Hijab debate unveils parents’ biases

Check out my editorial for The Cincinnati Enquirer: Hijab debate unveils parents’ biases 

“Kids viewed the Covered Girl Challenge as being about culture and fashion…Parents, however, saw it as being about religion and politics.”

Many Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab face the negative stigma that Western culture places on Islam. To bring light to the matter, BuzzFeed highlighted their experiences through a Covered Girl Challenge.

When a Mason High School organization tried to host its own Covered Girl Challenge, however, the Mason group’s experiment didn’t have a happy ending. After receiving backlash from community members, MHS “reconsider[ed] the event’s ability to meet its objectives” and canceled it.

The ugly truth is that despite our declarations of diversity, unconscious prejudice still lingers furtively. We are careful to avoid offensive words and anything politically incorrect, but what’s the point of being publicly polite if you’re going to be biased at home? While I’m proud to be from Mason, I’m sorry to see that in this case, diversity was just a big word filled with empty promise.

In approving the event, organized by the Muslim Student Association, I think the school administration did mean well. They believed in the students’ goal, but optimistically didn’t anticipate the criticism from parents.

In response to the controversy, Mason City Schools said kids can wear religious garb at school “but at the same time, we can’t promote religion.” While public schools have no place interfering with religion, isn’t the defense behind canceling the challenge like saying the morning announcements can’t announce the after-school meeting for a Bible study group?

If the MSA required a parent consent form to participate in the event and made it clear that participation was voluntary, I don’t think it would have been promoting religion. The organizers weren’t trying to sell Islam to their peers; they were simply providing an opportunity for kids to experience part of their culture and maybe be more empathetic to an unnecessary stigma. There’s a blurred line between religion and culture.

And though the hijab is a very visible symbol for Islam, there’s so much more to it than religion. In a society that places serious emphasis on conventional female beauty, how do girls feel when all their friends wear sleeveless dresses and get their hair done for prom? How do they feel rearranging their head coverings throughout the day?

Perhaps more so than cultural diversity, this event would have been an ideal way to show that you don’t have to dress a certain way, that you don’t have to look like the girls on magazine covers and movie screens – something many teenagers struggle with.

The kids viewed it as culture and fashion. The adults took it as religion and politics. As much as the news headlines make MHS look like the bad guy for canceling the event, the real tension emerged when the community spoke up. Parents have a right to voice their concerns about public education, but they need to understand that reacting based on obsolete, stereotypical views is unacceptable. And that it’s the 21st century.

We all are aware and accepting of the fact that we go to a school and live in a society where not everyone looks, dresses or speaks the same way. Most of all, we want to learn more about people and cultures that are different from us. We also want to learn more about what makes us the same.

Some complaints from parents were that the event would make them or their kids uncomfortable. Getting rid of prejudice isn’t going to be comfortable. It’s going to be very uncomfortable and awkward and unfamiliar for people who are innately biased.

Though their event got canceled, the MSA students were still able to make a statement. The fact that MHS canceled the Covered Girl Challenge, and the fact that it made national news, proves that despite priding ourselves on diversity, there’s still a lot of masked prejudice that needs to be exposed and eradicated.

5 thoughts on “Hijab debate unveils parents’ biases

  1. Dale Conner says:

    You are a very talented writer. I enjoyed reading your post and I’m very excited to see it published. You have helped others see this issue from another perspective. Thank you for providing an opportunity for healthy dialogue.

  2. Juliana Discher says:

    Rashika, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and the comments it received on the Enquirer’s page. While this topic is controversial to some, you handled it in a professional manner. I especially liked your comment on how the school announces bible club meetings. If this event was trying to get people to wear crosses or habits, would it have gotten so much hate? You’re an eloquent writer, and I’m so proud of you!

  3. Suresh Menon says:

    Rashika a very well written article on a sensitive topic. Although there is a part of me that suggests, the student body should have anticipated some degree of controversy on this event.

  4. Ravi Yekkirala says:

    Hi, Liked your article and touching upon points such as that hijab maybe a status symbol in some societies. Thought provoking and very analytical. There was indeed an article by a Lebanese writer sometime back that did highlight hijab being a high society woman’s status symbol and a fashion statement in itself. The poor then followed it up to protect their women from the peering eyes of the lunatic rich men. If the event you talked about was to highlight the academic study of the origin and reasons for wearing one, that probably would be enlightening and all the same entertaining. Although, I have to admit that some of these are mute points given the disagreements that we all have. Its like discussing Halal vs non-halal. Perceptions can’t be changed, but people can still be given an opportunity at enlightenment on issues we see/deal with in society. Its like wearing a hood…no one likes to discuss it, yet the perception still exists.

    Personally, I’m against wearing hijab as a religious symbol in times of identity crisis (both for security reasons and a woman’s identity).

    Best with your future writings…

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