Is feminism all about choice?Posted: March 19, 2011
There was a great post on Womanist Musings this week about turning the hijab into something sexy, that gives women power over their own appearance, rather than being a symbol of oppression (Pious Sexy Hijab). I really enjoyed the post, and admired the moves that this feminist is making to push women’s rights as a Muslim. But I did question whether actually the Hijab could ever be adopted by feminists, or whether it is too much a symbol of oppression, putting all the responsibility for modesty onto females, and so many women are bullied into wearing it (even if others chose to). I haven’t kept the discussion on that post going, as I obviously upset people there, and really didn’t mean to be trolling on someone else’s blog.
But the responses have been really thought-provoking for me. They argue that feminism is all about giving women choices. And I’m not sure that I agree with this.
Oppression is all about having choice taken away from you. That is why incarceration is used as a punishment – it not only prevents you harming wider society, but you are no longer able to make your own choices about how you live your life. Similarly, poverty can so undermine people because they have no choice over their life, and so removing people from poverty is giving them control over their lives, and the ability to make their own decisions.
But is feminism the same thing as freedom from oppression? Is it enough to want women living under extreme regimes the right to chose how they position their hijab? While this is obviously an incredibly important right, to be free from oppression, it is a different argument to the feminist argument of equality.
Because although the hijab can be a choice that some women make, it will never be a symbol of equality. Men are still not asked to cover up to preserve their modesty.
Sometimes, equality isn’t about choices. To take a completely different example, some women choose to work in lap-dancing clubs, and say that they feel empowered by making this choice. But as a feminist, I’m always going to argue against these clubs. This is because of the wider implications about how women are viewed, for the safety records around lap-dancing clubs, and for the women who are exploited through the normalisation of the sex industry. So although it is preventing a choice for some women, as a feminist I will argue against lap-dancing.
I’m not trying to equate wearing a Hijab with lap-dancing, as I know they are completely different issues. But I do argue that feminism isn’t about giving women the right to choose anything they want. It is about fighting for women to be treated equally to men. To not be discriminated against, to not be judged by their sex, to not be treated differently because they are women. And perhaps we have to give up some choices for that to happen.
I’m also not really saying that feminism is more important than freedom from oppression. I’m lucky that I live in the privileged position I do, so that feminism can be so important to me. And I am sure that @woodturtle_blog (the author of the Pious Sexy Hijab post) is having a much greater impact on the world than I am. The issue of oppression and poverty is immediate and hugely important. But I don’t think it’s the same as feminism.
For me, feminism isn’t about choice. It’s about equality.