Sisters, stand up

You heard me. And it’s about time someone said it, no? Just how bitter have we become, as a sisterhood, as humanity. If social media has taught me anything at all, it’s that people love to hurt other people. Whether its full time bullies just carrying on at home, the standard anonymous keyboard warriors or even “savagery” accounts. It makes me sad — not just because people want to hurt people — because some of these accounts (many, in fact) are run by women. Not even girls, women. Grown ass women with goals and aspirations and friends. It makes me sad, but then it makes me laugh. We demand validation by men, equal rights, we tell them not to judge us or try to tell us what to do. But what are we collectively? As a community? As a sisterhood? We are quick to rise to the man who (rightfully) is opinionated about an aspect of a woman’s life, yet we sit back and sip tea as women slander women. Women attacking one another socially and emotionally has become such a huge part of modern society that people don’t even realise it’s there. The unity pages and girl power pages on Instagram are so refreshing, so empowering. It’s inspiring to see women stand up, fight stereotypes about career choices and motherhood, even start their own businesses and support others. So this post is not saying that nobody is nice to anyone, just to say that we cannot ignore the hatred social media brings about.

I tried to narrow this piece down — what would I exactly talk about? I came up with a few (not all) topics I personally think are contributing factors to the lack of unity amongst female groups. This is something based on my own experiences, the people I socialise with (or have done) and people that I have come across. These topics include racial groups, religious groups and social groups. I will elaborate on each topic in this piece and then try to tie them together and attempt to understand from where their roots lie.

Racial grouping, socially, is sadly a massive problem; even in 2017. We have friends and even family of different races, our partners and colleagues and neighbours — we meet everyone from everywhere. And we are, most of the time, accepting and genuine. But when it comes to social media, we have this defence line that comes up. Cultural appropriation being a massive issue, with debated opinions on what is right or not right for other races to do. And that’s natural, I’m stating a problem that is inevitable. For someone to be offended by a hairstyle or clothing worn by someone who has no understanding of it, who wears it for fashion with no historical concept of it — this is very natural and we have to understand both sides of the anger. However, my issue is not that. I am totally against cultural appropriation, especially when done in the name of fashion or sales. What bugs me the most, is when people form social media territories for particular races. When people pull out anyone and everyone who wants to comment or associate with their culture or racial group. An example is MUA pages, who specialise in particular skin tones and are targeted by absolutely everyone for being “racist” or “selective” when really, they provide a service that others refuse to. When an MUA works on dark skin tones, including extremely dark, they get called out for it. But when an MUA who only has white clients on her/his page advertises that she/he only works for particular white shades, it’s not a problem. It may be or seem small, microscopic even, and you may ask why I even brought it up. But it’s these small, indirect things that add up, build a mental barrier in our minds and divide us as women. Not to assume the makeup industry is limited to females only — some of the worlds best artists are male — but generally on social media, the industry is female dominated. Again, this is a small but important example of how women attack women instead of allowing for that space for races to mix and appreciate one another’s art, whether it’s particular or not. If anyone needs calling out, it’s the bullies that stir hatred amongst communities online in this way. This intricate division is something that becomes a norm, industries make splits and ultimately have the power of product marketing, for particular races and not others. But that’s not what girl power is about. Where are the feminists now? No calling out on hatred against dreadlocks? Or headscarves? I don’t understand why we are selectively defending each other instead of always trying to maintain unity and togetherness.

That brings me onto the next point. Now this next topic is based on religious groupings. As a young Muslim woman, I have more interaction with Muslim bloggers, social media personalities and business women/men. So naturally, my argument will focus on Muslim groups, as I don’t feel I know enough about the stigma and division between other religious groups. The Muslim community is one that is ironically supposed to remain undivided. Described, historically in Arabic, as an “ummah” — a unity, a group of Muslims tied together by shared religious views. As we are all pretty much aware, this is not always the case. Muslim communities, from the time of the Prophet Mohammed SAW and even earlier, have been both partitioned and segregated based on interpretation and understanding of Islam. Now, my issue does not lie with the division of Muslims, although that poses a separate problem in itself. The topic I’d like to discuss is the lack of sisterhood amongst Muslim communities, both in social media and in real life. Sisterhood can be defined on non-religious terms (most commonly) or religious terms, which applies in this case. Muslim groups on social media, as any other religious group, form small populations of people who hold the same or similar beliefs. This can be fundamentally or even abstract belief systems like modesty, vegetarianism (as popular in the Hindu community) or simple prayer and reminder sharing. The band forming poses the problem that young Muslim girls find it hard to follow their own ideology without slandering ideas that make no sense to them. And I emphasise “them” because religious interpretation and experience is extremely selective, something one naturally might struggle with at some point in their life. This problem of women hating on women is common in every religion — more or less religious than one another and practising under different sects or schools of thought. I have come across many accounts and people in my lifetime, who go out of their way to criticise other Muslim women for the way they dress, the way they wear their hijab (if at all, otherwise lack of hijab) and their personal, very intimate connection with God. This is common in both women and men, however I tend to see it more in women.

This saddens me, sometimes even affects me. In a world that is physically out to get us, we still become bitter and involved in putting down Muslim women. Similarly to racial groups, I have come across MANY female empowerment groups and social media personalities, who encourage young Muslim women, or women in general, to stand up and fight for rights. These groups promote love between different types of Muslims, women and people in general. But somehow, all I come across is spiteful attitudes, almost arrogance from young women towards other women. I have seen people attacked for covering in a certain manner, or wearing colours, or even posing with their husband. Silly arguments by “educated” people who only want to dearly advise you as a sister — were they educated or sincere, they would privately advise someone, in a manner of love and authenticity, not straight public aggression. It’s these small things that chip away at other young girls, including myself. Although I have an insanely open mindset towards meeting new people, when it comes to Muslim girls, I too sometimes give in to this paradox of prejudgement. I have this idea that every time I meet someone, I want to have a neutral mindset. Any judgement I ultimately make, I mentally slap myself and remind myself that I know nothing of this person yet. This allows me to look past my personal opinion on tattoos, or hair colour, or accent or even presentation. It allows me to treat everyone the same. The one type of person I struggle with, is the average Muslim sister. I find it hardest to put my feelings aside, because I am so eaten away by this idea that it’s okay for us to hold preconceptions for others based on how they look or appear. This does not justify my actions, it is something I work on everyday. I remind myself that everyone is at their own level and connection with God and the religion itself, and I should only focus on myself. If we all started loving one another’s personality, even the tiniest little trait, instead of hating the bad that someone does — we could make room for sisterhood and unity. This is a huge reminder to myself before anyone else.

My last rant is about social class groups. Now I don’t mean the literal ones, like celebrities or social media personalities. Those people serve a day job or hobby that is portrayed in their social media accounts. I mean the average Joe, the student, the part-time worker, the standard everyday working class person — who poses as something they are not. Social media is a platform of major deception, whether or not you display reality or a fake life. From filters to captions and hashtags, we can make our social media very specific — both the way we come across and what the receiving end take it as. Amongst the young Muslim female community, there are a number of trends — sought after fashion blogging; hijab styling including the turban hijab and niqaab, modest dressing, halal food rating and even lifestyle blogging. These are all a huge part of modern day life, the usual types of things to post about. The problem doesn’t lie with being a working class (or any class) person, or in following or advocating a particular trend, rather, in the manner it is done in. I won’t go into too much detail on the Islamic problem this poses, although I will say, that what is a fundamental fact, will always be a fact, regardless of distortion in interpretation. Many Muslim women are okay with turning facts into preferences and adjusting rules to suit themselves, as a manner of “taste” or “fitting in”. This is a huge problem for those who attempt to spread worldly messages, especially those who genuinely want to advise. The aggressive “advice” posed by some can throw people over, leaving a fine line between sincerity and arrogance. Instead of taking advice, in other words, we like to think we know what we want just because we do. When young Muslim women portray themselves on social media as a Muslim, and adopt some customs like modest dressing or the hijab (the headscarf, the veil) they forget to put across themselves. This is not a sweeping generalisation of every single woman on social media, rather something I have noticed about young women, that quite frankly, worries me.

This worries me because more and more women are feeling like they have to pursue a particular image — the hijab style, something social media worthy in terms of how they dress (designer/abaya trend/fashion) and even makeup. Young girls are not posting images of their natural self, and that includes the makeup they normally wear, not the makeup they wear for Instagram. This may not seem like a problem to some, but this idea of dining in fine food places, wearing certain brands, tying your hijab a particular way — all things that influence the behaviour of others towards us. Women who post natural pictures, pictures in standard places, or on their job/work placement are less likely to get followed, complimented or even involved in the community. As compared to women who fit the “insta-mould” of glamorous lifestyles. Saying that, this also triggers the opposite, which is women who feel the need to look different, non-generic, who require attention and validation by others. Why do we not build one another up to love ourselves? If we want to post a fake glamour life (or even a real one), why do we not give the same love and attention to those who post their normal standard life. The sisters who wear turbans, cake their faces and post in gold rimmed glasses (its a “theme” now, people literally look the same) get comments of love and appreciation by others who aspire to achieve the same “goals” — yet a niqaabi sister won’t have as many followers, or the sister who wears less makeup and posts more about Islam won’t get any recognition (despite her wanting it or not). We are quick to attack anyone who comments on the sisters’ makeup or hijab style (privately is advised, but not all public comments are horrid) but we won’t defend or repost about the Muslim women who are slandered for covering in a full hijab.

The hijab itself is a concept that is both widely misinterpreted and misunderstood. We generalise that non-muslims don’t or won’t understand it, yet Muslims are the most misguided when it comes down to it. Not to say anybody who doesn’t wear it a particular way is wrong, but there is a general set of principles a hijab must follow. Instead of guiding one another, that includes preaching the right thing, educated and factually, we simply bash one another and build small sub-communities, further dividing the groups. Imaan (faith) levels vary for all Muslims, but social media has really objectified and given value to a “feed goals” lifestyle, a particular image that looks the best and achieves the right amount of attention. We all have dips in faith, we all struggle with hijab (including me), but bitterness towards one another, the lack of sisterhood amongst Muslim women is saddening. Some may think I mean to defame sisters by saying what I say, but I am merely creating a metaphor for you to see the reality of it. If it hurts, then there is definitely a truth in what I have said that has struck a nerve you prefer to otherwise conceal. I mean what I say to make people, myself first, realise that as a sisterhood, of ANY religion, of HUMANITY, we have failed one another.

I do not say what I say to attack anyone personally or indirectly. This is something that has been annoying me for quite some time now. Female empowerment is sought after yet we are failing one another. What is a man’s validation in comparison to having your sisters behind you? What is someones small uneducated opinion in comparison to the sincere advice of someone who is genuinely concerned? Think before you speak but make sure you stand up for ALL women, ALL colours, ALL religions. When someone is misguided, guide them. When someone is alone, or without appreciation, befriend them. When you make a judgement call, and naturally we all do, remember to judge by personality. All of my topics discussed are things that I feel we can work on, we can boost one another but above all, we can only make ourselves look and be better.

I hope this piece makes you think about how social media makes you act, 99% without realising I’m sure. I hope it sparks your interest in more female-friendly communities, in forming a real sisterhood, not a selective biased one. I hope it makes you feel like someone does feel the same as you, me, I do feel your anger and your rage at other women who put down others on race, religion, size, social life. Above all, I hope this makes you think of how YOU can contribute to that better world that exists somewhere, without this hatred and bigotry and sexism and pain. Every person you meet adds to your puzzle of a life. Be someone’s good piece, a happy time in their life.

Lots of love from one sister to all my others,

Haajarah Hussain

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