Clothing conceals religious patriarchy
Through fashion, women historically
By Othman O'Malley
when thinking about the hijab, the head and body covering worn by Muslim women,
we do not think of how it affects the male mindset. It is not enough to think
of the hijab as an institution, a cultural institution that affects women. The
hijab is a visible manifestation of deep-seated patriarchal tendencies within
religion itself, especially within the three Abrahamic faiths. Women may wear
the hijab, but the hijab is much more about men than women.
The concept of women covering their hair for the sake of modesty is not an
exclusively Muslim concept. Look at Mary's outfit in any nativity scene. She is
wearing long and loose fitting cloths and invariably, she has a scarf on her
head. She would fit right into crowds in Cairo or Tehran.
When women hold an audience with the pope, as Condoleezza Rice and Lady Bush of
Crawford know, they must place a bit of fabric on their heads and it is usually
lace and usually black, much like at a funeral. Quite dour colors for a meeting
with the vicar of Christ, no? Orthodox Jewish women are required to cover their
hair with a piece of fabric, the tichel.
So here we are. All three Abrahamic faiths lay some claim to women's clothing.
Who says fashion is not a religion? So why is it that the obvious claim that
these faiths are misogynistic (strongly prejudiced against women) is so
Abrahamic religions were revealed to men, led by men and interpreted by men.
Sure, there are prominent women in these faiths. Christians, Jews and Muslims
cite Mary, Esther or Khadija respectively. But think of what they are
In reverse order, Khadija is prominent because she was the wife of the Prophet
Mohammed. Esther is prominent for saving the Jews of Persia through her
capacity as the wife of a powerful man. Mary is notable for giving birth to
Jesus. So we have three women who are revered for doing things that men cannot
do, namely giving birth and marrying men.
One can only imagine who would have received credit for bringing Jesus in the
world if both men and women could reproduce. And even Mary could not have given
birth the way that all women do. She had to remain a virgin for her to be
accepted by the patriarchy.
So why am I mentioning the hijab as it relates to Arab and Muslim society and
its women? It is because this practice which is universal in the Abrahamic
tradition is most prominently practiced in the Arab and Muslim world. The
spiritual assault on women by men who guard religious interpretation as their
exclusive province is not unique to Islam, but it exists within Islam.
Do women need men to define for them what is modest and what is not? And does she
need to suppress her own sexual identity and vitality so that men, as I have so
often heard, do not succumb to temptation? This mindset places all
responsibility to remain modest on women and absolutely none on men. It is,
after all, a patriarchy. This, I contend, is absolute poison.
What is more absurd than the religious conception of women are the supposed
benefits of wearing the hijab. It supposedly prevents women from being
The suppression of sexual identity and preoccupation with the moral leanings of
women does not objectify women? The very premise of this fabric-based sexual
segregation is that men and women are objects. They are sexual objects that
must be kept apart because of their nature.
Enough of these silly revisions of what the hijab is. Sure, the hijab is freely
worn by millions of Muslim women. But let us not fool ourselves and forget its
history. It is a descendant of the religious patriarchal claims on the female
mind and body. These religious assaults on women not only affect women, but
corrode the minds of men as well.
Othman is a senior in political science and as immodest as he is, even he
cannot gather the strength to wear a Speedo.