By Maryam Sakeenah
In her article The Balancing Act of Being Female, Lisa Wade discusses the daily-battle women face in their struggles to conform to the expectations of an over-sexualized society. From dress to demeanor, all is sized up and judged for social appropriacy; when being flirty is appealing, and what crosses the line into ‘asking for it.’ At the workplace, she ought to be ‘proper’ but not in the least ‘prudish,’ and a slight misdemeanor may just spill over into inappropriately ‘cheeky’ and wholly undesirable.
Unfortunately, many women subject themselves to these pressures as they dress to convey the attitude the occasion demands. Often, this pressure goes unnoticed and is mistaken for the woman’s freedom and natural right to look good and feel desired. Sadly, this makes women spend more than they’re able, attempting to get the right look and hoping to win the nod of approval from a society that objectifies their femininity.
That said, the pressure it builds on women who are unable to conform to these expectations is brutally oppressive. One of my students stopped me on my way to class, holding back her tears, and desperate for help. She expressed that wished to end her life because ‘everyone hates me and makes fun of me because I am ugly and I am not feminine enough.’ The girl was intelligent and hardworking, but suffered terrible pressure from peers because she did not dress, wax, or style her hair like other girls. I was revolted by our inability to accept human beings as they are without trying to smooth the rough edges, making us all clones of the ideal stereotype.
This ideal stereotype is reinforced relentlessly through advertisements and the entertainment industry, exercising enormous influence on our minds. Grotesque billboards stare down at the city telling us how ‘Slim is the in thing,’ while T.V. commercials tell us that not having the latest cellphone or the perfect skin makes one worthless. It tells us that people who stutter stand no chance at all for their appalling, socially incorrect inability.
The images, stereotypes, and values created by the entertainment, cosmetic, and advertising industries are insensitive. They add pressure on women to look, dress, and act a certain way, or otherwise be condemned to social marginalization. Additionally, the commercial ethic values physicality more than anything else, and the pressure this creates smothers the natural diversity of human beings.
God made us in varying shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities because that is how the world was meant to be. This diversity is instead painted in a plastic hue in one unvarying, flat stroke of sameness. Women mutilate their own bodies to feel more accepted: Botox, nose-jobs, liposuction, and plastic surgeries have been steadily on the rise.
That said, the Muslim veil takes on a certain significance. For me, it has always meant a refusal to subject myself to judgment by a commercialized, over-sexualized society. It is immensely liberating from the pressure of conforming to societies superficial standards. In other words, it is a refusal to subject myself to judgment based on how I look or what I wear, and a means to turn away the lustful stare of an onlooker. The veil raises me onto a more spiritual and intellectual plane, and this defines my social interaction while deflecting attention away from physicality. It is, truly- liberation.