Wearing a hijab isn’t inherently liberating – but neither is baring one’s breasts. What is liberating is being able to choose either of these things. It’s pretty ludicrous to think that oppression is somehow proportional to how covered or uncovered someone’s body is. Both sides of this argument present a shallow understanding of women’s empowerment, which only drowns out the substantive challenges facing all women – issues that cannot be encapsulated in a debate about a piece of fabric.
Reblogging because the fundamental flaw in the way we talk about empowerment is this: we allow the observer to determine what it means. Empowerment is not about how you feel about what I’m wearing. It’s not about what I’m wearing at all. Empowerment is about having the security of place in the world so that I have the ability to choose a path (including dress) that does not predicate safety or respect on what I’m wearing.
This means that if I call myself a feminist, and I do: I cannot tell someone else that the hijab, chador, or burqa is oppressive to them when they are telling me otherwise. It means that I don’t get to tell someone at a con that wearing a costume that is highly revealing, is a form of self-objectification (which is such a ridiculous term that it makes my head hurt) when they’re telling me how powerful they feel being to embrace their own sexuality and strength. It means we need to keep talking about how other people are portraying us, but we also really need to learn to step off when we’re talking about the choices of real people.
Empowerment means having power to make choices for ourselves, not codifying what those choices should be. We don’t have to like other people’s choices, but that has nothing to do with being a feminist or fighting to empower ourselves. When we think it does, we are still allowing the dominant gaze to tell us what is okay about ourselves.
How screwed up is that?