MuslimMatters published an article on Tuesday called “The Hypocrisy of Feminist Outrage” by Daniel Haqiqatjou, which argued that in the recent discussion of catcalling, the general discourse had left out the important “other victim.” Apparently, in the discussion of women’s right to feel safe in their environments, we need to consider the feelings of the poor catcallers, who had, after all, been subjected to seeing women’s bodies. As such, they were in some way attacked.
The crux of the argument is that discussions of catcalling need to include the suggestion that maybe all women should just wear the hijab and that would solve the problem. I choose to wear hijab, but I find this argument distasteful and offensive. I would like to ask men, in general, to please take a seat and refrain from explaining the purpose or intention of my hijab.
I wear my hijab for a variety of reasons, primarily, of course, because God has commanded it — but I believe that God’s command has a variety of different benefits, both spiritual and sociopolitical. While modesty is a major part of the hijab, Haqiqatjou takes that beautiful concept and twists it into something oppressive. Worse, he takes a woman’s religious practice and makes it something designed exclusively for men.
Let’s get something straight; I cover from men, but not for men. When I wear my hijab, I don’t do it to control the thoughts of men who see me. I do it for myself.
While I was in Costa Rica this summer, I was harassed and catcalled literally every single time I left the house. The men there were disrespectful and sometimes threatening. The reality of my hijab and loose fitting clothes did nothing to change this. Haqiqatjou briefly acknowledges and then dismisses the idea of hijabis being catcalled. Basically, he says that though veiled women are sometimes catcalled, they would be catcalled even more without the hijab. My personal experience has not backed that up at all. I was catcalled just as often as other girls in Costa Rica. Sometimes even more, because my hijab made me stand out. I wonder what Haqiqatjou’s response would be to the idea that in some instances the hijab attracts more attention? Would he then suggest I should remove it to protect the delicate sensibilities of Costa Rican men?
Haqiqaatjou conveniently ignores the Qur’anic order for men to lower their gaze. Ideally, a Muslim man would not even be checking girls out on the street, but if he must, then let’s hope he at least has the self control not to scream indecent things at them. The onus is not on the women to control the way these men interact with society. The power is entirely theirs. They can choose whether or not they objectify women. Even more obviously, the men can choose whether or not they yell at women on the street.
The option of simply lowering your gaze gives these men an easy way out, a way to avoid being, as Haqiqaatjou terms it, “victimized.” They could easily just not look. However, the girls who are catcalled are not that lucky. Once a man decides that he wants to follow you around, wants to intrude on your personal space, the woman becomes a victim of sexual harassment.
The bottom line is that catcalling, like most harassment, is not actually about sexual desire, but rather about control. Men who indulge in these practices use the power they have to intrude on a woman’s life, simply by her existence in the male-dominated public realm. They feel entitled to interact at her despite this making her feel threatened. They feel entitled to her attention, because they happened to see her.
Haqiqaatjou’s argument is universally offensive. It is offensive to men, because it implies they cannot control their own actions. It is offensive to all women, because it implies that not only are they responsible for their own actions, but they are also responsible for the actions of the men around them. It is offensive to the victims of street harassment, because it implies their struggle is equal to that of a man who happens to see a non-veiled woman. Finally, it is offensive to hijabis, because it reduces their personal covenant with God to being a responsibility to men.