I had promised myself that I would not, absolutely not opine on the issue of Noor Tagouri and her hijab in Playboy.
I’m keeping my promise. This post isn’t about Tagouri at all. It’s about something bigger, something systemic.
So I agree that Playboy is rubbish. I am nauseated by the existence of a magazine that flourishes because it pimps, consumes, objectifies, and sells the female body. Over and over and over. I’m not going to repeat what others have said far more effectively: Playboy is trash; objectification is exploitative; hijab and modesty do not match such a forum; shaming Tagouri for her choice is unacceptable; critiquing her choice of forum is possible; Playboy does some useful pieces; the whole idea is to go where no hijabi has gone before, etc.
It’s all been said.
Oh, by the way, I know a well-known Muslim community leader who sexually preyed upon other women while married to another woman, using his community leadership role. That guy is now still being invited to speak to community events. I’m guessing Tagouri, on the other hand, has been slashed off a whole stack of lists. I know I stopped getting invited to MSA events as soon as I quit hijab, and I didn’t even pose for Playboy.
A prominent Islamic teacher who sexually abused young women at his Islamic school was defended by many community members because oh well, he’s just an old man, they said; let him live his days out in peace, they said, with happy memories of ejaculating on the dress of some traumatized young woman.
Ah, the joys of having a penis rather than breasts. So much impunity, so much win.
Playboy has made billions selling the female body. Playboy is a cog in the patriarchy machine. That doesn’t mean Playboy gets to hide. It is a monstrous part of the capitalist patriarchy. Its thing is treating women as objects. My friend Samar Kaukab has engaged with the misogyny and sexism of this spectacle.
The movie and fashion industry we patronize are also part of the capitalist patriarchy.
What makes me prick (no pun intended) up my ears is the high level of social media activity by religious Muslims around Tagouri-in-Playboy, as compared to, for instance, global human trafficking, sex slavery by ISIS, Muslim nations’ penal codes that infantilize and trap women in guardianship, sexual abuse, rape, etc.
As in the Muslim world, so in the US, sex remains the problem. Violence and exploitation, not so much. Let’s look at American movie culture: the moral police in the US are focused by and large on sex and nudity on screen, while violence continues to rise.
What makes sex and sex-related issues the greater danger to public morality, compared to violence, murder, and state terrorism? What causes a community to rise up in arms against a single young woman’s presence – in a headscarf – in hijab?
Some might say it is precisely the horrifying mismatch between hijab and Playboy that causes a massive community-wide coronary.
A hijabi or a bearded Muslim could join the CIA’s drone program, and kill civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, and she or he would probably receive congratulations and requests for professional introductions. But sex? The female body? Playboy?
A Muslim woman still carries the honor of the community.
Do all Muslim women alike carry that honor? Not really. A hijab wearer, one might say, dons the uniform of the United Ummah Representative. Khimars, hijabs, turbans, scarves, abayas, they all serve as your personal stripes. As my research respondent “Teresa” said, as a hijabi, she could no longer smoke in public (so she’d smoke in private). “Elizabeth” said that she could not start wearing hijab unless she was really pious and really well-informed about Islam (Muslim American Women on Campus). Once you put on the uniform, it seems, you are no longer a free agent. I’m not saying this is how it should be. I’m saying this is how it is. I’m saying, also, maybe, this is why I quit hijab. Because the whole bloody burden of the whole bloody ummah was way too much, and it’s not like I even like the whole ummah enough to represent all of it.
Some say, Tagouri ought to know she’s donned a cultural symbol and is therefore by extension a cultural symbol, and cannot mix wine with Zamzam water. She’s sullying the purity of the uniform, the symbol, by doing what she did.
Would it be better if Tagouri doffed her hijab and did a proper Playboy shoot? Would the community be less offended?
My friend Asma T. Uddin writes that Playboy has made hijab sexy and therefore deprived Muslim women’s religious clothing of its connotations (agency and modesty).
Yes, this is so.
Falguni Sheth wrote in 2009 that while the sari has been “colonially domesticated” as a “sexy” garment, the hijab – still “undomesticated” – remains a target of hostility. “The hijab is perceived to violate the norms of a sexually and politically liberated society, as well as the aesthetic norms that correspond to such a world,” writes Sheth, so: “The hijab, unlike the sari, still has the widespread public perception of being “strange” rather than sexy.”
Well, hijab, welcome to Playboy and 2016. Also, for those of you unaware of hijab chic and sexy hijab, try a google search. (Keep a barf bag handy). I just attended ISNA, and I have seen sexy hijab. Sexy hijab is not a weird thing.
Some might ask, is that so bad? When is a person not sexy, in fact? Helen Mirren can be sexy, for instance, in a muu-muu. Sex and sexiness are part of life. What makes hijab sexy? Eye make-up? That hump on the top of the head? Adventurous wraps that reveal a lock of hair? Just how much are we going to police it for authenticity?
For the gorgeous among us, we are never not sexy. We apologize to the rest of you for this.
But what is a problem is the commodification and selling of sexiness. Welcome to capitalism. Anything that will sell, will be sold.
Modesty and agency are not the only purposes for a wearer of hijab. For those of my sisters who wear hijab for modesty and agency, this is a tough encounter but a necessary one. You don’t own hijab.
Here’s another reason to wear hijab: in the global cultural marketplace, when everything is 5 seconds old the moment it’s on Twitter and Instagram, what can bring you visibility and public recognition when trying to make it in a public career, in a world of conventional pantsuits and summer dresses?
You got it. Hijab.
Welcome to capitalism. Tagouri owns her own brand, and her brand can be sexy hijab welcome in Playboy. Your hijab, and my nerdy-middle-aged lack of hijab will never be welcome there.
Playboy as well as public figures are not necessarily static cultural symbols but merely commodities and products seeking wider markets in the cultural marketplace of capitalism. Trump’s mad demagoguery plays beautifully to the cultural marketplace. It’s so —- so — WEIRD! I can’t look away! I’m so mad about it I’m going to keep talking and writing about it until it stops!
Made you look.