Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Hijab Fail

WoodTurtle is a Canadian Muslim feminist currently using her extended maternity leave to explore developments of Islamic feminism in the Western and Muslim world.  As a woman who wears the hijab (owns several abayas and a niqab monogrammed with her initials in pink, sparkly sequins), she writes frequently on genderized Islamophobia. She also works toward dispelling myths and stereotypes about women in Islam for both Muslims and non.  
On Friday, myself and two friends sat in a Starbucks in the centre of downtown Toronto sipping chai lattes and fruit smoothies. We were debriefing and venting about all manner of subject relating to the discerning Muslim feminist: mixed-gender prayer, hijab, work, hijab, school, hijab, hipster Muslims, hijab, single Muslim women as the walking dead, and why-on-earth-do-Muslim-woman-HAVE-to-talk-about-hijab-all-the-freaking-time, or are-our-bodies-nature-sexuality-piety-and-relationship-to-God-REALLY-reduced-to-THIS?

When suddenly, Privilege Denying Dude decided to pay his respects. 

“Are you Muslim?”

We looked up, slightly perturbed at being disrupted by a stranger who decided to interrupt two hijabis and a fabulous, modest Muslimah in the midst of solving the problem of hijab. We stared at him for two heartbeats longer than necessary — because no one really wanted to open the floodgates by misinterpreting the intent of his question. Is he asking because his daughter just converted? Is he asking because he’s curious about Islam? Is he asking because he wants to harass us?
Someone eventually (and with much suspicion) said, “Yeeessssss…” At which he motioned at me and said, “Is she?”

A snort and “ask her yourself” was all it took before he was in my face asking if I was Muslim:

“How is that working out for you?”
“So far, so good!”
“Where do you ladies pray? Where is your church? Your mosque?”

Visions of firebombing ricocheted in my head. No one wanted to answer that one, and frankly, we were already sick of the Third Degree. We were silent.

He asked again.

I made vague motions with my hand, naming off three main streets.

“Oh, so you can pray anywhere? You don’t have to go to just one. Did you go today?”

At which point, two other patrons decided to start grumbling at him. I caught snippets of “…rude…” and “… take off guy…”

He walked to the door and we three faced each other with raised eyebrows and incredulousness on our faces.

But then he came back, looked directly at me with the hint of a smile and asked, “What’s your name.”

Which was the last straw. You do not raise the ire of a pregnant women. Or keep her from enjoying her smoothie.

With the coldest death stare imaginable, “I. Am. Not. Telling. You. My. Name.”

After a derisive snort and a “why” from one of my friends, he explained, “Because she’s so pretty.”

It’s at this point where pure emotion took over my body. I was incensed beyond reason. Pushing back my chair (you know, like the tough guys do in movies before standing up and kicking some serious ass) I pointed at my very, obviously swollen belly and screamed, “I’M PREGNANT!”

Another friend exclaimed, “She’s MARRIED!”

And he very plainly, with all of his male privilege laid out for Starbucks to see, reasoned, “But she could be pregnant and unmarried.”

The grumbling patrons grumbled louder and feeling the negative attention, or perhaps feeling deflated after being rebuked by women who had the AUDACITY to shun his attentions — Privilege Denying Dude left the coffee shop.

But not before he turned and pointed a finger at me, “You’d better watch your mouth!”

*cue violin*

Poor Privilege Denying Dude. We took away his opportunity to get off by chatting up some Muslim women. Poor Privilege Denying Dude. We took away his exotic fantasies. Poor Privilege Denying Dude. We embarrassed him publicly. Poor Privilege Denying Dude. We shut him down and said, “NO, you DO NOT have the right to know our intimate details.”

Because somehow he felt like he did have that right. He was attracted to a woman. Therefore, she should welcome his attention. Maybe just for some innocent flirting. Maybe for some hot belly dancing lessons later. Or maybe just because he was bored.

It didn’t matter that I was with friends. It didn’t matter that I was WITH CHILD. It didn’t matter that I was wearing hijab. And in the end, he still made it my fault.

How ironic.