I AM ENDLESSLY FASCINATED by trans-cultural feminism. This is in part because being reminded of the tenuousness of my convictions always makes me feel alive. (A bit dramatic, I know.) So naturally, the intersection of Western media, Muslim women, and feminism is a place of exhilaration for me.
There is just so much gray area that inevitably leads to questioning the boundaries of nebulous concepts like devotion, womanhood and agency. All too often, I find mainstream discussions of Muslim women to be problematic and shallow. (Remember this post from 2009?)
But currently NPR has an interactive feature on their website, which provides the stories of twelve American Muslim women and their common decision to stop wearing the hijab. One of the reasons why I think this story works is because it serves as a sort of pastiche of narratives told in women’s own voices that, when combined, introduce some interesting, broad questions about the symbolic heft of clothing, and the universal female struggle to define ourselves beyond appearance. (Which, of course, begs infinite other questions like: What do women hope to change in their lives by changing their appearance? Is this a struggle that will ever truly be resolved? Is resolution even important? What impact do individual choices have on religious or gender-based or global communities? Do these communities actually exist? Or are we needlessly imposing the idea of community on women? If so, who cares?)
Interestingly enough, many commenters on the site argue that by calling attention to these women’s stories, NPR is further fixating on the importance of appearance and dress rather than dismantling it, as many of the women featured in the piece have endeavored to do by removing their hijabs. It’s an area rife with contradiction.
I encourage you to listen in and join the conversation: where do you stand among these myriad of questions? What pieces of this complex, contemporary quagmire intrest you the most?