The Western feminism savior complex: Who really needs the saving?
The burqa has been under much scrutiny this summer, with Germany proposing laws to ban it along with any other overtly religious symbol associated with Islam. The reason for this being that the burqa, along with other head-coverings and veils, are ill-fitting to Western customs. They “do not fit in with our understanding of a tolerant, free society […] and do not fit in with our view of women,” says Germany’s Interior Minister. These bans will parallel those already established in France, Switzerland and Belgium, and are advocated by those who see the burqa and other head-coverings associated with Islam as oppressive towards women. These arguments made by Western societies against religious garments worn by Muslim women are oppressive themselves, as they promote the idea that Muslim women do not make their own choices and are incapable of doing so. In no way do these proposals suggest concern for Muslim women; instead, they show a desire to limit the ability of Muslims as a whole to practice and express themselves freely in the Western countries they have come to call home.
At this point in time, we like to think that our country is experiencing a highpoint in social and political progressiveness. However, the downside to holding such an assumption is that we consider any country that fails to keep up with our level of progressiveness to be problematic. A very clear example is in the belief that women in the United States experience the highest amount of liberties in the world, but women living in other societies who fail to fit into our idea of what freedom is, are assumed to be oppressed. As a result, Western feminists embark in a self-righteous, yet unnecessary attempt to save these women by forcefully pushing them to practice more western-like ways of life. Sound familiar?
There is no argument that women are experiencing oppression, but it is inaccurate to believe that women in countries with values and customs that diverge from our own are under subjugation, and that we are the ones who experience the most and the best of freedom. This notion makes it impossible to see how women in non-Western societies are not as entirely subdued as we may believe they are, and how women in our own society are not entirely liberated either.
No one seems to acknowledge that a woman’s decision to act or dress a certain way is not a result of oppression or subjugation – these are actually quite irrelevant. Their decision to wear a burqa, hijab or any garment in relation to their faith lies in religious devotion, moral ideals and even style. Opposition to their dress choices is driven by little understanding of Islam and anything that relates to it, as well as false notions that Islam is oppressive to women. Pure Islamophobia is fueled by incorrect and deceitful accusations that associate certain negative political uproars with this faith.
Why is it acceptable as opposed to oppressive when Catholic nuns cover their bodies, and act accordingly to their religion? Striking similarities can be found in Christian ordinance. For example, the purpose of head-covering for the Christian woman, as stated by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:10, is that it is a sign of male authority over a woman. The purpose of the hijab for the Muslim woman, on the other hand, is modesty. To answer the question, and reiterate: viewing a Muslim woman’s head covering as an act of oppression that must be dismantled is rooted in Islamophobia and intolerance towards that which deviates from Western customs and ideals.
It is incorrect to assume that we enjoy more freedom than any other non-Western country. What we believe freedom to be in the United States in regards to women is almost always intertwined with sex and male scrutiny. Violence against women is most notable in the U.S. Super Bowl, for example, as it is a magnet for sex trafficking each year. Not only that, but the United States also implements and enforces a legal system that takes drug possession more seriously than rape. Such things are rarely spoken about, if not ignored, when discussing sexism and oppression towards women. This is not to say that Muslim women are not oppressed. Every woman in the world lives under oppression if in a patriarchal society, which is the case for most countries, including our own.
While “feminists” in the U.S. and other Western countries are carrying out self-righteous attempts to relate the wearing of a burqa to an act of oppression, they are unaware that their tax money fuels the violence and murder of these same women that they try to “liberate.” Fifteen years ago, George W. Bush used an image of a woman in a burqa along with the catchphrase “saving women” in order to obtain national support and facilitate the invasion of Afghanistan. The United States, funded by taxpayer dollars, killed thousands of people in that country, many of whom included these same women we claim to care about. Ask women in Afghanistan and few would say the United States has “saved” them in any way.
Western “feminism” coming to the “rescue” does more harm than good. It enforces the assumption that the victim is unable to respond with our same level of outrage because they are so used and desensitized to their own oppression. Such belief comes off as smug and patronizing. Let’s stop coming to the conclusion that Muslim women are in need of our saving, and that the face of this salvation should be parallel to that of a Western woman’s. Instead, let’s spend less energy being angry on their behalf, and put more effort into understanding the different features and purposes behind the burqa or any other garment in relation to Islam. This will benefit Muslim women and us since we, ourselves, are not doing so well as a “free” country as we might believe.