One of the most interesting topics covered in women and gender studies courses is the importance of intersectionality, consciousness, and more recently, post-colonial feminism. Without thinking about our situated knowledge and where we ourselves stand in the world, we cannot pass judgement on other cultures. Lila Abu-Lughod is the author of “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” Her writing delves into what the ‘War on Terrorism’ really entails, and discusses ways in which freedom comes in forms that may not be as familiar to those who reside in Western countries.
Her piece resonates with me extremely hard because personally I was guilty of the mindset that covering up was oppressive and restrictive. While and after reading their piece, I realize that it is only because I was raised with a Western view on what it meant to be free.
It is only looking through the Western (and Islamophobic) lens that we pass the judgement that it is oppressive to women to cover up. In actuality, within the ultra-conservative denomination of Judaism (Chassidic or Orthodox) the women are also expected to dress modestly, covering themselves from the neck to the elbows and ankles, married women also not showing anyone but their family (many times only their husband) their real hair. In very devout Christian faiths as well it is normal to dress very conservatively, in the same fashion covering as much skin as possible. These religions are not faced with the same scrutiny as Islam faces, and the reason behind that is Western Exceptionalism and Orientalism.
Speaking from personal experience, my best friend in middle school was Muslim. Her family was not ultra-religious though she did avoid eating pork and observed the holidays. Once she reached the age, she was given the choice whether she wanted to wear the veil or not and though she chose not to (her mother also did not wear the veil) she could have and that would also have been okay with her parents. I am sure this is the same experience that many who reside in Middle Eastern countries have, and it is offensive to think that simply because covering up and wearing a veil is a foreign/unfamiliar concept, that it is oppressive, or that they are in a position to be “saved.” As stated by Abu-Lughod in her abstract, “We need to develop a serious appreciation of differences among women of the world-as products of different histories, expressions of different circumstances, and manifestations of different structured desires” (Lughod 783). She goes further and calls out the language – ‘save’ for implying a superiority and invasive tone. What her writing taught me was that post-colonial feminism is the only way to truly and wholly empathize with the maximum number of women’s experiences, and truly champion a liberated world.
-- works cited --
Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (2002): 783–90.