There have been several incidents globally in which female athletes have been pushing back against their mandatory team uniforms. One of the more notorious incidents that sparked worldwide media attention was that of the Norwegian women’s beach handball team.
The European Handball Federation fined these women €1500 for resisting the typical uniform of bikini bottoms and opting instead to make a statement about owning their autonomy through their choice of uniforms.
This event sparked media outrage and further significance when singer P!NK offered to pay the fee for them for “protesting the very sexist rules about their ‘uniform.’” These women have been liberated from the oppression brought by being forced to wear revealing clothes. White women fight for their right to cover up and it is celebrated.
This is an amazing thing, of course, women should be able to take part in sports no matter what they wear. However, that thought process seems limited, as ridicule still arises towards Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab.
France took their separatism bill further and banned “the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols […] in sports events and sports competitions organized by sports federations and affiliated associations.”
Thanks to this law, Muslim women will be further excluded from athletics in the guise of liberating them from oppression.
One group of women receives praise for wanting to cover up, while the others were villainized for it. Whichever way the situation appears, forcing women to dress a certain way is an abuse of power.
What is this obsession powerful people have with how women dress? If she is wearing too much, she must be oppressed and if she is wearing too little, she has no self-respect and is doing it for male validation. However, this discussion towards Muslim women choosing to cover up seems to get backlash from both men and women — many of whom claim to be feminists and do not see how their irony, or their Islamophobia, has run too deep to care.
This is because societal norms have somehow disguised nudity as feminism and liberation. Young girls should not have to wear fewer clothes to be feminists. The culture of nudity equating liberation for women further feeds the male gaze and patriarchy, and yet, modesty in the way Muslims practice is seen as oppressive.
It is liberating when officials tell women they have to wear bikini bottoms in order to play a certain sport. It is liberating when officials tell women they must wear a miniskirt to play a certain sport. It is liberating when officials tell women they must remove any religious garment they chose to wear in order to play a certain sport.
Furthering this intersectionality, these rules against the hijab will obviously affect Muslim women a lot more than Muslim men. Whether they care to admit it or not, Muslim men have the privilege of people not knowing what their religion is at first glance. Muslim women, on the other hand, are posters of the religion.
White women can seek liberation by fighting to wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms, but Muslim women will always have oppression forced upon them where it is not warranted.
The message is loud and clear: Muslims are welcome in theory but not visually. Muslims can take part in sporting events as much as they want, as long as they do not appear Muslim. Women are able to fight for body autonomy as long as that fight is not for their right to cover up in a way that appears Islamic.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, U.S Olympic medalist, wrote in an Instagram caption “Every woman should have the choice to wear what she wants and the opportunity to play sport, regardless of her faith.”
Many seem to forget that feminism and women’s liberation is for all women regardless of faith. Women who are visible Muslims have little to zero representation in sports or media in general. Many women who wear the hijab have never seen themselves represented in any athletic event; the main reason is their uniforms.
Those who create the rules surrounding uniforms have skewed standards when it comes to thinking a woman cannot complete what she has to do in leggings, but must instead wear shorts or, in the women’s handball case, a bikini bottom.
Women should have the right to their bodies and the clothes they wear. “Let women wear what they want” should be extended to Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab or dress modestly.
However, where white women are allowed to express themselves and own their bodies, Muslim women must assimilate.