President Obama’s remarks about Kamala Harris (You have ..to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, …She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country ..) may have been a lighthearted comment between friends but there were enough people calling them “sexist” to have some of his supporters defend them as mere compliments, and have Obama apologize.
From the face of it, it did seem sexist. Too often, women are judged less on their aptitude, intellect and more on their appearance. It was sexually objectifying women, and that woman in particular. Too often, women are judged more for their ornamental value or for their appearance than their accomplishments. It was no wonder that women that were more sexually appealing to men have a better chance of growth in career than their homelier counterparts.
It was like saying that the women that did achieve success did so, because their physical attractiveness had a role in it, and not only because of their talents, capabilities and skills. It was like saying they probably wouldn’t have been successful had their physical appearance not been a factor. It was like saying that Kamala Harris reached success also because she was attractive. You see, men don’t have that advantage. It was sexist, because it was this kind of mentality that prevented women from being judged on an equal footing with men.
But the problem isn’t with some men alone. There is no shortage of women who perpetuate such sexism. Many women who judge themselves as attractive use their wares to make their men more agreeable and have their way. Women who judge themselves as attractive and have low self-esteem often put most of their self-worth on the basis of their physical appearance, and by the amount and kind of attention they receive from men, actually relishing men hitting on them to an extent. Such women are often insecure about their beauty, wondering if it was a change in their physical appearance to something less attractive the reason for any perceived drop in attention or progress.
What they don’t realize before it’s too late is that the same women who bank so much on their physicality would lose the most of what they have when they lose their physical attractiveness – which every single woman does with age and family and the first kid.
Here is where I thought the Hijab came in. Hijab as a means of modesty for both men and women, would include reasonably modest dressing and modest behavior with the opposite gender. In my opinion, Hijab for men entailing modest dressing and behavior with women, and prohibiting lustful gaze addresses the issues of sexism partly.
For Muslim women, by taking out one’s physical sexual attraction out of the equation in a significant way in their interactions with unrelated men, they are in essence asking men to deal with their mind, not their body, and theoretically addressing some of the issues women face.
It was a coincidence that around the same time that Obama apologized for his remarks, FEMEN had naked topless protesters outside of mosques championing the message that they were naked, and they were free. While they had a point that men did not have any business forcing women to dress in a particular way, they were particularly Islamophobic and blamed Islam and Muslim men for women covering up. It was ridiculous that while they were protesting Muslim men patronizing and controlling women, they failed to realize that Muslim women did not need them “liberators” to free them of the clutches of Muslim men – in the vast majority of cases, Muslim women wear the Hijab because they want to, and not because their husbands of fathers or brothers forced them to. And moreover, the unfortunate fact that women are used as objects and commodities, played around by men as ornaments was also widespread in Western societies, just as the Obama episode showed us. Women are used to sell everything under the sun, not through any of their skills and talents, but through their sexual appeal.
I personally know Muslim women who have a strong attachment with the Hijab, relish the Hijab, feet confident, comfortable and in place in it. There are others who struggle in and out of the Hijab. It is true, that a few struggle with their hijab and wear it more out of societal pressure and fear of gossip and embarrassment than out their own conviction.
Others struggle because they don’t feel confident and beautiful in it – either because of their similarity to the women who perpetuate sexism as discussed above or out of fear of negative reactions at work or school. There are some others who don’t feel the need for any outward clothing but are strong, confident, modest nevertheless, and do not allow men to objectify them. On the other hand, there are other women who observe the Hijab only in dressing but not so much in their interactions with men. The story of Hijab is very human.
I agree that the remark that Obama made was a friendly one between friends that didn’t deserve controversy, but it served to highlight the underlying issues that are true, nevertheless.