The #DearSister tweets on Twitter, started by Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, bring to light many blatant double standards between men and women within the Muslim community. The tweets touched on various issues, everything from the Madonna-Whore Complex to not being able to accept Muslim women as strong, independent individuals who can also be good Muslims.
In light of women’s history month, I want to bring attention to another issue that has long plagued our community: the double standards Muslim women, both hijabi and non-hijabi, are held to, not just by Western society but also by their own communities.
As a Muslim woman who grew up in a Post-911 world, I have come to understand and sadly accept, that no matter how nice and outspoken I am, non-Muslims will always feel more comfortable sitting next to my unveiled friend. It seems a common belief that Muslim women who wear a hijab are more likely a hateful person who totally rejects Western values. When I speak up about women’s rights, sexual harassment, or domestic violence at my school’s newspaper meetings, I’m always greeted with puzzled and confused stares. Even if my colleagues don’t believe I am anything like Tashfeen Malik, they still see me as a foreigner (no matter how many times I tell them I was born here) who is incapable of speaking up for herself, much less for other women. In the eyes of many people, the non-hijabi is perceived to be the “good” one, because it is assumed that she is more modern and liberated.
Now within the Muslim community, the hijabi is often seen as “the perfect Muslim woman”, because it is believed that the hijab somehow has made her completely innocent and pure. In order to fulfill this image of a Muslim woman, you must dress, speak and behave a certain way. If you don’t comply with these requirements, expect to be ostracized or constantly reminded that no man is going to marry you. You are not expected to be outspoken or speak about taboo issues because it is considered inappropriate for you.
The woman that doesn’t wear a hijab is held to her own set of double standards as well. On one hand she is seen as a sinner, turn cloak, and self-hater; it is also perceived that she must be “loose”, that she must be “boy crazy”, because obviously it is her fault if men cannot control themselves, right?
The woman who doesn’t wear a hijab is expected to be outspoken; it may not be acceptable, but most Muslims will deem it to be more tolerable. She can discuss controversial issues such as sexuality or abortion and not be told she has no shame, she can say she’s a feminist and not be seen as a hypocrite.
Muslims living in Western nations often complain about how hijabis are not given a fair share in the workforce, and are often discriminated against during job interviews. Although this is true, Westerners are not alone in this practice. In many Muslim majority countries throughout the world, women who wear a hijab are seen as marriageable but not fit for hiring. I remember speaking with a taxi driver in Beirut about his daughter, he expressed irritation at how limited her job opportunities were since she wears the hijab. He admitted that her only job opportunities in Lebanon were to either become a teacher or a housewife. In addition to this, up until now it is extremely rare to see a news anchor wearing a hijab on any Arabic channel, including Aljazeera.
The only solution is that all Muslim women show unity and solidarity with each other.