[the biography] Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life, states that although Stanton is well-known for her involvement in the women’s rights movement, she descended to some rather ugly racist rhetoric along the lines of, ‘Only we educated, virtuous white women are more worthy of the vote’ … That is where my disagreement with Stanton is strongest: Whose rights are you going to put down in the process of demanding your own?”
There has always been racism within the various mainstream Feminist movements. From Suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who spent a lifetime advocating that black women should never have the same Constitutional rights as white women, all the way up to our modern age with Sarkozy’s France and FEMEN claiming that Muslim women should not have the right to choose how to dress themselves as they see fit.
I focus here on the debate over the hijab, the Islamic head-cloth that many Muslim women choose to wear, because for me it has direct parallels to the same logic and reasoning found in many Pro-Choice and Sexual Rights movements operating today; that is, that every woman should have the freedom to choose what they want to do with their bodies. Control over her body and the freedom to decide the course of her own life is critical not just to woman’s civil rights but all human rights as well. The fact that the people—-who seem blind to their own racial privileges and use xenophobia and Islamophobia to support their cause—-just happen to be women does not strengthen their arguments, it simply shows that we still live in a time and place where the dominate culture feels that it has the right to declare who gets to be called a Feminist and what a Feminist should look like.
Writing in her essay, Does Your Lifestyle Make You Unworthy of Feminism? Noor Al-Sibai says:
The term “Lifestyle Feminism” became a buzzword in the second wave of Feminism during the 1960’s and 70’s (in the Western-centric view of “Waves” of Feminism). The term, as defined by influential writer Bell Hooks in Feminism is For Everybody, is “the notion that there could be as many versions of Feminism as there were women”. It is the recognition—-or rather, the lack thereof—-of the fact that there is as much plurality within Feminism as there are Feminists that’s been troubling me recently. Many Feminists of all flavors (queer, fat, etc.) seem to be engaged in policing who can and can’t identify as a Feminist based purely on their own preferences and lifestyle choices. While this sort of internal division and conflict is nothing new (like when Black Feminism and Womanism split from mainstream Feminism, or the Feminist Sex/Porn wars of the 80’s and 90’s), it has reached a peculiar pinnacle when it comes to specific lifestyle choices such as the decision to engage in sex work (defined broadly as anything from webcam porn to stripping to escorting), or the decision to be a Muslim and wear a hijab …
I find the disassociation between fighting for the right of women to have freedom of choice over their own bodies when it comes to sexual reproduction but not when it comes to faith, fashion or lifestyle utterly bizarre. The fact that in 2013 there are still Feminists who are not only attacked and silenced by the larger “White Imperial Patriarchal culture,” as Bell Hooks points out, but also by members within their own struggle disastrous on all levels. I am not Muslim but as long as there are women in this world who choose to wear a hijab then I will help fight for their right to do so. That is, after all, what freedom of choice is all about.
The photos I use here were taken from various Muslim Feminist websites I read as I was writing this essay. The last, of the woman wearing the tiara, is Obabiyi Aishah Ajibola, from Nigeria, who was crowned 2013 World Muslimah in Jakarta.