Still thinking about Saudi and the “tempting eyes”

Yesterday, I quickly threw up a post about how Saudi Arabi is trying to pass a law that women in Saudi to cover their eyes….Check it out on The Daily Beast.

My thoughts about this are endless — I find my self in a tizzy about the idea of extremes. In other words, I don’t think we can dictate what other cultures perceive as empowerment. Shrouding – wearing a hijab – may be understood by the Western Feminist as oppression, but it is not always understood by the wearer a source oppression. Let me give you two popular culture references to the opposing opinion. First, an old episode of Jack and Bobbie, which btw was a really good show – you should check it out. In this episode Christine Lahti’s character tears into a Muslim girl’s identity and belief in God as unevolved, uneducated and oppressed. The girl, Hebba responds that wearing a Hijab is part of her ‘liberation’ – fast forward to the second minute to see Hebba’s argument:

Secondly, look at this cartoon:

Clearly – this cartoon about the western feminist perspective’s failure to understand a Muslim woman’s desire to wear a hijab.  So, my point is – I get the complexity here – the idea that there are  women who wear a hijab and still maintain a sense of empowerment and who am I to tell them that they are wrong – that my kind of empowerment is the only kind? And furthermore, I tend to think that we have to – absolutely must – allow for “choice.”

… but I also recognize extremes – which often result from choices that are made in an uneducated, abusive  or oppressed context – I think that porn stars often fall into this category and so can women who are illiterate or uneducated and completely shrouded -or women who are subjected to female castration without a genuine understanding of the consequences. In my gut I feel that this cannot be a state of empowerment because it represents a fanatic extreme that is based on a patriarchal of kyriarchal state. Does it look like empowerment to you?

Still – it’s complicated right — more complicated than we originally think. It is so easy to fall into the trap of seeing your perspective as the right one – but this of course is the flaw of colonialism and conversion – which if you ask me have been at the root of most major atrocities.  And yet — I find myself asking once again…

WTF – What constitutes tempting eyes?


7 responses

  1. I myself am a Muslim woman living in the Middle East, I wear the Hijab and am proud of it. I personally don’t know any Hijab wearing lady that was oppressed into wearing the Hijab. In the Middle East many of my Hijab wearing friends are highly educated even more than their brothers. We can work if we want, but our husbands are obliged to provide for us and our children, he’s not allowed in Islam to take any sum out of our salaries, and we aren’t obligated to provide any of our personal income to our households whatsoever. We are also provide with an allowance, even if we work, and clothes and all of our other needs. I think the west is given the wrong impression about Muslim women, Of course there are always a minority that aren’t following Islamic rulings towards women due to them being uneducated and not practicing Muslims.

    • Thanks Selma for voicing your views – I would love to hear more – like do you and your friends have jobs and if so what kinds of jobs? Also, do you view the hajib as empowering and how do you frame it that way?

      I am sure the West’s story with regards to Muslim women is not the whole story because that is often the pattern – a tendency to normalize that which is familiar and critique the unfamiliar. Does your culture do this? Criticize western women and men?

      • I’m completely late to this party, but i’ll second Selma above. I’m also living in the Middle East, I’m a proud hijabi Muslimah …and a Caucasian American *gasp* Yes, we actually exist. I chose to convert to Islam …erm 8 years ago, just about. I’ve been wearing hijab for all 8 years. I do not consider it any form of oppression, it is my choice to wear hijab, and quite the contrary, it is quite freeing for me. I’m entirely judged based on my talent, ability, and mind with no consideration to physical appearance or social status. I work as the head Elementary/Middle School teacher at an Islamic school in rural Egypt. I’ve been promoted higher up the ranks quicker than I ever would have been in the US. Like Selma mentioned above; my husband takes care of all of the finances for the home and for me. My income is my own. This all goes back to the concept that pretty much all Islamic rulings fall under rights and responsibilities being different but proportionate. My husband is responsible for me, the home, and our children. I’m responsible for their welfare, education, and the day to day running of the house. If I so request he is also responsible for providing someone for cleaning. I have the time and the ability so I *chose* to take care of that. Every bit of my own income is my own (and I happen to make 3x more than he does *oops* :p )
        For me the hijab is liberating, I’m not sure I’d say “empowering” because I don’t believe anyTHING can be empowering, that is internal. It is liberating however, it frees me from the material concerns and worries over being judged on base standards. The only thing people can judge me on are my actions and words. I am free to shine. If I were judged on my looks, yeah, not so great for me. but when all folks have to judge me on is my ability I shine. I’ll point to the show “The Voice” for a good comparison.
        “Criticize western women and men?”
        Well because so much of American culture has become global culture thanks to Hollywood, not so much. There isn’t very much “unfamiliar” to the Middle East. That’s not to say the West isn’t criticized, it is…but it’s not based on ignorance or misunderstanding. They certainly like to take the Western idea of “dating” and “hooking up” and make it the running joke… :/ not saying that is right, just a fact.

      • Well said – although I still have to question a world in which we need to conceal our bodies to be heard…isn’t this still a world that favors freedom for males and “forces” women to adjust accordingly – therefor continuing a state of female oppression – because a woman literally has to cover her womanly body in order to have a voice…

      • I’m not sure why there isn’t a reply button under your last comment, but…
        “although I still have to question a world in which we need to conceal our bodies to be heard…”
        I’m not sure where it came across that a woman HAD to… in Islam you SHOULD though it has nothing to do with “being heard” or whatnot. In Egypt only about 70% of women cover, the rest do not for reasons of religion (10% Christian minority, 3% who are neither religion, as well as secular women of Muslim faith who do not chose to wear hijab) even in my school there are 4 women of 24 who do not chose to cover and still work at an Islamic school. They are perfectly successful in their professional lives. I was more comparing my life here choosing to be covered than in the US covered and not covered.
        I’ll write more once I’m back from work… but do you know that men also must follow a type of hijab of they are correctly practicing Muslims? Do you know what the word “hijab” even means? *will continue in about 7 hours

      • Alicia – I look forward to your comment — I am excited by the info you have to share and believe you are really going to help me to have a deeper understanding of this issue. Awesome.

  2. It’s hard to see shrouded eyes as empowering, whether a law forces it or whether women accept it because they believe they must (God wants it, I have no other choice, or whatever). I wonder how often something is truly ok verses how often it is claimed to be because a woman has no other choice. (Really, I don’t want to vote, drive or see clearly. Yet not voting or driving or seeing clearly are clearly disempowering.)

    Thanks for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

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