Tag Archives: Women

It’s Not About the Burqa

Mariam Khan, freelance writer, editor and feminist, has compiled essays from seventeen Muslim women in the UK, who challenge some of the stereotypical views we have about Muslim women and their communities.

How many of us look at Muslim women and think of oppression, silence, abuse and misogyny? I read this book because I wanted to hear from the Muslim woman herself, and It’s Not About the Burqa, though not representing ALL Muslim women, shed light on many issues I had never thought about. Issues that a lot of us do not care to consider. The women in this collection speak about feminism, racism, sex, sexuality, faith and other issues that concern Muslim women in the West.

Some of them take us through a journey of how they found their voice, and how they shed identities that were given to them by the communities they came from and the ones stamped on them by the rest of society. Sufiya Ahmed shares her experience of discovering Prophet Mohammed’s first wife, Khadija bint Khuwalid, who was not a silenced and oppressed housewife, but rather a successful businesswoman and the wealthiest merchant in Mecca at the time. Not only do you find such stories in the history of Islam women, but the essayists share how the Quran, contrary to the spread laws or rules of tyrannising women, supports and empowers women.

What I found the most interesting is how these Muslim women discuss the balance between identities, and how they’re expected to only be one thing, get rid of one to become the other. Things such as being queer and Muslim, being feminist and Muslim or being black and Muslim. I had never thought about it that much but it made me realise how mainstream feminism can be so damaging instead of freeing. For example, one essayist discussss how feminism talks about equality and liberation of all women, and yet will expect a Muslim woman to choose between her faith and being a feminist, which becomes pointless because it is doing the very thing it claims to fight against.

There’s also so much about how representation of Muslim women has gone wrong, in the way that it’s done by fashion designers, or on magazine covers, where what they are doing is representing a Western model and ideal of a hijabi. There is also the idea of representing only what Muslim women look like but when they have to speak for themselves, their vocal representation is not given a platform.

It’s Not About the Burqa also challenges members of their communities themselves, to stop doing things that give the rest of the world the wrong perception of the religion, giving them even more armour to attack their identities and their faith. They do not deny the existence of things such as misogyny, as they do exist in so many other cultures and religious communities.

I appreciate the honesty of the essayists in admitting their inability to speak for all Muslim women, because it’s impossible. They’re all different, from different communities and with different experiences and cultures. However, as Muslim women they should be able to create a platform where Muslim women are not spoken for. We cannot say Muslim women are silenced by their religion yet not give them a platform to speak.

This is a well written, edifying, enlightening and empowering book. It’s also light, you can breeze through it, it doesn’t burden you with complaints and noise. No, it’s bold and it challenges the narrative about Muslim women.

I want to say feminists will love this, which they’ll do, but I think anyone with good sense and who wants to see all people given a chance to be fairly represented, seen and heard will enjoy this.

It’s really not about the burqa, or the hijab, abaya or dupatta. It’s so much more.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Examining Women & Power with Mary Beard

“We have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.”

― Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto

If we reach into the depth of mankind’s history we see how in many parts women and power have been two separate entities. Power has been seen through a male lens and when women have tried to take the power that belongs to them, it has raised such discomfort that men have often gone to great lengths to prevent it. Women have had to take a subordinate role and there have been laws, rules and social constructs to keep them there.

However, we have made a bit of progress although a lot still needs to be done. In some parts of the earth, she is progressively pulling up a chair and actively sitting at the table. Sadly, there are still many societies where women’s voices are still muted and women are completely excluded from power.

In this profound examination of these concerns, Mary Beard demonstrates how modern misogyny can be detangled and linked back to classical themes where women were heavily prejudiced. She revisits the classical Greek and Roman work of literature, giving examples of stories of women who are the embodiment of these prejudices. The parallelism of ancient literature to the modern times shows history often recurring in different spheres – politics, economics, etc.

Her focus on the silencing of women points out, amongst many, how public speech was one of the ways of defining masculinity, and so to have women speak in public has often provoked aggression. Beard strives to find answers to how women can be heard.

She also scrutinizes the gap between women and power and takes on an angle which surpasses simply knowing and laying out the stats. She takes on an analytical approach and forces you to think about the why and the how. How is misogyny embedded in history and in cultures? How do we confront these issues? She challenges the definition of power, by asking, “If women are not perceived to be within the structures of power, then is it power that we need to redefine?” Another example of power that she zooms into is that of masking inequality by placing women in so-called positions of power when those positions are possibly where power is not.

“I do wonder if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.”

‘Women and Power’ is a sharp and illuminating read that matters, and should be read. I applaud her for her ability to knit so many important and agonizingly true points in a compact and stimulating package that leaves you with something crucial to carefully reflect on.  

You will enjoy this book if you want to hear a more pragmatic approach to gender inequality and sexism. Also, if you want more than the statistics, more than just calling out sexism but also explaining it.

Enjoy ✌


Title: Women & Power: A Manifesto

Author: Mary Beard

Publisher: Liveright, 2017

Hardcover pages: 128

A Seat At The Table With Sheryl Sandberg in ‘Lean In’

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

-Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

The workplace can be a battlefield for women, where they struggle with progressing and gaining access to top roles. Leadership roles are still dominated by men, and promotion and rising to higher positions takes place faster for men than it does for women.

Sheryl Sandberg unknots the underlying issues that have to do with these challenges that women face, and comes up with good solutions. In Lean In, Sandberg identifies root causes such as women’s personal attitudes and lack of confidence. Fear also influences women’s attitudes in the workplace, such as the fear that they don’t deserve certain roles as compared to men. There’s also the fear of failing, putting too much on their plates and the fear of not being able to balance home and work. Women still need to play other roles at home, wives and mothers and there’s also the fear of not succeeding in those roles.

Sandberg also confronts the issue of likeability – a woman being too nice therefore perceived as incompetent, or being competent but not nice enough. She suggests that women should feel they deserve the roles they want and accept the challenge. Wanting to do it all just won’t work, but doing most of it well enough will help.

Her other remedy is that women should seek out opportunities and ask for them if they have to. There are women who will hold back the reality of their personal lives, which can get in the way, and so she advises that they should be open about their personal lives as it is not separate from their work lives.

This book is a good contribution to the efforts of changing the system and achieving equality. The issues she addresses are serious and her passion for a call to make changes in a world that constantly makes it difficult to carry out that task, is commendable. The style can be slightly dull at times, therefore making it a bit demanding on the reader’s attention. However, it’s a necessary read for both men and women. It’s for women to recognize things about themselves that could be holding them back. It is for men because it will bring to attention some of the things that they do to hold women back and ways that they can help to creating equality. It can also advise women who stand in the way of other women, on how self-preservation only serves to inflame what is already wrong with the system.

Lean In is worth a read. It plays a good role in the fight for women’s right to get a seat at the table.

Talking about vaginas with Eve Ensler, and the freedom and power it brings.

The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play that has been performed all around the world. Eve Ensler interviewed a diversity of women, giving them a platform to talk about their vaginas. These are women from a wide range of backgrounds – different sexualities, young and old, from different cultures and religions. They’re also women who have been through different experiences; rape, consensual sex, genital mutilation and more.

This sharp, profound and hilarious gathering of female voices shows the desires, fears, and oppression of many women with regards to their bodies, especially their vaginas. It celebrates the vagina. It gives it its own voice. It allows the vagina to be revisited, to be looked at and for its owner to have a positive relationship with it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for its power and freedom. I learned to question and to confront issues relating to my own body and my own experiences with myself and whom I choose to share those experiences with.

“The clitoris is pure in purpose. It is the only organ in the body designed purely for pleasure.” 
― Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues

I also discovered the global movement, V-Day, which strives to end violence against all women and girls. This non-profit organization was born from The Vagina Monologues and has so far done an incredible job to help women and girls around the globe.

I recommend this for all women and I challenge you to sit down and have a conversation with yourself about your body, and about your vagina. You will not look at it the same way again.

Enjoy!

“To love women, to love our vaginas, to know them and touch them and be familiar with who we are and what we need. To satisfy ourselves, to teach our lovers to satisfy us, to be present in our vaginas, to speak of them out loud, to speak of their hunger and pain and loneliness and humor, to make them visible so they cannot be ravaged in the dark without great consequence, so that our center, our point, our motor, our dream, is no longer detached, mutilated, numb, broken, invisible, or ashamed.” 

― Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues