Last week, a photo went viral in the matter of a few hours. It was a photo of a high school girl. Below it, her senior yearbook quote read, “Only reason I wear this is to give you females a chance.”
The “this” she was referring to, of course, was her hijab.
“Wow,” I thought. What a sweet sentiment! I had deciphered her comment as a boost of confidence to fellow hijabis: I’m wearing this so you can feel strong in your choice to wear this, too!
But as I started reading the articles that began to flood my social media, and I saw her own comments on Twitter, I realized it was nothing of the sort. She meant it in the way that she was covering her beauty – that she was too beautiful – and that would be the only way for women who don’t wear hijab to be noticed in society.
Well, once I realized that, I instantly felt a frisson of something I can only call discomfort.
Yet again, women were being reduced to a set of validated characteristics that were limited to our looks. And her reason for wearing hijab automatically excluded non-hijabi Muslim women from the larger community of Muslim women. As if the hijabis are better than Muslim women choose to not wear hijab, because they “hide their beauty.”
When I discussed this with a few friends and family, I was met with shocked proclamations and looks of disdain. How could I, a hijabi, not feel proud of this girl for her statement?
Simple. Because her statement points to a bigger issue we are facing in our society.
That photo went viral because we think that for a woman to feel better about herself and her situation, she must at the same time put down other women.
And this goes beyond Muslim women. This has to do with women of all backgrounds, and especially minorities, who have had to face discrimination at some point in their life. Women face discrimination in the workplace, in politics, in society as whole. You would think we would be more attuned to one another’s struggles and support each other when the need arises.
Women of color, however, tend to face discrimination on an even higher level. They face it both as a women, and as people of color. Both those traits together create a larger obstacle to success, especially when other women try and hold them back as they try to complete their own personal journey.
Being part of a marginalized community in this country has its hardships. It’s not easy to deal with the social injustices inflicted upon this population. A lot of times, it can seem almost hopeless. That is why I firmly believe that we, as women, need to bond together and work as one unit in order for us to be successful.
The high school girl whose quote went viral is only 17, and I cannot blame her for her comment. I admire her strength. But what has failed us is our system.
We need to teach our girls from a young age that using our religion, color, or ethnicity to get ahead is wrong, as it simultaneously puts down other women.
Sisterhood is a fierce bond. When used correctly, its ripple effects will create waves of success in our societies. Now, more than ever, we need to uplift each other and work towards achieving our goals together. Only then will we see true freedom and equal rights for all women.
Jinan Deena is a Palestinian American who has used writing as a tool to express herself. Through her writing, she was allowed to create a safe space for expression and dialogue. You can find Jinan on Facebook, Instagram @jdeena and Twitter @j_deena.