American Feminism

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

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!

About Marwa Aly
  • M. Landers

    I was recently in a conversation online about FGM in which, in presenting the point that the practice is entirely about a culture of the subjugation of women, a (non-Muslim, American) woman pointed out a photo in an article on Somalia and said something to the effect of “notice, they’re all in hijab …” The internet hid mine own. It also in effect hid my backing out of the conversation right there because really, when you’re trying to talk about a serious issue is it worth getting diverted into a debate about clothes? But at the same time I couldn’t continue on while just letting it pass. A lot of people pushing hijab=oppression don’t seem to realize how effectively that position itself can silence a Muslim woman’s voice sometimes.

  • Mahaezz

    I share your frustration Bhawana! Feminism is sometimes used to brand a specific lifestyle–that in truth is anything BUT feminist if you think about it!

    It is extremely infuriating though to convince someone who doesn’t see it that way.

  • Maryam

    JAK for the post. I agree with everything you said! The typical western feminist has a secret. Beneath all her claims that she is free and equal, she has this deep seated insecurity that women ARE actually inferior to men. And so she feels she has to compensate for that and prove her worth by competing with men. But she never really does, no matter how hard she tries. Because by entering into a competition with men, she has already bought into the false belief that what a man is, has, and does is better. She has given up true freedom because she has allowed the external world to determine how she perceives herself and each gender. She fails to recognize that true freedom lies within, with the belief that she IS free, she IS equal, and that nothing and no one can ever change that truth, no matter how she is treated or perceived out there. But no, she believes women have to earn her rights and fight for her freedom. In order to be ‘free’ and ‘equal,’ she believes a woman has to dress (or not dress) a certain way, have certain preferences, and pursue a certain lifestyle…. and that any other way of living a woman may choose (such as dressing modestly or becoming a housewife) makes a woman less or unequal. Is that way of thinking really freedom? I think not. The very beliefs she thinks are helping her are actually limiting her, and that’s why she refuses to see things differently, no matter how hard you may try to convince her. She has imprisoned herself in her own mind. It’s actually very sad, really.