You may have seen it by now, this version of a street harassment video that features a woman walking the streets of NYC without hijab, a Muslim head-covering, for five hours and then doing the same thing with hijab.
The results of the first five hours were sadly reminiscent of the catcalling video that made headlines a few weeks ago (though that video is problematic as well, they heavily edited out the white perpetrators).
My natural reaction to the first segment of the video was disgust at all the men who incessantly catcalled the actress in the video. It was vile, unnerving, and downright disgusting. In this video, similar to the one’s prior, the woman was also followed for a certain amount of time as well. I can’t think of how much personal safety is put at risk for women everyday, just to get through the day without causing a big “problem.”
For the second part of the video, I didn’t know what to expect. As it was shown that the actress was now going to walk the streets of NYC with hijab and an abaya (loose fitting traditional dress worn by some Muslim and Arab women), I thought to myself, “she’ll probably get comments about her covering or that she’s Muslim too, on top of sexual harassment.” After all, NYC is in its post-9/11 world. But wow, was I wrong.
For five hours, not one word was uttered to her by the plethora of men that she walked by on the busy streets of NYC. Not one. I found this entirely hard to believe and not at all in alignment to the many stories I’ve heard from hijabi friends and their experience walking around NYC.
About halfway through this part, I felt entirely uneasy and cringed at the implications of the latter part of the video. It was making a strong tie to hijab being a deterrent to street harassment. It was making hijab this savior of avoiding unwanted male attention. I cringed even more as I realized Muslims would use this video as some type of *proof* that wearing the hijab is equivalent to being a protector of sexual harassment when it isn’t the reality at all.
Muslim women in hijab are not protected from unwanted male attention. It’s terribly dangerous to apply the concept that a simple change in clothing or dress will ultimately stop men from harassing. What a woman wears,
whether a Muslim woman or not, should not even be in the discourse of street and sexual harassment. Not only does this put men in the light that they cannot control their sexual desires, likening them to wild beasts, it very much adds to the overall perception of women and rape culture: that the woman somehow deserved what she received because of her dress.
Muslim women in hijab are not protected from unwanted male attention. This is evidenced by the constant headlines from Muslim majority countries of street harassment, sexual harassment, and rape. If hijab was such a great deterrent to harassment, why are Muslim women still harassed in the Middle East and elsewhere, where the country is a Muslim majority? Egypt has been making headlines for years about the male population harassing women on the street. A stunning 99% of Egyptian women admitted that they have experienced a form of unwanted harassment.
To really highlight the issue, a male Egyptian actor, with a team of artists, dressed as a woman to capture street harassment in Cairo. The results were just as expected: men of all ages shouting obscenities, following the actor, and making crude remarks about meeting at a later time.
Mind you, this is in a Muslim majority country so for anyone to even make the argument that hijab protects women from such horrors is a grave misconception regardless of the location of the woman. This video isn’t at all an accurate portrayal of what Muslim women wearing hijab go through in their daily lives. On the contrary, it gives many proponents of hijab yet another reason to make shallow analogies of Muslim women being similar to wrapped candy and precious pearls. *Vomit*.