Lollipops and pearls have been used to describe women – specifically women in hijab for some time now. I don’t remember ever taking issue with the pearl metaphor. But the lollipop seems a bit more alarming. Two lollipops stand side by side: one is covered and a fly passes by the other which is uncovered and several flies are feeding off of it. Though there is no perfect metaphor, at least from a woman’s point of view, it’s frightening to imagine that men only find us worthy of respect when we are covered. Yes it is true, and I hope anyone with common sense would agree, that women can dress in some ways that could attract sexual attention. However, this lollipop message is presumably for Muslims. Muslim women aren’t the only ones seeing this, Muslim men are seeing it too. It’s dangerous to present it, as the natural cause and effect that uncovered women will get sexual attention or harassment from men. Men are told to lower their gaze and so why aren’t we promoting that moral excellence to men? The lollipop ad could have easily shown the uncovered lollipop being harassed by one fly while the majority of flies fly away, representing the reality that some men will harass women they find dressed in a sexually attractive way but also promoting the ideal of Muslim men lowering their gaze.
The double standard isn’t a blasé issue. It affects us in real life. I’ve known many Muslim men who deeply respect Muslim women and would never approach one disrespectfully but are blatantly willing to flirt with non-Muslim women and even get into romantic relationships with them. While our scholars were showing Muslim women, they are more protected when they are like a lollipop with a wrapper, they forgot to tell the men that women –wrapper or not (meaning Muslim or non-Muslim) deserve their respect and are never a legitimate target for objectification. We have a million messages each day telling us how great wearing a hijab is. We need an equal effort telling men how wonderful respecting all women is.
Men versus women
I recall an incident with my nephew. I was wearing an abaya and a black hijab, as is my usual outfit when I visit the Arab world. “Aunty, I can see your chest,” my nephew alerted me. So I quickly looked down and was shocked to find my hijab out of place and my chest exposed. I immediately covered it up and thanked my then five-year-old nephew. His father overheard this exchange and said something that I hope my little nephew will never forget. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the exact words so I won’t quote but he told him he shouldn’t be looking or worried about women’s bodies, that it was his job to look away. Had my brother-in-law not been there, my nephew would have left that small incident thinking he’d done me a favor, which he did. But he would not have been informed of what his ultimate role as a man out in the world would be –to lower his gaze, turn his eyes away and never make women the subject of harassment because of their appearance.
And for women, though I think the pearl metaphor is subtler and has its own beauty, I don’t think it’s best we see ourselves as pearls or lollipops. In fact I’m not sure any metaphor is really necessary. And women who don’t want to cover should not be seen by men as a legitimate subjects of objectification, lollipops awaiting fly infestation, no woman fits that metaphor.