My Not-So-Funny Valentine

Valentine’s Day isn’t a day where women can just forget about all the problems we face as a gender every day of the year. This parody of Valentine cards has a decent aim: to remind us that just because we may receive a card or some flowers one day out of the year,–or two, if you count International Women’s Day in March–we still have a lot of problems to face (domestic violence, for example).

But cartoonist Ann Telnaes’ Valentine is so off-putting that her message is nearly drowned out. Specifically, the one in the lower left-hand corner. The caption, “Be Mine” is a grim reinforcement to the shackle placed around this woman’s neck: “She’s property. Get it? GET IT?!”

Not only that, but she’s in full niqab. All you can see is her heavily-painted googly eyes, which signify that she’s brainwashed? Just plain stupid? I don’t know, but we definitely don’t get the impression that she’s in full possession of her own faculties.

What irritates me most about this picture of a shackled niqabi is what it stands for. Pictures of women in niqab are becoming cultural shorthand for both “Muslim woman” and “oppressed,” two terms which are not necessarily synonymous. Adding a shackle just concretizes the “oppressed” layer.

I’m not trying to downplay that there are women who have to endure (or fall victim to) the horrific things portrayed in these Valentines. But some of the pictures indicate a very narrow view of what a “liberated” woman should do or be. You can’t be liberated and be a Muslim woman who wears niqab, you can’t be liberated and want to have lots of children, etc.

In my opinion, a more effective anti-Valentine or violence-against-women-awareness campaign would ditch the cartoony stereotypes and feature pictures of real women who have undergone real trauma. Humanizing a problem is more effective than assigning it a mascot.

Telnaes’ work is often featured on the western feminist news site Women’s eNews. Let’s hope her narrow vision of liberation isn’t one that’s shared by her colleagues.

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  • Duniya

    Hmm…I can see the criticisms but I also see the artists point. Some could argue that you can’t wear the niqab and be liberated at the same time. Just as some would argue that showing your breasts on “Girls Gone Wild” is actually not liberation. There has to be some definition to liberation and some limit. Liberation cannot be whatever we define it as. Otherwise, that would allow those in power, who are often oppresses of liberation, to define liberation too – and I’m not sure I would want some sheikh telling me what it means to be a liberated Muslim. Just as I wouldn’t want some sleazy video maker telling me. I guess, the point is that not everything a woman does is feminist nor good for women. But then again my biases are coming through as I too feel that the niqab is oppressive and ultimately a tool to control women. But good analysis though :)

  • Duniya

    btw…”In my opinion, a more effective anti-Valentine or violence-against-women-awareness campaign would ditch the cartoony stereotypes and feature pictures of real women who have undergone real trauma. Humanizing a problem is more effective than assigning it a mascot.”I agree!


    I don’t wear niquab but I do wear a scarf on my head. I think that the picture is biased. Although a small percentage of Muslim women wear niquab it is important to understand that the most feminist act is the act of choice and the practice of being an individual. I’ve met some fierce women in niquab and there are times that I wonder how it feels. There are moments when I would like to go out into America with a niquab. But I personally think it would be without the right intention. I understand your need to define liberation but I think that what we might find is the way in which the definition acts to exclude and universalize certain standards. I don’t think we should fear multiple ways of being a woman in the world and I think that niquabi sisters have a right to speak for themselves instead of being silenced by simplistic ideas of modesty or someone else’s interpretation of oppression.

  • Duniya

    I know what you are saying but would you say that the women dancing more than half naked in hip hop music videos are liberated? Most of them do it of their own choice. Most of the them would proudly say that they are liberated. Or would you say they are being ojectified and exploited by men for the pleasure of men? My problem with the niqab is not just that women wear it – it’s also that the women who wear it seem to be believe that they are somehow better people in the eyes of God. This is wrong as there is nothing in Islam that neither mandates nor even encourages the niqab. Nothing. So I feel insulted when women say that something as constricting and restricted as the niqab would be encouraged by the God I worship. Anyhow, that is just my rant against the niqab. I certainly have strong feelings against it just as I have strong feelings against women exposing their bodies and sexualizing themselves for the pleasure of men.

  • Carol

    To draw a cartoon, you have to use a visual shorthand to convey your message. It has to read as an instant joke, like a banana peel makes you fall down. It’s a one two punch, like the lady with the black eyes will tell you.So, yes, the artist is making the point that a niquab seems like an uptight way to have to dress, at the least, and that it smack of a bondage, at the most. As a woman who wears facial exposing clothes every day of her life, heck, I’m inclined to agree. The point of the cartoons doesn’t have to be that every instance of a woman in a niquab is total property, or that every woman having 20 kids is unhappy with it. Just that some are. And it seems troubling. Also, violence against women contrasted with pretending to be nice to women on valentines. Ann Telnaes is a sharp artist, I’m I’m glad to have found out about her.


    I used to feel similar to you Duniya about niquab but something changed inside of me so I understand your sentiments. I used to feel that “they have it so wrong” but not anymore. Maybe it is because I see that people have the same attitude towards me as they do a niquabi because I wear a scarf on my head. And I thought: Wow that really is not fair. I felt that they were projecting all their opinions about hijab or negative experiences about hijabis onto me. I don’t feel superior to a Muslim woman whose locks flow in the summer breeze at all while I know many hijabis who do. I’ve been personally accosted by niquabis because I don’t cover my face but I chalked it up to ignorance and arrogance. So UN-humble!At the same time, I do believe there is space within both Islam and feminism for niquabi sisters. And hip hop video girls for that matter too! I’ve been a black, fat scarf-wearing Muslimah in mainly white (academic) feminist circles for most of my life and I think this sister outsider experience has made me reluctant to judge another woman’s decisions by standards that often work to silence and judge women who don’t fit the feminist litmus test. Carol: I think the point is that this is the same old image of the niquab and by extension Muslim women. Often an artist can be exciting and taboo challenging but at the same time embrace redundant and oversimplified concepts. This seems to be ever present whenever non-Muslim women represent Muslim women. And I’m sooooo over it to quote American Idol Katherine McPhee!