In 2020, I really thought I’d be moving forward. But I’m still saying the same things I’ve been saying for the past five and ten years. The same thing other women have been saying for dozens of years; hundreds of years; over a thousand years.
I have just graduated, with my undergraduate degree in political science. I’m about to study law. I’ve made plans for the year – to be fitter, to talk more openly, to connect with people. To study my faith more, and God willing, learn to read Qu’ran.
I didn’t expect to be feeling the same emotions I felt in high school, like I was fifteen all over again.
If you’ve ever been the curvy girl – the one with a hips and big boobs, walking into a masjid, you know how it feels. In a pair of jeans you’re curvy, even if they’re straight legged. In a tee shirt you’re curvy. In an abaya – guess what? Still curvy. It doesn’t ever do enough. I’m given more leeway than most, I think, because I’m a white convert. Not called out as much, but I still get the comments, still get the looks, still get men yelling at my friend in Arabic about me, forcing myself not to cry in front of people at the masjid.
Eventually, you start to feel so insecure, you wonder if it’s worth it. Maybe you would be better praying inside your closet, like the women in the Side Entrance blog where women’s praying facilities are laughable.
I’m given more leeway than most, I think, because I’m a white convert. Not called out as much, but I still get the comments, still get the looks, still get men yelling at my friend in Arabic about me, forcing myself not to cry in front of people at the masjid.
Part of the thing that brought me to Islam is the beauty of modesty. Not physical modesty, although I value that too. A spiritual modesty. I’m still working on that.
But when people are staring at your body – men are staring at your body – in a mixture of lust and disgust, it’s incredibly difficult to remember that modesty.
Recently a friend on Facebook shared a post about a Muslim brother’s discussion at the gym, where one brother commented to another about a woman’s body.
The poster said that this was an occurrence of some regularity – that this Muslim man commented to another Muslim man (the poster of the encounter) about women’s bodies at the gym often enough, and while he felt uncomfortable, he never said anything. This time was different: she was wearing a hijab.
I read through the rest of the post – I expected the poster to come to some kind of realisation about listening to objectification of women. Instead, I read a discussion about the perils of the fetishisation of hijabi women.
I sat there in shock – looking at who had liked the post, who thought this was the discussion the event deserved. And realised more people thought this was appropriate than I could fathom.
Let me be clear: the post clearly said that this kind of comment was made regularly about all kinds of women at the gym, by this Muslim man. His friend listened to him, but said nothing until he discussed a hijab-wearing woman. And only then, he said it was wrong because it fetishised a piece of clothing worn for modesty. No mention of the other women, discussed and objectified. No problem with the pattern of behaviour – only one single subject.
When men devalue women, when they objectify women, when they don’t respect women based on arbitrary standards (Does she wear a hijab? Does she laugh too loudly? Does she show a wisp of hair showing? Does she sing on Tuesdays? Does she wear too bright lipstick? Does she wear jeans? Does she smile too warmly?) they are disrespecting all women. They are saying that women only have value or are worthy of respect under a specific set of circumstances.
This behaviour is not only un-Islamic, but it has real, scary consequences. It tells women to be scared of themselves. Of their body. It teaches them that men are scary – that men can punish them with their words, devalue them in front of their peers. And it keeps women away. Women sidelined to tiny rooms, and voiceless in committees and organisations and praying in closets instead of masjids.
The problem is, this happens again, and again. Women’s modesty (or lack thereof) is used as a tool to silence women.
I’ve been so angry. So angry I’ve cried time and time again. Lost my faith and gained it again and done it all over. But in the new decade, where I had convinced myself everything was shiny and new, the rusted on sexism just makes me tired. I don’t have the strength to be angry any more.