As we New Englanders were in the midst of Snowpocolypse 2015, First Lady Michelle Obama accompanied her husband, President Barack Obama, to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to meet the U.S. ally’s new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz.
And may I just say the First Lady looked stunning? She rocked a royal blue tunic top with a robe-style sweater over it, and classy black pants. Gorgeous as ever, Michelle.
A lot of other people are pretty concerned with her attire to meet King Abdulaziz, too, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who, according to multiple media outlets, Facebooked out “kudos” to Mrs. Obama for “standing up for women” by “refusing to wear Sharia-mandated head-scarf.”
While it’s a lovely change of pace to see a staunchly conservative senator give praise to any member of the Obama family, I still find it a little unsettling that Senator Cruz thinks that First Lady Obama’s choice not to wear a hijab is some groundbreaking move in the feminist agenda. Because it’s not.
There are a lot of negative connotations that Americans associate with head scarves. I totally get it—believe me; I wrote my honors thesis on cultural and historical approaches to media representations of Middle Easterners. We’ve been taught, mostly through movies but also through news coverage, that the reason why Middle Eastern women don head scarves is because they are simple cogs in some female-repressive culture. There are several reasons why our media represents the Middle East this way, but the main thing to take away is that these representations are often misguided.
Don’t get me wrong—there are a lot of repressive aspects of Middle Eastern culture (the stoning of female adulterers, anyone?), but I’d argue that, in this day and age and in a country like Saudi Arabia, the hijab is not one of them.
Many women of modern Islamic culture argue that wearing their hijab is, in fact, very empowering for them. I could cite so many articles about this, but I’ll point you in the direction of a recently-published Buzzfeed video entitled “Women Wear Hijabs for a Day.”
In essence, these women all say that wearing a hijab makes them feel valued for who they are, the ideas and thoughts and feelings whizzing in their brains, instead of what they look like. They said that there was something really cool about that, and a lot of modern Islamic women say the same thing.
So there’s a reason why I’m miffed that people are calling First Lady Obama’s actions feminist.
But I’m not mad that she didn’t wear one, either.
We have this concept in America that’s really cool, and it’s called our freedom of choice. We can pick to eat hamburgers for dinner and pick if we’re going to actually do our homework tonight. We have so many choices that sometimes it can be kind of overwhelming, but still, we revel in that right.
So when she met the new Saudi Arabian king, First Lady Obama exercised her right to choose, and she chose not to wear a hijab to meet King Abdulaziz. I’m not living inside of her head or anything, but if I had to guess why she made that choice, it might be because she’s not a Saudi woman and she’s not a Muslim and she doesn’t wear a head scarf normally so why wear one that day? If I had to guess, she was just making a diplomatic visit; she wasn’t trying to take the world by feminist storm. She was just making a choice.
Just like many Muslim women.
They’re just making choices.
And they’re choosing to wear a hijab.
And to every self-important quasi-feminist who says it’s unfeminist to wear a head scarf, who says it’s unfeminist to participate in an ‘archaic’ and ‘repressive’ culture, I choose to say this:
Take a look in the mirror.
You’re telling a woman what to wear and what to think of it.
How are you supporting feminism?