Headscarves and Hymens

by | February 19, 2016


Mona Eltahawy’s book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, is a page turner.

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian woman who wrote an article for Foreign Policy entitled “Why Do They Hate Us?”; “they” being Muslim men, “us” being women. The piece sparked controversy, of course, making it clear that misogyny in the Arab world is something that engages and enrages the public.

In her review for Humanist Perspectives, Sheila Ayala says,

“All apologists for Islam should read [Headscarves and Hymens].

Everyone should read this book, especially those who maintain that women have the right to wear what they want to wear.

As Ayala points out,

Eltahawy has disdain for people who claim that wearing a niquab is a feminist issue and is a women’s right. Women covering their faces, even if they do so freely, doesn’t stop what this represents — that women should be kept hidden.

Read Headscarves and Hymens, even the title is provocative, and get back to me. Sheila Ayala and I would love to hear what you think.

9 thoughts on “Headscarves and Hymens

  1. Joe

    I am not an apologist for Islam, I am an apologist for freedom of expression.
    You can’t oppress people into freedom, they have to choose it, and fight for it, for themselves.

    A hymen is a physical thing.
    A hat is a physical thing.
    A symbol though, is just an opinion.
    And anyone whose opinion is that a hat is equivalent to a body part hasn’t earned my attention.

    1. Veronica Abbass Post author

      Joe says

      “You can’t oppress people into freedom, they have to choose it, and fight for it, for themselves.’

      Women are choosing and fighting against veiling. Damn it, read the book before you judge.

      1. Joe

        i’ve seen nothing in this post that makes me want to…
        And apparently the author disdains people like me.
        That is not really a selling point.
        I support choice. If the author does, good.

        1. Jeff J

          Really?? You literally judged the book by its cover.

          Hiding behind right wing totems like “freedom” and “choice” is just a convenient way to brush off a real problem. “Sure, those women suffering from a lifelong Stockholm syndrome are *free to choose* to be ashamed of themselves!”

          Honestly, I think it takes a lot of bravery to wear a headscarf in public in our culture. I’m sure it invites a lot of abuse that people like you & me never see. Now, how much abuse are they inviting if they go home without one? “But it’s their *choice* – FREEDOM!”

          People make the choices they do because of two things: their genetics and their upbringing/environment. People can’t choose either. Freedom of choice is an illusion shared by the religious and right-wing atheists who believe in some sort of magical free will.

          1. Joe

            A woman’s “right to choose” is now a right wing totem? Really?

            That definitely puts a whole new spin on the abortion debate.

            Is lecturing women on the correct moral choice now a left wing totem?
            Or are you speaking out of your tail feathers?

          2. Jeff J

            Joe: I apologize for the hostility, was having a bad day. I must confess, it is hard to resist getting a dig in on a conservative atheist. I consider it a half-baked position. You’re on the right track, but just haven’t fleshed it all out yet.

            The problem I see is that “freedom” or “choice” is considered to be an end in itself – a belief of right-wingers everywhere. In the real world, things are just too complicated. “Freedom” and “choice” are a starting point, at best.

            Your abortion example just further proves my point. Of course, any mature person skilled at critical thinking should have the “freedom” to “choose” to wear a headscarf or get an abortion. The problem is when fundamentalist patriarchy conditions women and girls to prefer shame, and prefer to bear children they are not willing or able to fully support.

          3. Joe

            “Joe: I apologize for the hostility”
            No worries, I would have been a basket case a long time ago, if I took the Internet personally.

            “The problem I see is that “freedom” or “choice” is considered to be an end in itself – a belief of right-wingers everywhere.”
            I find extremists of both left and right use it as a fall back position. Naked men in public on a downtown street is normally cause for arrest… Except at gay pride. Freedom of expression is not absolute, but since arresting gays at pride would cause a riot, the normal limitation is not equally applied.

            ““Freedom” and “choice” are a starting point, at best.”
            They are the best starting points in my opinion, and any limitation should have a solid tangible benefit. I don’t care about symbolism that offends.

            “The problem is when fundamentalist patriarchy conditions women and girls to prefer shame”
            In a free society, both left and right are free to lead by example, and make stupid choices based on peer pressure or how they were raised, or if they identify as squirrel-kin.

            Many Muslim women refuse to wear head covering because they view it as oppressive. And in Canada, they are free to do so. Many seculars critique secular ideas of beauty that lead men and women to steroids and cosmetic plastic surgery. Bad choices are part of being human, but treating adults like children is paternalistic.

            I don’t support patriarchy, but I also don’t support the nanny state. If women are mentally competent enough to vote, then they are mentally competent enough to choose their hats.

  2. AtheistsMeow

    We are born with a hymen, but it became a symbol.

    Of course that wasn’t enough, so many little girls of some cultures/religions had to be crudely sewn almost closed to make sure of virginity!


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