Why Fairey’s headscarf shows solidarity and not oppression

At first glance the image of a women wearing a headscarf made of the American flag is a serious act of support for American Muslims. However does this misrepresent Muslim women and are we excusing the oppression of women around the world by accepting the headscarf and what it can represent?

Created by Shepard Fairey in the same style as his Hope poster of Barack Obama, this image has been used in America’s Anti-Trump marches in an attempt to highlight the groups of society who are not represented by Donald Trump, and yet this image of resistance arguably epitomises the problems in society.

The headscarf, while for some is a religious or personal choice, can also be seen as a sign of oppression. The habitual argument of controlling women and forcing them to hide themselves sits in the background. Should we really support the idea of condemning women to cover themselves in this way, when we should be freeing them from this oppression? Particularly on the womens march in America, is this really appropriate?

I do not believe a headscarf is solely a symbol of oppression. Circumstance is key. If this woman has chosen to wear the headscarf it is not oppression, only when it is forced on women by law, expectation or anything rather than her own decision is it oppressive. For some women, it is a personal choice. Some even wear a headscarf as a feminist action to emphasise that they will not participate in a society which evaluates women by their appearance. However I am sceptical that this is widespread or the answer for correcting this problem in society. Covering up alone will not change people’s attitudes to women in society. This does raise the question that, if there are a multitude of reasons for wearing a headscarf, why is it that a woman in a headscarf was chosen to represent Islam? When it is neither exclusive to Islam and has connotations of oppression this is not the best representation.

Yet this poster is key in emphasising the opposition to Donald Trump and the strength of the people. It highlights that American and Muslim are not mutually exclusive. This is essential following Trump’s halt on immigration from seven Islamic countries, and we must highlight the unjust stereotyping and discriminatory effect of these policies. Therefore this campaign is focussing on a different argument. The poster is based on a photo and if she chose to wear the headscarf then it is not a sign of oppression, but a clear message of resistance.

Not every muslim woman who wears a headscarf is oppressed, but they do all need support from everyone in this climate of hate and division It is vital now that we focus on the positives in society and show strength in solidarity.

Martha Wood

(Image courtesy of Shepard Fairey)


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