Should We Fight About the Hijab?

I just finished teaching “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi to my high school sophomore English classes, and they absolutely loved it. It truly gave them a perspective of what war and revolution look like from a child’s perspective, and it tapped into their sense of injustice and their knowledge of intolerance and unfairness. Needless to say, there was a lot to talk about as we progressed through the book, but, perhaps not surprisingly, my students were most interested in discussing the very first chapter of the book, “The Veil.” This chapter is not only the introduction to all of the characters in the book, but also very clearly shows the difference between pre-revolutionary Iran and post-revolutionary Iran, using the mandatory wearing of the veil as the most marked difference between the time periods.

The veil is a common theme throughout the book. We see scenes of Satrapi nearly escaping arrest because she is not wearing the veil properly, and we are also privy to many varying opinions of the veil, Satrapi’s being that being forced to wear it is an infringement of her rights. This brought up many conversations about their own school dress code and what America would look like if it were taken over by a religious group.

Since many of my students keep up with current events, the conversation inevitably turned to France’s burqa ban and whether or not that was a fair policy for their government to take. Surprisingly, only one or two students in every class thought that veils of all sorts should be banned in public; the rest were very adamant that women should be able to wear what they want. As one student noted, “If we’re going to say that the government shouldn’t force the veil on women in Iran, we can’t say that the government should force women not to wear it in France.”

But a new controversy is arising, and this time over the hijab. One side of a new protest is asking Muslim women to bare their breasts to show that women who are uncovered are not impure or anti-religious. The other side is saying that wearing the hijab is actually liberating when it is done in a free country; it is a way to express a religious affiliation in spite of stereotypes and hate crimes following terrorist attacks such as the recent Boston Marathon bombings.

The debate now is about whether or not the hijab is worth fighting over. Is it something that feminists and Muslim women around the world need to focus on, or is it a meaningless symbol that tells us nothing of the state of Muslim women’s rights? According to Hind Makki, this fight is distracting. She writes, “A headscarf doesn’t tell me anything about a particular woman’s access to medical care for herself or her children. An uncovered head doesn’t tell me anything about a woman’s access to legal recourse if she is sexually assaulted. A piece of cloth does not tell me how safe a woman feels in her society to protest her political leaders, enjoy a night out with friends or choose her own spouse.”

While this is true, after reading and teaching “Persepolis,” I can’t help but think that the hijab is something worth fighting over. Yes, it might be counterproductive for two groups of Muslim women to be fighting about whether or not to wear it constantly, but it is no more counterproductive than feminist women fighting about whether or not women should change their names when they get married or continue to work outside the home after they have children.

These arguments may not be productive in the traditional sense of getting something done, but they are productive in bringing these important issues to the public as well as asking people to think carefully about what decisions they are making and why. Feminism for all women — Muslim women included — should be about choice, but it should also be about making well-informed choices. In order to do that, we need to argue a little bit about what current policies are in place for women around the world.

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Human Rights Group Condemns European Burqa Bans

Hey Chicago Schools: This is Why We Should Teach “Persepolis”

Photo Credit: NeilsPhotography


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

It is slavery for women, this is the real war on women!

pam w.
pam w.3 years ago

Would any of you who talk about "live & let live" "wear the hijab is she wants to" support the right of a man to completely cover his face in public?

Do you want to stand in line at the bank next to someone whose face is totally hidden?

Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

Chad, unfortunately when a Muslim man calls a native a slut in her own country, ie me at 60 yrs old, he is not allowing dress to be a "theoretical question for Muslim women to decide and debate". He is imposing his mores on me, a total stranger in MY land. I've pretty much had it with their antics and flaunting of our culture in our faces.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson3 years ago

The hijab is a theoretical question for anyone who is not a muslim woman. This should be an issue for them to debate and decide.

Darren Woolsey
Darren Woolsey3 years ago

There ought to be a fight to understand (so not a literal fight, but a metaphorical one), the historical and cultural context within which the Hijab is imbedded. That might actually reduce misunderstandings and further tussles.

Alena Carter
Alena Carter3 years ago

Wearing a hijab is part of their religion, modesty is key to them, when I read, "One side of a new protest is asking Muslim women to bare their breasts to show that women who are uncovered are not impure or anti-religious." I felt insulted. What would that accomplish?

Mary B.
Mary B.3 years ago

Linda....I know there are a whack of things we can't do in some countries (women in particular).....I wouldn't dare not follow their "rules" as I may never see the light of day again......It just seems that Canada is very tolerant and we do encourage diversity, but I really think some don't think our culture is valuable.....

Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

Mary, that's not culture, that's ignorance and provocation. I would have called the police and had him removed for threats. Whose word would your friendly local police officer believe, a nurse with whom they are familiar or an asshole? That is the basis of my "bigotry"... that is, simply responding to their veiled threats and attempted provocations. They have to be shown that doesn't wash here. Try pulling crap like that in their countries.

Mary B.
Mary B.3 years ago

Linda.....I had a gentleman patient once who insisted he was going to spit and void on the floor.....his son kept telling me it was his culture and as a woman, I should allow it and clean up......(the patient was NOT mentally impaired in any way)......I walked out of the room and brought back a mop and bucket and handed it to the patient in front of the son.......Needless to mention, I didn't have anymore problems.....Culture can seem strange at times, but enough is enough :-)

Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

Dale, a hijab is fine. It's only a scarf & conceals very little. A complete burqa covering everything is dangerous for the woman (no peripheral vision) and the public. Anyone could be under it, man or woman, good citizen or terrorist. They HAVE been used before for purposes of concealment to commit terror. Again, my main question is why only women? THAT is misogyny, absolutely no doubt about it. The woman may want to wear it but only because they have been brought up under such restrictions that they believe it a necessity. Look at a street scene in any news broadcast from the Middle East, Pakistan, etc. & see how many women you see in the streets. They're all at home under lock & key.
As for the man in the park, he was told off with my face about an inch from his & he actually fled with his companions laughing at his cowardice. I'm reasonable tall & NOT petite! My cousins in Waterloo who were with me, 3 females are all over 6ft & the 3 males over 6'6'' plus I can handle myself fine with years of experience in the ER.