Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a brief and introductory talk on Muslim women and the veil - images throughout history. The speaker, Dr. Shanaz Khan of Sir Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, provided a brief overview and introduction to the issues of orientalism and the harem girl image, the image of the oppressed Muslim woman, and finally the image of the terrorist Muslim woman. On the topic of orientalism she spoke of the hyper sexualized images of the Eastern Muslim woman in the veil, of which there were many examples; images which aided in demonizing and degrading Muslim people and further solidifying our inferiority in the minds of Europeans.
Her talk was very interesting though brief. The intent was to introduce the topic to an audience who, for the most part, would not have had any exposure to the ideas. Everything went well.....until......some self-righteous, arrogant and sexist men decided to assert their power and superiority over women.
Once Dr. Khan had completed her talk on the history of the veil, this one retired professor, who was of South Asian descent, and whom I assumed to be Muslim, decided to begin his attack. His was the first "comment." He began by telling Dr. Khan that she needed to clarify what the veil meant. He told her that she was misinforming the audience about the meaning of the veil. When she said she did not understand what he was trying to say, his response was "Well, that's why I'm teaching you!!!!!!!" That's why he's teaching her??!! That's why he's teaching her??!! She's the scholar on Muslim women and HE'S going to teach her. Oh yes, he is the almighty man and for a woman to claim to know more than him would be the equivalent to humans saying they know more than God. It's blasphemous isn't it? His version of the veil was a face covering. His claim was that the veil was not just a head covering but rather only the face cover. He blatantly displayed his ignorance. Within the literature the veil is used very generally to refer to various forms of covering. Luckily, the audience was filled with intelligent women, one of whom spoke up, related her research on the history of women in Christian theology, and clarified that the veil does indeed commonly refer to all forms of covering - not just the face veil.
But wait, this didn't end with this comment. At the end, when everyone else had asked their questions, this man decides to teach the audience what Dr. Khan has just said. By starting off by saying, that his comment is in her favour (as if he was some sort of judge), he set the stage for his humiliation. He then proceeded to summarize for us women, because of course we were too stupid, what Dr. Khan just said.
It was ironic, that at a feminist talk, patriarchy and sexism displayed their ugly and hateful faces so clearly.
First, by claiming to teach her about something she does research in, something which pertains to women only and which only women could understand, he tried to claim his superiority in intellect and knowledge not only over Dr. Khan, but the rest of us women as well. "I'll tell you what this clothing that only you wear really is."
Second, by summarizing what she said he dismissed her completely. By doing such he stated that she was not capable of explaining the issues to us. She, with her inferior woman brain, was incapable of forming intelligent thoughts. Therefore, he, as the superior man, would come to her rescue and help her explain her points to the audience. Additionally, as I said earlier, he also dismissed our intelligence.
And what makes this even worse was that he wasn't the only one. Another man, a professor of Arab descent, decided to tell her, in front of everyone, that the talk was not what he expected and how disappointed he was. Wow! The nerve. There are many times when we attend talks which are not as we expect. But we do not complain to the presenter. It is not the presenter's responsibility to cater to every individual at the talk. There is an overall topic which has to be addressed. The fact that he did not get what he had expected was his own problem, not hers. She had no responsibility to ask him, beforehand, what he would like to see in the talk. But he had a responsibility to find out what the talk was about. Therefore, the problem was his. However, because the presenter was a woman, and this man as well as the other seemed to have no problem trying to humiliate her because she was a woman, he felt that he was entitled to let this 'stupid, inferior' woman her place. "You tried to be scholarly but you failed woman. Go back to the kitchen!"
I can bet anything that if the presenter had been a man these men would have kept their inept and rude mouths shut.
Now people wonder why some women hate men and are so vocal. As a Muslim when I face Islamophobia, I have an intense desire to declare my Muslim-ness. I want to display that I am a Muslim and I am proud. If you have a problem with it, just too f-ing bad you.
But it's the same when I encounter sexism. At those times I too want to declare my pride in being a woman. I want to say "I am a woman and I am proud. Wanna make something of it??!! Screw off you sexist jerk!"
However, Dr. Khan handled herself very well and with a lot of grace. And those men made complete fools of themselves.