I chanced upon a Facebook post today about the launch of a hijab wearing Barbie and needless to say it has unleashed a barrage of animated responses. I avoid getting into any kind of Twitter or FB wars but the arguments sparked a debate in my mind as well.
Was the new Barbie glorifying what is widely believed to be a symbol of oppression? Or does it instead stand for values of acceptance and tolerance? Can we say with conviction that all women wearing the hijab are oppressed? Is liberation defined by what we wear or by the maturity of thoughts in our mind?
This could work both ways. It’s actually another example of how quickly we fall prey to stereotypes – external appearances have always determined how we perceive a person. This superficial evaluation only succeeds in misleading us and more often than not, in clouding our judgement. Yet we never learn.
We simply cannot assume that all women wearing the hijab are oppressed. It could be that they feel more comfortable wearing one as that may be the effect of the culture they have grown up in. If it is a choice that they have made for themselves, we must respect their freedom to exercise it without labelling them as regressive. Even if that choice has been the outcome of their upbringing, they are totally within their rights to adhere to a dress code they are familiar with.
But as I said it needs to work both ways if we want to create an atmosphere of harmony and empowerment. As long as the women wearing a hijab do not impose the same on their daughters and not even for a moment believe that their dress code is the only way that defines grace and dignity in a woman, they are completely justified in their choice.
Why not perceive the hijab as just a fabric covering the head – why must we classify a woman who wears it (or doesn’t) into a certain category? Neither should the hijab stand for oppression nor should it be glorified as a measure of a woman’s decency or character. Neither should a hijab wearing woman be dismissed as submissive nor should a conventionally or unconventionally dressed woman be labelled as “immodest” or “provocative”. Why are we reducing a woman merely to the clothes she wears?
If we want true empowerment for women, it’s also we women who need to liberate ourselves from the temptation to assume. And why are we only singling out the hijab? What about the countless other stereotypes that abound about women, by women, among women? Even today in most of the Oriental cultures a “good” girl is one who knows how to cook and make perfectly round chapattis and any new bride that deviates from this is given a hard time by her own kind.
Leave the hijab wearing Barbie alone – let her attire be an example of our diversity as a race, an expression of our freedom to choose and of our liberated minds that are open and secular.