Sobia on Muslimah Media Watch has a very detailed analysis of the article in question as well as the research article which was cited. I’m continuing the critique in my own words. Basically an author recently wrote an article about how the hijab protects women, using Dr. Susan Fiske’s study as support. Dr. Fiske’s study found that sexist men were more likely to dehumanize bikini clad (i.e. scantily clad, sexualized) women. This study has important implications for American society where women’s bodies and women’s sexuality are used to market EVERYTHING. In a culture where many men and women have sexist ideas, even if not always overt, such constant objectification perpetuates the dehumanization of women even more. On one hand women are taught to aspire to such appearances, on the other hand, men are taught to disrespect women who appear as such. The study finds though that men who are not sexists for the most part are less likely to dehumanize the bikini clad women in the pictures.
That’s exactly why using this research in defense of the hijab is not appropriate. Women who dress conservatively are objectified less by sexist men. True. But why should any woman be objectified? Why should women have change their clothing to avoid sexism when the problem lies with the men’s sexism in the first place? Telling women to cover up more is not the solution to this problem. It’ll only create a new equilibrium of modesty where women wearing jeans and shirts or fitting clothing will be considered immodest and less human – which is the situation in socially conservative societies. This is exactly what has been happening recently in Bangalore. So we can encourage women to cover all their skin and hair, and then make-up will be considered immodest. This just perpetuates the “men will be men” attitude and blaming women. But “men will be men” is not true. Egalitarian men don’t dehumanize any woman, bikini clad or burqa clad.
The solution lies in not in covering up women, but in making sexism unacceptable. Oppressing certain groups of people harms all people. Objectifying women perpetuates such sexism. They set the standards for attractiveness that women have to aspire to, while making attractive women commodities.
Disclaimer: It should be apparent from my writing but I’ll make it clear anyways – this isn’t a judgement of women who dress modestly or wear hijab. Such choices are complex, and are no more constructed than choices to dress provocatively. – vidyarthi