What Do Muslim Women Want?

Many Westerners cling to a distorted image of Muslim women as benighted creatures trapped in hijabs and burkas. But women activists in Muslim countries tend to emphasize issues such as honor killings, legal inequality, and lack of access to education, and they express frustration that Westerners’ obsession with Muslim clothing comes at the expense of these concerns.

NEW YORK – When caricature takes the place of dialogue, everyone suffers – especially when it comes to understanding issues affecting women, who struggle worldwide against being silenced. Some right-wing American bloggers recently twisted an article that I wrote in a way that did just that.

I wrote that many women activists in Muslim countries tend to emphasize issues such as honor killings, legal inequality, and lack of access to education, and that they express frustration that the obsession among Westerners with Muslim women’s clothing can come at the expense of these concerns. I also pointed out that many Muslim feminists defend their dress in terms of nationalism, anti-imperialism, or as a matter of faith.

This provoked a small firestorm of distortion in the West: “Wolf Wants to Institutionalize the Burka,” etc. It was depressing to see a simple appeal for Westerners to listen to Muslim women deliberately distorted into a representation of all Muslim women as meek, will-less beings in need of rescue.

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