I remember the first time I saw a headscarf-wearing woman in a Western film – it was a two-second frame in the airport montage at the end of Love, Actually, and it fascinated me. To this day, I still find myself looking out for the corner of a headscarf within the pages of a book. Or holding out for a hijabi character in a film. And most of the time, it’s to no avail.
Growing up, I scoured the media to find someone who looked like me, and I’m only beginning to realise now how severe the lack of hijabi representation in the media really is.
I’ve noticed a recurring theme where, in the few (very few) circumstances where there’s a hijabi character in film or TV, she’s always got a link to terrorism. Or she’s a threat to national security. Or she’s got a thick Arab accent and is a human encyclopaedia for issues in the Middle East. Because it’s impossible for there to exist a hijabi woman that goes to school, goes to work, lives her life with opinions on everyday things like the best brand of cat food, or Ant and Dec.
It seems that it is impossible for there to be a comedic, light-hearted hijabi that’s the ‘relatable’ character rather than the token one, and the fact that a piece of cloth can create such huge controversy absolutely blows my mind. (That isn’t me reducing my religion to a piece of cloth, it’s me exemplifying the way my religion SYMBOLISED through a piece of cloth means such a huge deal to so many people.)
The double standards in the media are more evident than ever. Imagine if a woman said some of the things Donald Trump said – the outrage would be immeasurable.
Society never seems to be satisfied: either you wear too little or you wear too much. Miniskirt? You’re evoking vulgarity and prostitution (whilst, might I add, society conveniently forgets that prostitution is the supply to an unending demand). Abaya? You’re oppressed, uneducated and undoubtedly need saving.
What xenophobic bigots and non-intersectional feminists alike don’t understand is that my hijab empowers me. I’m a feminist myself (intersectional) and I wholly believe that feminism doesn’t work if it isn’t inclusive. If we’re trying to empower women, we need to support them and what empowers them individually, rather than inadvertently suppressing them.
Modesty does not equate to appeasement, nor does it equate to being submissive or oppressed by men.
I’m tired of people thinking my hijab was enforced.
I’m tired of the preconception that all Muslims are Middle Eastern nationalist information centres. I’m tired of having to search and search for someone that looks like me in the media that everyone consumes, every day. I’m tired of having to justify myself, my policies and my beliefs.
I’m tired, in layman’s terms, of people judging me simply by what is on my head, rather than what is in it.