23 year old Egyptian med student. Will probably be standing on my soapbox ranting about feminism, the Middle East (Egypt in particular), religion (or lack thereof), or watching what's left of my soul get crushed under the weight of med school.
Reference to the Western woman as a paradigm to be followed or denounced is a major feature of the discourse on women. A package of moral laxity, pornography, casual sex, materialism, and disappearance of family ties is usually assembled by the religious debating voices like Al Bahi who devotes half his book describing the corrupt conditions of the Western woman. The same approach was followed earlier in the century by Talat Harb, and is followed by many other religious proponents of unveiling. Another extreme would put the Western woman as paradigm to be emulated, the strongest voice in that extreme is Kasim Amin.
Culture or religion? I think this video more than anything else shows that the two have become so intertwined that even the muslim community seems to be incapable of discussing the hijab without resorting to cultural myths that are blatantly sexist and have nothing to do with Islam. Western feminism sometimes fails to see how, in some contexts, covering up can be liberating and empowering. But sadly our response is usually to talk about how “immodest” women are disrespected by men, have lower self esteem and appear less intelligent — countering their broken straw man with one of our own.
If a man is disrespecting you based on an arbitrary cultural line that has been drawn to separate the “good girls” from the “sluts”, then you do not use the hijab to validate and perpetuate this mentality. In other cultures, or other eras, in order to earn that same level of respect you had to cover your face, stay indoors, only interact with women, etc. This was true for many women in Egypt just over a century ago. These deluded notions of modesty are entirely cultural and are born from misogynistic traditions and customs. I’m not telling anyone why they should wear the hijab or what to believe in, but using this particular reason is incredibly harmful and misleading.
Leila Ahmed was the first professor of Women’s Studies in Religion at Harvard University. She grew up in the Egypt of the 1940s, raised by a generation of Muslim women who never dressed in veils and head scarves. Today many Muslim women throughout the Islamic world and beyond are choosing to cover themselves and wear “Islamic dress”. She talk about this in “A Quiet Revolution”