What I know and what I do not
This is probably the most difficult post I have ever written. I know I will be criticized for it. There will be people who disagree with me, people that will attack me, and people that probably feel I should not be allowed to voice my opinion on the topic. I do so anyways. I believe in freedom of speech, freedom to choose your religion, freedom to become whoever you want, but I also believe in equality and female rights. I am a feminist. I am an atheist. And I support human rights for everyone.
There is a picture going around on facebook that is instrumentalized by various ideological groups: a woman in a full veil (niqab) and a drag or trans woman with bright red hair are sitting next to each other in some sort of public transportation minding their own business. There are some claiming that is the future they do not want. Others claiming that exactly this diversity is the liberal future they want.
What I know is simple: Yes, I want for both women to be safe and happy in our society. I want them to be able to get around without being verbally or physically attacked. I want them to feel welcome, be greeted and thanked, be allowed to go to whatever bathroom they choose to go to, and be treated with the full on respect that every human deserves.
What I do not know is the following. I have no clue if the trans woman is forced into her red hair every day, if this is a wig, and if she secretly wants to wear her hair black but does not dare to because her partner is against it.Or if she is even trans or if she is just wearing an outfit she likes. I do not know if she belongs to a religious group that wants all women to put on make up and be sexually available to anyone who asks. Living in a western society it is probably safe to say that the definition of a woman comes with certain expectation: to wear make up, to wear feminine clothes, to generally be the gender stereotype. I have heard of women receiving critical remarks if they do not conform. But I also know that there are plenty of women who choose not to conform and do not receive punishment. And I have not heard of anyone choosing to be trans or being forced into female gendered clothing when being male. I know that sexual preference or orientation is not a life style choice like many seem to claim. And I have never heard of anyone being forced into dying their hair red.
What I also do not know is if the veiled woman chose to wear a veil or if she is forced into one. I do not know what she thinks or if she even is religious or atheist. I do not know where she was born, her nationality, or sexual preferences. I know, she is allowed to wear this veil and if she wants to can continue to do so every day.
What I know, though, is that there are a lot of women in Arab countries that do not have the choice to wear a veil. Where the veil is used to get the woman out of public sight. I know that the veil is a tool of oppression in these countries and there are many women fighting for the freedom to not wear one. This is why I personally question the choice of any woman to wear a veil voluntarily. I think this is a poor choice and not in solidarity with other women who are oppressed into this form of clothing. Not everyone will share this opinion and that is fine with me.
And it is not just the veil that causes me to cringe at times when people talk about choice. It is also other forms of cultural or religious choices people claim others make. Why do Hasidic women shave their heads? Why is genital mutilation acceptable (boys and girls)? What other means of mutilations have been used to make women into an ideal: feet binding, neck rings, lip plates, fattening, thinning, tattooing? Why are some educational rights different depending on gender?
I apply typically two tests to see if there is oppression involved: Are man and woman equally asked to conform? If the answer is no, this is not an act of equal rights and responsibilities. What happens if you do not conform? If the answer is punishment, it is not done out of free choosing.
As I stated before: choice matters. Treat your choices as a precious good, because not everyone has the same choices you do. Do not game with your or the rights of others with whatever choice you make!