It is true that there is a line between oppression and free-will.
It is also true that that line is not a fine one.
These thoughts swarmed my mind when I took a Women, Culture, and Society class two semesters ago. I found that the course, while easy, brought insight to a lot of issues. And, while some of these points of view were perspectives I already agreed with, I found a lot of my class members were in awe and shock as our professor, a white male, taught them to us.
One thing in particular brought out a positive reaction from the class: the idea that people in the West attempt to drastically exchange the cultures and beliefs of “third world countries” so that their practices are better suited to Western viewpoints. The truth is that there are practices all over the world that seem exotic and strange to us — not because they are bizarre, but because we are not used to hearing of them.
For instance, a woman covering her head for religious purposes (such as wearing the hijab) is thought to be “oppressed.” The reality of the situation is that if the woman herself wishes to cover her head, she is not oppressed. How is someone who chooses to do something belittled? If a woman can choose to not wear the headscarf, then she can most certainly choose to wear it.
The idea that feminists of the Western world form groups and organizations to travel to these countries and “liberate” non-Western women is offensive. It is like diving into a pool without understanding how to swim. Some Western women do not choose to cover their own heads, which is fine. What is not fine is the belief they so strongly swim in: that they themselves are “free,” and the rest of the world is not. It is like looking at the entire universe through a telescope and overlooking the world that surrounds them.
“Freedom” has become a word that is very difficult to define, and let me tell you this: the West has no right to go around dictating that definition to women who already deem themselves liberated. “Free will” is stripped away every time one of these so-called feminists hold feminism to a Western standard and proclaim that any woman who covers to oppressed. Oppression is a drastic accusation, and sometimes the label is just the product of ignorance.
This concept of a universal feminist standard is not only limited to Muslim women, but also women all over the world — including the USA. For example, there is a social stigma that comes with being a “simple housewife” that a woman is not exercising her equal role in society. Once again, being forced to stay at home is something we can all agree as being oppressive. However, if a mother chooses to stay home for her kids, she is not being a victim of her husband. She is not a victim at all. She is a woman who is practicing free will.