All feminists and humanists of Think Atheist, I need help/ feedback. 

This is an essay about the arguments Muslims use to explain why veiling is empowering and great, and a response to all of that: 

I was hoping to get feedback, particularly on the 5th argument, which is about sexual objectification. 

I'm looking for a post-modern feminist perspective on this... 

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lol for those who are lazy here is the argument for empowerment against sexual objectification (P.S. it would really help if you already know what sexual objectification means before reading this):

My fourth argument for wearing it was that it empowers and liberates me from sexual objectification. This is my favorite argument, because when I got into feminism, this is what I used to tell myself to justify doing something that I did not want to do. This is an argument that a lot of modern Muslim feminist bloggers exclaim all the time. I exclaimed it too. I exclaimed it to everyone who asked me why I wear it. It was my number one defense against the orientalist imperialist self righteous people trying to “liberate” me. It usually shut them up. I exclaimed it as a lifeguard until I quit lifeguarding. I exclaimed it as an athlete until I quit all sports. I exclaimed it to my friends/society until I went into depression and isolated myself from everyone I know. (true stories lol). I thought that sexual objectification is based in nudity and the male gaze. I believed that the way men look at my body is in itself objectifying. I believed that any sexual or emotional desires associated with the male gaze are objectifying because when men see me they shouldn’t think “sex”. I also believed that the media and society were conspiring to get women to dress more “provocatively” (I now hate this word, sorry for using it) and revealingly as their way to subject women to their bodies and their sex. It was their way of turning us into objects. Plastic Barbie dolls to be precise. I believed that the media encourages nudity for the pleasure of men, since it was after all the men who controlled the media. So it was men telling women that they should desire and aspire to look and dress a certain way in attempt to attract men and gain a sense of self worth through that. I believed that by covering my body, I am challenging the social norm. I believed that by covering every inch of my body, I am reinforcing my worth as a human being. I believed that this would give me more power in society because I would then be judged for my skills and capabilities rather than my body. I believed that this would somehow overthrow the patriarchal order and misogynistic cultural values, especially if all women were to practice veiling. I thought that if all women dress that way, they would really be forcing men to re-conceptualize their ideas of women. I also believed that dressing this way is somehow a form of rebellion against the fashion industry and the media. It was some form of symbolic rejection of the social norms, which if done effectively could bring about change. 

Here is the argument against empowerment from sexual objectification:

Fifth argument against wearing the Hijab is that it neither liberates nor empowers women in the face of sexual objectification. This is not to say that women cannot feel liberated by the Hijab. They can. But feeling liberated by the hijab is like feeling liberated by a mini-skirt, there’s nothing inherently liberating about it from the actual structures of patriarchy and misogyny. I do not see how clothes can liberate me, even if by symbolically standing for something. There is nothing liberating about a dress code. Sexual objectification of women is not defined by nudity. If nudity was the measure of sexual objectification, then Afghanistan and Egypt must be doing great (they’re far from it). Ancient Greek and Persian societies where women covered all but were still considered second-class citizens must have been great? On the other hand, tribes and communities (some of which exist to this day), must be somehow doing terrible because their women (and often men) don’t feel like covering their bodies? So no, nudity in itself is not sexual objectification. Being forced to be nude and being forced to cover, whether physically, legally or socially is oppressive and objectifying. Sexual objectification is the dehumanization of a person and reducing them to their sex or “sexual function”. You turn a person from a human being to an object of sex. This act of sexual objectification can be anything from your perception of a person to your speech to the way you behave. Some extreme/violent examples of sexual objectification are rape and sex slavery. Nudity in itself on the other hand, isn’t. Being nude in front of my significant other does not sexually objectify me. A man wearing shorts and nothing else on the beach is not sexually objectified. And this depends on what you define to be nude. Is a strand of hair showing considered nudity? Is a sleeveless arm nude? Is an uncovered chest nude? The fact that the concept of nudity and obscenity is different in every society complicates this even more. In some societies, people in general do not cover their chest. Meanwhile others cover everything, including their head, despite their gender. So then, how little does a person have to wear to be objectified? Well, there is no answer to that because the amount of clothes you wear is not what makes you objectified. It is how you are perceived and how you are told to perceive yourself, which is objectifying. Ideally, I should be able to walk naked on the street and be still seen and treated as human. The fact that I am seen as a sex object and treated as one whether I am covered or not is what is objectifying. The Hijab may prevent men from seeing my body, but it does not prevent them from perceiving me as just a body that is now hidden or as an object of sex or as anything less than human. Patriarchy and misogyny are much deeper than that. They are social expectations of women, which reduce them to their reproductive capacities. Women are seen as instruments of pleasure and procreation for men. They are expected to comply and aspire for these roles. They are compelled to conform to gender roles and expectations constructed by a society ruled by men. Women are seen as less than men in many different circular ways. They are told what to look like, what to act like, what to aspire for and what they can and can’t do. Society often reinforces such expectations through laws, social pressure, socialization, etc. So, sexual objectification is not only a western problem. It is a universal problem. So how does the lack of clothes make me objectified? Many argue that because the media uses nude women as objects to sell their products, the media tells women to not cover their bodies, and so they sexually objectify women… I don’t understand how the sexual objectification of a female model in an ad (using women as sex props to sell products) automatically makes every woman who decides to wear shorts on a hot day sexually objectified. The fact that the media tells women what they should want and aspire for in order to sell their products is a form of socialization rooted in business and capitalism. It is unhealthy socialization that abuses the audience’s psychological vulnerability to sell products. It reinforces a lot of false definitions of gender and beauty. It reinforces the objectifying gender roles in society. It tells us that we should aspire to attract men and defines us by that aspiration. However, this is unrelated to the amount of skin one chooses to show. In more conservative societies, women are still used as sex props to sell products in the media, but with more clothes on. Their roles are still confined to their sex. They are still being used as props. They are still deemed and defined in a way that is less than men (or even less than the object that the ad is trying to sell). If we look at television in the Gulf for example, where in certain channels and shows women are always dressed in Hijabs (even in scenes where they are supposedly in their homes and bedrooms), women are still sexually objectified. Their roles reduce them to objects of sex. And let’s not ignore the other side of objectification in the media. Women who dress less or act on their sexuality, and basically follow the expectations that society asks them to meet, are shamed. Slut shaming is also present in the media (western and eastern), whether in more or less subtle ways. Women who dress a certain way, playing the very roles that are created from them by our patriarchal society, are actually punished for complying. They are treated as cheap, unintelligent, obscene, “trashy”, wanting to be mistreated and abused. They are portrayed as unsuccessful or unhappy. Meanwhile, their male counterparts are seen as happy, successful, strong, and versatile despite their similar sexual behavior or expression. So there is no standard form of sexual objectification. Looking at the history of veiling and female seclusion in the East and the West can attest to that. By forcing women to veil their bodies a society is still reducing women to sexual objects, but instead of sexual objects available to all men in a society, it reduces them to sexual objects available to a number of private men. In both regards, they are reduced to their bodies and sexual/ reproductive capacities. While the patriarchs in that society value the chaste and covered women, the sex industry was thriving on women who do the opposite (mostly for the middle and lower class men who could not afford buying sex slaves and concubines). Furthermore, media is not the only form of socialization in society. Agents of socialization include teachers, priests/ sheikhs, parents, youth groups, camp counselors, etc. Patriarchal socialization can be found in all of these groups, where women can still be reduced as sex objects in ways that are less direct than the media, but no less harmful. Although there is a strong correlation between what we are told to do and wear by society and what we actually choose, because our free choices are actually much more limited than we think, it is possible for someone to freely choose something that a patriarchal society is demanding. It is completely up to that individual to question him/herself and assess their own agency and not anyone else’s job. It is extremely difficult to act in a way that pleases social demands and be doing it with full agency, but it is possible. So me choosing to cover my body consciously and freely, is no less of a free choice than choosing to not cover. Likewise, covering my body under social pressures and expectations is no equally involuntary than wearing fewer clothes under social pressures and expectations. The fact that we ignore the dehumanization and reduction of people to their sex in our Islamic society is very harmful. And I blame western imperialism for that. The attempts to “liberate” veiled and non-western women have put many of these communities on the defensive. To speak out against patriarchy in a marginalized community as such automatically makes one a traitor, “whitewashed”, or “westernized”. And to this I think all the lovely western feminists (or so called feminists) who use their privilege to fight a battle that isn’t theirs, and that has become so politicized, that it feeds the powers of the non-western patriarchy they attempt to dismantle (while either collaborating with or ignoring western patriarchy… see Cromer and Western feminists on unveiling Egyptian women). However, that is not the case with Middle Eastern and all non-Western feminism. There are rich histories of anti-colonial feminist Arabs and Muslims and Africans and Asians and Latinas and Aboriginals. Even in the West, the patriarchy of the Muslim community still enforces and pressures and socializes women into their form of sexual objectification. There is this idea that my entire body is an ‘awra’, that women want to entice men, that we like to lure men into sin by looking at our bodies, that somehow our entire bodies are sexual. I am expected to save all my beauty, every day, everywhere and all the time for my husband. Meanwhile, my husband is not expected to go through the same measures. A man’s body is seen beyond its reproductive and sexual capacities, while a woman’s body is not. A veil is a constant reminder of my sexuality. An anti-feminist Muslim speaker was explaining how she does not view sexual expression as freeing (apparently she’s only familiar with Choice Feminism and Sexy Feminism, but not all other schools). She said that “when a person is expressing their sexuality all the time and in every manner of their dress, then they are reducing their identity to their sexuality. And our identities are much deeper and more complicated than that”. This is the one thing that I agree with her on. However, I don’t think that she is aware of the applicability of her statement to veiling. When a person is constantly identifying with and is constantly veiling their bodies for their beauty or sexuality, then they reduce themselves and their bodies to their sexuality. It’s like the “piece of candy analogy”, where a woman’s body is compared to a piece of candy that is uncovered and is then surrounded by flies, or a piece of candy that is covered and is then “protected” from flies. In both cases, a woman is reduced to a piece of candy. In both cases she is reduced to her sexual and reproductive capacity/ value. In one, she is a public sexual object. In the other, she is a private sexual object. It can actually be argued that public vs private ownership actually intersect in both situations. So, not only am I as an individual, much more than my sexuality (whether for public or private enjoyment of men), my body in itself is more than just my beauty or my sexuality. And not to mention, that a woman’s sexuality, just like a man’s, is hers. It should be for her enjoyment, not his/theirs. My sexuality is a part of me, which I should have complete autonomy and freedom over, but it is not something that defines me or my worth. The founding theoretical assumption of my body being an ‘awra is basically saying that my body IS a piece of candy. Then making me veil it in public reduces my identity to my ‘awra. It becomes my job to “protect” my awra, to “protect”others from my awra, to “guard” my awra. For a person to have take so much measures and go through all these pains to “protect” something, you must really value you it. The fact that I must work so hard on protecting my physical beauty and my sexuality makes it the most important/ valuable thing about me. It also takes it out of my hands, because not only am I not really choosing who I hide my beauty and sexuality from, I am forced to allow my husband to see it, giving him this form of unwarranted authority and exclusiveness over my body. And it assumes that I basically cannot live a life where I don’t have to worry about my ‘awra (assuming that all of my body really is an ‘awra). The meanings behind the veiling, the very connections between the definition of ‘awra and the veil reduce me to my body and sexual function. See the next argument for the connection between the concept of the ‘awra and body shame/objectification. This is a really complicated topic, I would suggest whoever is unfamiliar with the terms sexual objectification, misogyny and slut shaming to just research these topics on their own and to learn more about the concepts of gender and sexuality because I probably butchered years of gender theories with my lack of eloquence and knowledge.

LOL and yes it still is long as hell with the cutting and pasting :P hahaha

The stares themselves are not objectifying. If you really think about it, when you look at a loved one and kind of mesmerize at their beauty, or the sexual attractiveness of a significant other, that is in no way objectifying them. But when you view someone as nothing but a piece of ass, that is objectifying. Perhaps that makes you feel better, because that's what I thought at first and I was definitely wrong there. But to know whether the person in front of you sees you as a piece of ass or an actual human being, you would need to get inside their brain. I guess more knowledge of sexist language would really help you pick up on it. I wish that I had learned more about misogynist discourse and language analysis before I dated my last boyfriends. But there are some phrases that will really tell you how a person thinks, like "it's your job to _____(insert something sexist)", "no one will love you like me", "you are mine", "I like women who _____(insert something that pleases him on the price of your identity and comfort)".... and so on...

But there are definitely ways to change this, such as starting with your own son, by helping him identify society's double standards and sexism... so he could call out his friends and teach his children and perhaps treat his future girlfriend with love and respect. There are also great feminist movements out there (post-modern ones are amazing and humbling where they cross with gender identity, sexual orientation, race, class, etc.). There are also great acts of rebellion that you can take that will make people question (or asking people questions that will make them question themselves). And I've always wanted to learn kick boxing or something and get massively strong so that i can defend myself... or at least feel more confident/safe?  

This is a very informative essay. This woman has a lot of wisdom. Thank you for sharing this here...I have definitely learned from it.

But I don't agree with the idea that neither veiling nor not veiling are a choice because of the influence of culture. I haven't got any decent a argument against the idea that we are the predetermined sum of our experiences, products of our culture without any free will. I can see why people believe free will is an's very logical to order the world as a series of causes and effects...but it seems too rigid, as if it might exclude randomness, entropy...

I am grateful for the perspective of a non-Western woman on the issues surrounding controlling women through dress custom...because it baffles me how Muslim women embrace the veil, how nuns embrace the habit, how Mormon women embrace the modest dress. And I know that Western feminists haven't got the whole picture on doesn't surprise me that their campaigning against the veil has been subverted by the Muslim partriarchy. This reminds me of Christian missionaries going into the third world to "civilize" poor heathens and really just generally adding to the shitstorm. Gross and counterproductive.

I have to say, I enjoyed how she debunked the oh so familiar threat of shaming, rape, or violence against those who do not comply to cultural norms, whose uncontrolled bodies somehow must be "inviting" abuse. It fascinates me that this perversion of logic is cross-cultural.

I appreciated her insistance that an appreciative look does not equal objectification. This is a nuance that had escaped me... and I think it's valuable to recognize that an appreciative gaze does not inherantly dehumanize and objectify the person being appreciated. I'll try to think about that the next time some asshole stares at my boobs while telling me what to do. LOL. But seriously, it is an important distinction. 

I believe it is still outside of my grasp to imagine that a woman's sexuality is hers, for her to enjoy. I can't conceive of a way to separate female sexuality from external sexualization and objectification. The patriarchy is strong within this one. Well, fuck. 

I believe it is still outside of my grasp to imagine that a woman's sexuality is hers, for her to enjoy. I can't conceive of a way to separate female sexuality from external sexualization and objectification. The patriarchy is strong within this one. Well, fuck. 

"Well fuck." indeed :P

Well picture an idealistic feminist world... women would actually be able to do that... but it would be much different from what we have now. What helped give me perspective on the separation of objectification and just healthy human sexuality is getting involved in QUEER spaces! I LEARNED SOOO SOOOO MUCH from speaking with and hearing and learning about queer folks. Get to know some feminist queer couples (whether trans, lesbian or gay or couples where one or two people have a queer identity)... but careful because some things are not so very feminist (some queer folks feel the need to objectify themselves and others in order to fit in or reclaim their identities, which gets confusing). I dunno, I'm still drawing the line myself, that's why I shared this... I want to hear more from people about this topic and understand the different (yet oh so similar) forms of sexual objectification and how they shaped our cultures so differently.

But do read anti-colonial feminist narratives... apparently Audrey Lore is great and Nawal El Saadawi is an amazing rebel and Leila Ahmed is also very informative. = ) 

Hmm, i don't really have time to read all that. That said i feel that i still have the objectivity to say that to empower people you need to give them both education and choice in their personal lives.  To that end, if they choose to wear it, that's fine, if they are forced to, that's not.

For sure, i agree with you. But I'm looking into the meanings and ideas behind the veil. 

They can choose to practice and believe what they wish, I just want to understand it and dissect it because this is how I make my decisions. 


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