Is this Liberation?

Or am I only allowed to choose freely when my choice is deemed acceptable in the western ideology? Is this what liberation is?



February 1st, 2018.
Hijab day.
London, UK.

I stared at my reflection in the dirty mirror of this badly lit bathroom. My golden locks framed my face into a lovely portrait. I ran my hand through a portion of them, feeling their silky smoothness slip through my fingers. I couldn’t possibly imagine living without my hair flawlessly flowing to my shoulders. Yet the woman waiting for me outside was convinced of the opposite.

 

I drew my eyes towards the scarf she gave me moments ago. It was of a beautiful teal color. I loved to wear this color because it makes my eyes pop. Maybe wearing it around my head would make my eyes look prettier. Or maybe this whole idea is ridiculous. Yes, I should just go outside and tell this woman that I’ve changed my mind.

 

But I’ve already accepted her challenge, and I’m not one to back down. This woman has been walking for years with a headscarf; it can’t be that hard to do it for a day, right? So I placed my hair into a small bun at the nape of my neck. Then wrapped the scarf loosely around my head. The color really did make my eyes look to take on a deeper shade of blue. So maybe it is not such a terrible idea after all.

 

I made my way out of the bathroom, and towards the table where the Hijabi lady, Mariam, and I just had breakfast. As she saw me approaching she gave me a toothy grin. The waiter also noticed my return, but he didn’t look as thrilled. He was gaping at the two of us with his mouth open wide. I smiled at him and said: Today is Hijab day, so I’m only trying the headscarf for the day. The guy just nodded with skepticism evident in his eyes as he took the check and walked away.

 

As I tried to process his strong reaction, Mariam asked if I was ready to go. I nodded yes and we walked out of the dinner. Two women in matching teal headscarves. We haven’t been out for long and we were already getting lots of stares. They were especially looking at me. My blue eyes and pale skin gave away that I was one of them. Their eyes screamed: how dare you, you traitor!

 

A while later two men walked towards us. They said that if we were forced to wear this, we didn’t have to do this anymore here in the UK. We were safe here they reassured. Mariam started explaining to them what she told me earlier when I approached her at the cafe and asked about her scarf. That she voluntarily chose to wear it 3 years ago when she was 20. I piped in to explain that I’m only trying it out for the day. But the men weren’t convinced. They tried to talk about liberation and freedom. Until Mariam thanked them for their concern and said we had to get going. After they were gone she turned to me and started talking.

 

Do you see what I told you about? People just don’t understand that I chose this. There is too much of this Muslim-women-are-oppressed-propaganda going on, that it’s so hard to convince people that the stereotype isn’t always true. I chose to wear this, and if their talk of human rights and freedom of choice holds – then why am I not given the freedom to wear my Hijab? Or am I only allowed to choose freely when my choice is deemed acceptable in the western ideology? Is this what liberation is?

……

February 1st, 2018.
No Hijab day.
Tehran, Iran.

Where are my keys? I thought frantically as I emptied the contents of my purse on the passenger’s seat. I hate these purses, it’s like they swallow my belongings. I wish designers of women’s clothes took some time to add us large pockets just like in the men’s clothes. I finally found my keys, if I had pockets this wouldn’t have happened. I need to get to the city center quickly, I need to proceed with my plan.

 

As I put the key into the ignition, I saw my reflection on the windshield in front of me. Pretty features that are suffocated by the weight of the headscarf that encloses them. I could see how my dark eyes are filled with worry. I was nervous, I was about to do something that will alter my life forever. My first act of defiance, against a system that crushes our rights.

 

I drove through the streets of the boring suburbs I live in, going towards the center of the city. I need as many people as possible to witness what I’m about to do. It’s been 10 years since I was obliged to dress modestly by the law. I still don’t understand why 13-year-old girls must follow this nonsense. They’re too young, some of them haven’t even hit puberty yet. Nevertheless the day they turn 13 is the day the world can never see their hair again.

 

I mean I’m not against culture or religion or any of these things. But being forced to do something I don’t want for any reason whatsoever shouldn’t be acceptable. Women should be able to choose for themselves. The ones who want to cover up should be allowed to do so, and the ones who wish to show their hair should be allowed to do so too. I reminded myself of all of these things as I was approaching my destination. I was reminding myself so I don’t back down. So that I fulfill the mission I left my house to do.

 

I’ve finally reached the center of the city, I parked my car and started walking towards the market, where I knew the people would be. I got up on a low wall at the side of the street, drawing attention to myself as I did so. I then proceeded to unwrap the scarf on my head. For the first time in years, I felt the street air ruffle my locks. I heard a few gasps. Some people stopped walking and stared, a few women gave me shy smiles. I tied the scarf around the stick I brought with me and held it high in protest. I looked at the crowd started talking.

 

Most of you are probably thinking I am shunning my religion and culture. That we Iranians are proud of wearing our hijabs, and that we don’t need the west looking at us as if we’re oppressed. But how can I be content when I am being forced into something, I refuse to live under this oppression.  Our right to choose should be guaranteed. Isn’t this what liberation is?