Terrorist violence rarely includes women. Terrorist violence as a result of Islamic extremism rarely (if ever) includes “radicalized” Muslim women. Nonetheless, there is a cultural desire in the West to control the bodies of Muslim women. Unsurprisingly, the desire for this control often manifests itself in forms of violence against the bodies of Muslim women. I am specifically referring to incidents of violence such as French authorities forcing a Muslim women to de-robe by removing her burkini, and a man in North Carolina grabbing and removing a woman’s hijab on a Southwest Airlines flight. President-elect Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric as well as the atrocities of ISIS can contribute to this desire to control the bodies of Muslim women, but it seems the overarching rationale guiding this behavior by white feminists is the belief that Muslim women are “oppressed” and forced into this “concealing” apparel. By pointing out this “concealment”, Westerners are not only placing emphasis on the body and objectifying it, they are engaging in an Orientalist act of violence that has roots in colonialism and exoticism in the effort to “develop” a culture through global capitalization.
While we can all agree that this violence is problematic, systemic and – well, to be insensitive – nothing new, I am wondering how far this domestic colonialism will push Muslim women. Is the only way for the violence to end in the United States to accept the hijabi woman as an agent of her own desire? Following trends of second wave feminism and the rising trope of consumer fashion, makeup, dieting, etc., the trope of the “self-made woman” commodifies Western norms of femininity into branded, purchasable items. This consumerism contributes to the widespread myth that American women are making entirely their own choices about their presented femininity (and in some ways, gender) because they are consuming it. Not only does this conflate American feminine selfhood with a brand [of femininity], it also helps manipulate representations and paradigms of what it actually means to be an American woman. Commodifying femininity through products and advertisements not only emphasizes the necessary decoration of the female body, it also adds women into the problematic Benjamin Franklin narrative of the self-made man pursuing the American dream. Because this narrative focuses so heavily on one dimension of American self-hood, the women included in it are most often white, middle class, able-bodied with Anglo-Saxon roots.
Therefore, any type of femininity deviating from this norm must be negotiated through a set of compromises and constraints in order to be accepted in American culture. The primary “compromise” is assimilation: black women are encouraged to pass as white by perm-straightening their hair and following Western fashion trends, Asian women are getting eyelid injections and using skin-whitening creams. The question asked here is, how much longer is this violence against Muslim bodies going to continue until Hijabi women are forced to assimilate in order to protect their own bodies, and what exactly is that going to look like? Following trends of colonization and second wave feminism, will Muslim women be forced to commodify their religion as a brand of femininity? While many internationally renowned brands already make hijabs, will their sale and accessibility increase in the United States? Will Wal-Mart start selling scarves next to their women’s clothing? The most obvious answer to an economist would be that obviously Wal-Mart does not currently sell hijabs in the women’s clothing section because the market does not demand it; the small specialty stores selling them currently meet the demand of the market. But I am asking a different question than “when will the market demand it?” I am asking if there is a correlation to violence ending and a prospect of hijab commodification. I am asking if the only way for the United States to accept Muslim women as autonomous human beings is to coerce them into consuming symbols of their religion. Could the commercialization of Muslim woman’s appearance be the only way to end this violence? Does overt physical violence have to be ended by covert objectification by assimilating them into the cult of branding that other American women are subjected to? Is the only way for this religious symbol to be accepted as a choice to make it an obvious consumerist choice? To feminize it as a consumer choice essential to Muslim-American femininity? Is the final step to end Western colonialism to commodify and redefine every sacred aspect of those colonized in order to comprehend their identity in terms of capitalism?