The video, what does my headscarf mean to you?, by Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a candid, comical, and compassionate talk about perception, misconceptions, and reality behind the headscarf. Dismissing the unconscious bias that drives perceptions of others on the garment, Yassmin states that headscarf is a cultural identity symbol. This paper will attempt to support the view by Yassmin that the headscarf is a form of cultural identity that is misconceived by those who do not understand its symbolic meaning.
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What Does My Headscarf Mean to You?
Yassmin argues that the headscarf is a garment that expresses her cultural identity. Apparently, headgear is the proper and complete way of dressing for Muslim women. More importantly, the headscarf is a symbol of Muslim identity and tradition. According to Yassmin, headscarf should also be looked upon as a class symbol. Specifically, instead of looking at the headscarf as a garment that denotes class and status, Western viewpoints sometime ascribe to the garment a meaning that may not be felt by those who wear it.
For instance, Yassmin highlights discussions showing the headscarf as a symbol of oppression as failing to look at it as a dress. Basically, these biased discussions delve into the family structure and individualism, which are not part of cultural identity (Abdel-Magied scene 3).
Identity refers to an articulation of cultural, ethnic, gender, and sexual distinction. In other word, identity is ‘being’; it is formed by the current state that the individual is within at the moment and ‘becoming’; it is always defined by the process within which the individual is participating. As stated by Yassmin, the headscarf, as a symbol of cultural identity, is a moldable part of the self; a place in which the many things to which a person is exposed will provide a new dimension to the cultural beliefs.
Identity, especially in terms of culture, is an important factor in acculturation through the symbolic headscarf. As noted by Yassmin, Muslim women have to choose whether to take on an identity that is not originally their own or having to adopt another culture. During acculturation, Yassmin describes these positions the subject of cultural identity must take.
The second significance of the headscarf is described by Yassmin as an important part of the identity of a Muslim woman. Western thinking tends to consider this a sort of oppression, but for the Muslim woman, this is not an oppressive garment. This garment symbolizes her faith and her status as a good Muslim woman.
She is not covered to hide or oppress her, but to reveal that she belongs. Yassmin states that “the adoption of the dress does not declare a woman’s place to be in the home, but, on the contrary, legitimizes their presence outside of it” (Abdel-Magied scene 4). The headscarf is a way for a woman to go outside of the protection of her home and to be safe, free from harassment, and given status as a good Muslim. It is a choice that is made as a declaration of her identity.
This is proven because of the number of Muslim women who continue to wear their traditional dress even after moving to a non-Arab country. However, those who oppose this view argue that the question of the headscarf and the identity it communicates are not very clear.
For instance, Yassmin notes that opponents of headscarf view the garment as a symbol of oppression and subjugation of being very vocal in advocating for the raising of the veil. However, Yassmin disagrees with this position of seeing the headscarf as a symbol of male dominion, but see it as a symbol of the fight against western culture, more specifically materialism and imperialism.
Interestingly, Yassmin makes the third argument that is contrary to popular belief. She states that the Muslim woman is not being oppressed through covering; rather, she is being liberated from the shackles of being scrutinized by men according to man’s standards of attractiveness. This, according to her, gives the woman an opportunity to be whom she is on the inside, without being seen as a sex object to be lusted after.
Yassmin goes on to argue that the veil brings dignity and honor to the woman by bringing out an aura of respect, noting that the woman is respected and admired not because of beauty or lack of it, but because of their mind and personality (Abdel-Magied scene 3). From this argument, Yassmin reveals that the women who wear the headscarf out of choice and associate with it are not disadvantaged. On the contrary, they find an identity which is unique to their cultural orientation and beliefs.
Despite the clear arguments in support of headscarf as presented by Yassmin, there is generally a negative stereotype attributed to Muslims because of the understanding of the headscarf whereby they are seen as aggressors, ready to use force to gain whatever they want. After the September 11th attack, Muslim communities have become the target of increased hostility across many countries in the Western sphere.
For instance, Yassmin notes that those who see anybody dressed in Muslim clothing are automatically under the misconception that they are terrorists. This is also echoed in a common public view which states that Islam is depicted many times as a religion that is harsh to women, and Muslim identities are frequently linked with terrorism.
The Western point of view on the headscarf and its oppressive nature, rather than exploring the meaning from the point of view of Muslim women, who wear the veil, is one example of how stereotypes suggest that Muslims are harsh on women.
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This viewpoint does not explore the deeper meanings of the headscarf. This argument points out that the number of women who had been ridiculed or received hateful comments for being Muslims in the post- September 11 climate measurably increased. This negative stereotyping and ridicule finds an easy target because of the recognizable outward appearance of Muslim women.
Having in mind the negative views that have been raised about the headscarf, Yassmin states that Muslim women find it difficult to interact with people of other cultures, thereby reducing the effectiveness of their social interaction due to the common misconception (Abdel-Magied scene 5).
As a result of the common misconception about the headscarf, especially when worn by a Muslim woman, those who wear this garment find it difficult to fit into the biased society. Yassmin argues that the victims of such misconception are struggling to change who they are and modify their self-esteem since at the back of their mind, they are aware of apparent rejection.
The small fractions of Muslims, who are aggressive, such as the notorious suicide bombers, have spread a negative view about the headscarf as a symbol of ‘terrorist’ or ‘violence’ among the peaceful women. The sensitivity to such perceived ‘threats’ can lead to prejudice, regardless of whether or not the threats are real.
Yassmin notes that such prejudice and misconception can be transferred to the social environment, resulting in unhealthy interaction among different cultures (Abdel-Magied scene 3). Such relationships are imbued with fear and contempt for one another, something that would negatively affect the symbolic meaning of the fashionable headscarf.
In summary, according to Yassmin, there are certain issues that must be addressed when a situation is faced with the potential for a culture clash, such as the perceptions on the headscarf. This is because there is a certain level of anxiety that will exist over the fear of the unknown. The individuals who meet with differing cultural backgrounds will have a natural fear of the ’otherness’ that is observed in the women who wear the headscarf.
Motivations for certain behaviors will seem unclear and the reasons for actions may not seem to have a purpose when an understanding is only held within the framework of one culture. Understanding the other culture will mean releasing pre-conceived ideas that cloud the truth. In accepting the headscarf, the defining line between the veil culture and the other culture can sometimes become blurred.
It is a difficult thing to try to shut out the headscarf culture and stay isolated from social interactions through the unfounded misconceptions that are openly biased. Yassmin argues that despite the differences between those who oppose and support the headscarf as a symbol of cultural identity, the reality is that most of these negative resentments are based on bias perceptions.
Abdel-Magied, Yassmin. What does my headscarf mean to you? YouTube, 2014. Web.