Breaking all stereotypes. No really.

Succumbing to Stockholm syndrome does not a rebel make.

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What makes for a rebel? Does Malala Yousafzai qualify as a rebel? She has had to do more things that could, and indeed have, put her life in danger than anybody should have to. She went to school, got an education, wrote a blog, angered a whole bunch of zealots, got shot in the head, survived against all odds, and continues to speak out for education and freedom for girls. And she’s all of seventeen. She’s a rebel in my book; and I’d bet she’s one in yours.

Malala Yousafzai was born to a relatively progressive (Sunni) Muslim family; her father is described as an anti-Taliban activist. She is religious, but her religiousness takes away nothing from her feminism or her being a rebel. If anything, it makes what she’s achieved that much more impressive.

But, because she comes from a certain culture, she covers her head in public. I haven’t seen a picture of hers in which her head isn’t covered. I can’t find her having said anything to the effect that her covering her head is anything more than a cultural thing.

“No, I’m not becoming western, I am still following my Pashtun culture and I’m wearing a shalvar kamiz, a dupatta on my head. And I believe Islam is a true religion and it teaches us how to be patient and how to tolerate other religions and it teaches us about peace. Islam means peace.”

Malala Yousafzai’s wearing a scarf in public is cultural and she has betrayed no signs of not understanding this. Which is more than I can say for Masarat Daud.

Masarat Daud is a rural education activist and founder of the 8 Day Academy that provides (I think) vocational training for people in Rajasthan’s villages. She was also the organiser, at her ancestral village of Shekhawati, of the largest rural TEDx event. She is by all accounts doing good work helping people make better lives for themselves.

Masarat Daud is also the (self-)described ambassador for the burqa. Why does she wear it? By her own account (the one in the Tehelka article, not the TED talk; I can’t possibly sit through that), she was made to wear it as a teenager, told that she wouldn’t be allowed to go to school without it. She fought against it, but eventually made her peace with it.

“If you wear a gown, you cannot act like a crazy teenager on skates,” she explains. “Similarly, you carry a burqa with grace. I think, culturally the garment symbolises a girl growing up and acting ‘decent’ and perhaps conforming to a society’s view of what a cultured, sanskari girl should be like.” Initially, she hated the garment and told her parents that she would take off the burqa when she was in college. But a week later, she walked into a packed cafeteria during lunchtime, clad in her burqa. “It was social suicide,” she recalls.

The attitude of people around her changed and she was no longer expected “to be cool or to do cool things”. But Masarat took it as a challenge and eventually, she fell in love with the garment.

Now, she isn’t, I don’t think, saying that Muslim women who don’t wear burqas are childish, indecent, and uncultured. But what she is doing (or the Tehelka article is doing) is fetishising the wearing of this culturally imposed full-body tent.

Of the 750 million Muslim women in the world, a significant fraction, if not a majority, are forced to wear the burqa and stay within the four walls of their homes on pain of ostracism or physical abuse, or worse. Malala Yousafzai was shot through the head for daring to go to school. Is the symbol of this oppression really something to celebrate?

5 thoughts on “Breaking all stereotypes. No really.”

  1. I would think that, from a practical viewpoint, it is good to have people wearing burqas out there in public, doing notable things. The choice that women who are being forced to wear the burqa have is not between going out with or without a burqa, it is between going out with a burqa and staying at home. When there are enough role models out there that religious women can identify with, it becomes easier for them to enter public space, albeit in the burqa. I believe that this is a necessary intermediate step to liberation.

  2. Yes, letting women go out in burqas to school and work is less evil than locking them up. And any women in the public light will only lead to more women being allowed outside the house.

    The burqa as a bargain between theocracy and sanity is a necessary evil, let’s stipulate. Surely this doesn’t call for celebration.

  3. Very nice post it is very informative and realy a truly post we are also same in this business we are working in the web designing in sri lanka and welcome you to visit our website. Thanks You very much….

  4. Her generation and more are completely conditioned into believing that repressive dress codes are normal. In the sixties and seventies many Muslim females dressed as western women did and enjoyed that freedom and protested against the implementation of laws in Iran in 1979 that mandated such dress, to think modern day western feminists ally with this now believing that said dress codes are “empowering”, you couldn’t make it up! It actually makes perfect sense in that conservative Islamists and feminsts have a lot in common with each other in that they are movements with a rotten core of hatred, envy, resentment and pathological jealousy of free thinking autonomous individuals men and women alike, that they cannot control and manipulate!

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