?
2. Too simplistic
Modern-day feminism is simplified, with many disregarding the fact that despite men and women deserving equal rights in society for basic freedoms including education, voting, and dressing; men and women are physically and emotionally different. While society should treat men and women equally, it should accommodate the fact that men and women are not the same. For example, if we analyse the distasteful ‘if a woman hits a man, it’s only fair to allow a man to hit her back’ arguments; whilst both acts deserve to be reprimanded and socially condoned, the proposal that the impact of the average woman assaulting the average man is akin to the impact of the average man assaulting the average woman is unreasonable for obvious reasons; the average man is physically stronger than the average woman, therefore more harm would be anticipated.
Dismissing these differences also leads to feminist campaigns which are, put simply, naive; for example the #FreeTheNipple campaign, which advocates the belief that society should change its current social codes to accept women walking in public whilst topless as a norm. It argues that to socially accept a man, but not a woman to walk topless in public, is to perpetuate double-standards.
On paper, the idea appears plausible; this is the 21st century and partial nudity isn’t exactly scandalous to most in the Western world. Yet in practice, it neglects the social implications including the obvious distractions, and emotional harm that may result to both men and women. The campaign attempts to acknowledge this by advocating a form of human social-engineering, which aims to de-sexualise the breast, in the hope of removing any potential commotion. Nevertheless, the idea of conditioning men and women into accepting naked breasts as the norm not only appears unrealistic but also pretentious.
Not wanting to condemn a whole group, it should be noted that many feminist agendas over the last 100 years have instilled a whole lot of goodness for our society. However, what it means to be a feminist today is skewed. Negative attitudes and ignorance targeting the choices of women from different cultures or faiths, as well as desperately clawing for the idea that society will not be truly liberated until women and men are perceived as the SAME instead of equal, results in many women like myself who may not adhere to the typical feminist code of thinking or dress, to distance ourselves from such a label despite the good that has come from it.
Every man and woman should be able to act and dress, how they please, providing no harm will arise from it, without having feel shame or fear for doing so.