Editor’s note: Huma Rashid is a practicing criminal defense attorney living in Chicago. You can find her on her personal blog, Stop Asking Me Where I’m From. To commemorate International Women’s Day, we invited Huma to share this essay, published originally on her personal blog, with The Aerogram.
I’m not going to bother repeating the same old points about consent. There’s no excuse to NOT know that shit already. Consent, consent, consent. The woman on the far right is certainly not asking for it any more than the woman on the far left is.
But there’s another point I want to address here. The woman on the far left is very obviously Muslim. She is wearing a hijab to cover her hair, and her jilbab is the robe that covers the rest of her. The garments are loose and cover everything but her face, feet, and hands, and are most often associated with practicing Muslim women.
The point that needs to be made is this: hijab and/or jilbab are not some kind of magical shield.
Hijab and/or jilbab do NOT protect women from rape.
Saying that they do presupposes that rape is about lust. It’s not. Rape is about power and control. There is a sexual aspect to it, of course. But it is fundamentally about power and control. A rapist is far more likely to pick a target that he knows he can easily overpower and penetrate. Women of all shapes and sizes and races and social classes are raped, and women wearing all manner of clothing are raped.
Furthermore, making the argument that a scantily clad woman is asking to be raped whereas a fully clothed woman like the jilbabi on the left is not, also simultaneously argues that a man’s natural state is that of a rapist. Cover everything up, and he realizes he can’t stick it in you if you don’t want him to. Show some skin and he forgets all that and becomes little more than a rutting animal who has no concept of concept.
Obviously, this is not true. To repeat: a man’s natural state is decidedly NOT that of a rapist, and making these false arguments and equivalencies about how much skin is being shown is entirely disingenuous and insulting to both genders.
I cannot tell you how many times people — educated, sensible people — have told me that we Muslim women wear hijab and/or jilbab to protect us from rape.
We do not.
I am not a hijabi, much less a jilbabi, but I wear hijab when I pray at home, and I wear hijab to the masjid, and I cover my hair with a dupatta when I visit the homes of certain family friends (this is more cultural than religious, and shouldn’t be confused even though it very frequently is). So I cannot speak as a hijabi or a jilbabi, but I can speak as a woman who does occasionally cover her hair in public for both religious and cultural reasons.
Hijab and jilbab are NOT about protection from the ubiquitous male gaze. Hijab and jilbab are about a woman’s own personal connection with God, and her interpretation of the Quranic verses that are read by many as mandating hijab.
(Some interpret those verses to mandate hijab AND jilbab; some interpret those same verses as mandating hijab, jilbab, AND niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered. It depends on the person and how they interpret the text.)
Hijab, jilbab, and niqab are not some kind of magical shield that will protect Muslim women against rape, and I cannot even articulate how fucking sick I am of hearing that nonsense. Hijabis, jilbabis, and niqabis get harassed, sexually molested, and raped just like the women that do not wear those articles of clothing. Pretending that this isn’t the case is to ignore the reality of the situation. You might as well bury your head in the sand and pretend that the countless studies and statistics and reports on the sexual harassment and assault of covered Muslim women don’t exist.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a seventeen year old kid not that long ago. We were discussing this topic more generally and he said something that kind of stuck with me ever since. He said, “It’s not like, if girls covered up more, straight guys would suddenly stop liking girls. We’ll want to do ‘em no matter what they’re wearing — if they show up in a turtleneck and baggy jeans, or in a tank top and those tiny shorts. Men will still want to do women.”
I also want to note that it is possible for a woman to be a rapist as well, and men and boys are victims of rape, too. And this discussion applies to heteronormativity.
Seriously, though, if I hear one more person — just ONE more person — tell me that hijab or jilbab really does protect women from being raped, I will strangle someone.