Give me a break. Sometimes I get so infuriated as an American Muslim woman. I am constantly bombarded with notions that I am oppressed because my religion asks me to behave and appear modestly. And it is not just that these notions are wrong – because Muslim men are asked the same thing and it is people and culture, not Islam, that oppresses women (something here isn’t fully clear).
But what really irks me is how the “modern American woman” is flaunted in my face as the example of women’s liberation in response to Islam’s oppressive tendencies. Women definitely have freedoms here, freedoms that Islam fully encouraged before the advent of “America,” that are denied to them in many other places in the world (Muslim and non-Muslim countries). We can go to school, work, vote, run for office, drive. But what bothers me is not what women can or can not do in America, it is how they are perceived.
For all the advances in women’s rights, women are still viewed as primarily sexual objects. In our city, a particular company offering short, medium, and long-term insurance represented the different options with pictures of a prostitute, girlfriend, and wife… as if a wife is simply a long-term hooker… that the common purpose of all three is that she is a source of sexual gratification!
I was once perusing a message board and somebody posed a question, “Michelle or Palin?” I clicked on the question, expecting some sort of political discussion. Instead, the question was, “Who is hotter?” Why beauty pageants still exist and are televised is a mystery to me. You would have to live in a bubble to not see how sexual images of women, especially female body parts, are used in media and advertising.
Don’t get me wrong… I consider myself a feminist because I think we have a long way to go before women are treated equally in any society. But I detest the prevailing feminist rhetoric in this county that I must give up my religious principles, or even a universal principle of modesty, to prove that I’m free! If anything, feminism is fighting for the right of a woman to choose how she lives her life. Well… newsflash. I choose Islam – and everything that comes with it.
(As a side note, there is an interesting scene in the movie “Mona Lisa Smile” in which Julia Roberts’ character is encouraging one of her students not to “give up” her professional career to stay at home after marriage. The student (Julia Stiles’ character) responds that this is what she chooses… and why can’t she do what she chooses? This, I felt, exposed one of the flaws in several “liberal” movements – that other should conform to a particular brand of liberalism, not realizing that they should really support people’s free choices.)
Bhawana Kamil lives in Santa Clara, CA with her husband and daughter. She is pursuing a Masters degree in Philosophy, head of Strive Tutoring and heads her local Muslim American Society Outreach Department – but only on the side. Her real job is watching (and hopefully helping) her little girl grow up!