“I understood then that while physical exposure had liberated me in some ways, Aliya could discover an entirely different type of freedom by choosing to cover herself.”
In “Cover Girl” (Oprah.com) Krista Bremer writes about her nine-year-old daughter’s desire to wear the hijab. Bremer is Anglo-American, her daughter is half Libyan.
There’s so much to unpack from this article that I hardly know where to start. I’ll put in my two cents, even though Moroccan author Fatima Mernissi does it much better. Her book, Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society (1987), is required reading for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of the hijab.
What’s most refreshing about Bremer’s article is how lovingly she tries to understand her daughter’s decision to cover herself. She ascribes no political or antisocial motive to her daughter’s decision. Mainly concerned with the well-being of her child, Bremer transcends the self-righteousness and impotent outrage that usually characterizes the hijab discussion.
Bremer hones in on and challenges one concern in particular–that is, that the women who are covered are necessarily stifled. She imagines instead that her daughter, protected from the burden of worrying about how others view her body, will be able to pursue her interests freely. In contrast to her daughter’s freedom and spontaneity, Bremer describes a scene she remembers from a pool party. She observed a tween girl awkwardly try to play ping pong while wearing a bikini. My hairs stood on end as I read that and reflected on that familiar feeling of vulnerability, of being watched.
While I mostly appreciated Bremer’s human and thoughtful approach, her article glosses over an important detail:
Normally, the decision to wear the hijab (in public) is a lifelong commitment. It’s not typically an accessory that you can decide to wear depending on your mood. By downplaying the seriousness of this commitment Bremer allows us to look at the hijab with a more open mind, which is a good thing. We can try to imagine that it’s not all that different from letting a kid wear a tutu to school, the better to let them express themselves. In reality, though, and especially in light of the religious significance, deciding to wear the hijab is a big deal, a major lifestyle change. That’s part of the reason why it’s so controversial to have girls make that decision, especially at a really young age.
Ultimately, the discussion around the wearing of the hijab centers around the classic feminist conundrum: a woman’s ability to choose for herself.