Why do White Guys Hate my Hijab?

One of my posts, originally published on The Feminist Wire:

Just last week, I graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. A few weeks before graduation, my best friend (the only other hijabi on Wesleyan’s 2600+ student campus) and I were taking one of our infamous long walks (we have preset one and a half, three, and five mile loops) around campus and the surrounding Middletown area. As was typical of our second-semester of senior year conversations, we were venting to each other about the many difficulties of finding post-undergrad work with our liberal arts degrees (she a government major and I a history major) and barely-there networks. As we paused our conversation to cross one of the many streets that interrupt our rather scenic routes, I turned around to “look both ways” when I heard a car honk at us and someone yell, “Take that shit off of your head!” Amused, all I could think was, “Hey look, it’s another one of those white guys who hates my hijab.” Unfazed (and quite honestly, used to such behavior at this point in our Wesleyan careers), we continued on our walk.

The next morning, I had to share this story with one of the librarians at Wesleyan’s Art Library, where I worked. During my shift the week before, much to her surprise, I mentioned to my supervisor how often Middletown residents (especially young white men in their red or white pickup trucks) verbally abused my friend and me when we left campus to walk into town. I even refused to walk into town for dinner the day after the Boston Bombings in fear that I would be attacked, like the many hijab-wearing Muslim women in Boston in the aftermath of the bombings. Horrified to hear what my friend and I go through (even though it doesn’t bother us very much), my boss mentioned that it was common for young white males in Middletown to drive around Wesleyan’s campus in the warmer months to “cruise for chicks” (her words, not mine). That’s when it hit me, “So that’s why these white guys hate my hijab – the way I look interrupts their ‘cruises for chicks.’”  More specifically, the way I dress denies them their privileged white male gaze – a privilege that society has taught them is their right, especially over women of color.

The male gaze.  The white male gaze. That infamous white male gaze. Kind of like the male gaze that permeates Hollywood and cinema. Except in this case, the white male gaze is separated from its objects of desire by car windows, not movie screens. And these young white men in their pickup trucks feel it’s their absolute right to “gaze” at women on and off campus. They drive around Wesleyan to see long flowing hair, short shorts, and even shorter dresses. Our hijabs, long-sleeved shirts, maxi skirts, and maxi dresses disrupt their cruises; we deny them their gazing privilege. And so, through their shielded windows and in their mobile getaways, they feel it’s their right to tell me to “take that shit off” of my head.

I hate to break it to you, white guys, but your male gaze is one of the major reasons (among many others, rest assured) I began to wear a hijab.

And let’s not kid ourselves:  the privileged white male gaze and the verbal abuse it provokes is not reserved for Middletown residents only. Although their remarks usually surfaced when they were under the influence, I’ve gone through the same phenomenon with white fraternity brothers at Wesleyan. On one Friday night in the spring of our junior year, my friend and I were taking a late walk when a couple of white fraternity brothers shouted out of their car, “Take that shit back to India.” I’ll admit, this time the words hurt a little more, mainly because neither of us is from India. All joking aside, it did hurt that these Wesleyan fraternity brothers – who we’ve sat in semester-long seven-student seminars with – felt that it was their right to openly and publically shame us for acting different, all because we choose to dress in a way that does not allow them to see us the way they want to.

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One thought on “Why do White Guys Hate my Hijab?

  1. Greetings of Peace. I read your article and many of the responses. No one deserves to be yelled at in the streets who did not purposefully incite. As for the motives of the “yeller”, we really don’t know. We can make assumptions as to his motive, but we may or may not guess his intentions correctly. Nonetheless, motive aside, the behavior itself is unacceptable. The fact that in your experience he was white does not reflect on all whites, as race is not an ideology. For example, bad behavior by a Muslim does not reflect behavior by all Muslims. Also, being one race, Indian or Pakistani or Arab or American, is not a behavior. This identity reflects where one is born not ones behavior.
    Women and men have always had to deal with their sexuality, the positive aspects and the negative aspects. Muslims do believe that wearing hijab is a commandment from God, one of the reasons being for the acknowledgment of a public “Muslim identity”. Another reason for the hijab is to reflect and maintain a balance between inner and outer beauty. Muslim life is about creating, reaffirming, and maintaining balance. Of course, paramount to that balance for Muslims is the belief that life has purpose and meaning; that purpose or meaning for Muslims is to serve and worship God, not according to ones’ individual desires but according to a revealed commandment by our Creator. Muslims recognize a special desired relationship between us, the Created, and God, our Creator. So, the issue of hijab is not just about covering up to protect ourselves from men’s gaze but covering up to please God and acknowledge that we believe He wants a created-Creator relationship with us.
    Wishing you well. Hadil Diab-Hadaya

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