They could not have come up with a more clichéd title if they had tried, and there is absolutely no excuse for such a lack of creativity at such a big newspaper. To illustrate just how overdone this title is, a Google search of “behind the veil” (in quotes) gives about 569,000 results, including articles and books on women in Iran, “Western” journalists’ encounters with “women in conservative Islamic societies”, representations of Muslim women in Indian writings, an Australian woman’s experiences as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, prostitution in Iran, HIV/AIDS in Muslim countries, and even a BBC report from 2001 that also focused on Afghan women. The point is, it’s been done, ad nauseam, especially (but not exclusively) with regards to Muslim women, and “behind the veil” as a name is just plain lazy. Maybe that sounds harsh, but my frustration comes from having seen titles like this time and time again, and the implication that the only reason to pay attention to Muslim women is in order to de-veil them.
In addition to the lack of creativity is the message that this title sends, particularly to Afghan women: “The veil is the only thing that comes to mind when we think of you. It takes us a whole lot of effort to consider that, behind the clothing you wear, there might actually be real people worth talking to.” [...]
Listening to the journalist’s introduction, available in video form from the series’ website, and reading the foreign editor’s note explaining the rationale behind the series, I was struck by just how formulaic it all sounded. Afghan women are to be pitied, and Afghan men and/or culture are at the root of all of their problems. Oppression can be measured by how many layers of clothing women wear. Not that there aren’t problems for Afghan women, but the lack of complexity anywhere in the introduction surprised me.
There’s lots more at Krista’s post (including praising the Globe & Mail for being unusually open about their methodology); I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series.
This is something I’ve read again and again; women’s activists in Afghanistan, and many other places, are sick of westerners focusing on what women wear as the leading indicator of Muslim women’s oppression. From an article about Sakena Yacoobi, an incredible women’s activist in Afghanistan:
Afghan women “wear hijab because they want to,” she stated. “Yes, there was a time during the Taliban that they had it wear [it], but now if they don’t want to, they don’t have it wear it.” When those outside of Afghanistan see the garb as oppressive and “want to teach us human rights, when they want to teach us democracy, when they want to teach us all these things, [it is] according to Western culture. And that is not right.”
There’s a lot Naomi Wolf says that I disagree with, but this statement (from Wolf’s Facebook) seems on target:
When you travel throughout the Muslim world, listening to women there, you often hear FROM WOMEN THEMSELVES more nuanced views of the headscarf, and of modest clothing, than you hear in the West; and — a point I cannot make often enough — when you actually listen to Muslim feminist or women’s leaders, many of them wish the West, with all its resources and potential for positive dialogue with the Muslim world, would focus its attention more on the life-and-death or survival-level challenges women and girls often face in Muslim countries – and in the developing world generally — from bride killings to legal subjugaton to lack of access to clean water and safety for their kids – than on what women are wearing, as if that is the only possible measure of their wellbeing.
(Many links via Fatemah’s link round-up.)