Here’s what’s wrong with hijab tourism and your cutesy “modesty experiments”

Hijab: sometimes, it feels like everyone’s giving it a try. Lauren Shields is just the latest feminist to embark on a ‘modesty experiment’ based on the veiling traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Last year, a teenager on Tumblr wore hijab to the mall and ended up with 200,000 reblogs. In 2010, a young journalist went ‘undercover’ in hijab for a month to find out what it was like. Liz Jones wore the burka in 2009; Danielle Crittenden over at HuffPo wore it all the way back in 2007, like some kind of Cultural Appropriation Hipster. Over at Vice, Annette Lamothe-Ramos wandered around New York in a burka and then wrote a really insensitive article about the experience. Apparently if you’re stuck for ideas for content, a reliable fall-back is to dress like a Muslim woman for a day or so and then bang out a few thousand words on the experience. Job done.

These ‘hijab tourists’ venture into the mysterious world of Islamic veiling like the colonialist explorers of old, and like those explorers they return from their travels to report back on what they experienced. The veil is an ~exotic foreign country~, and you can’t trust the locals to tell you what it’s all about. No, better to send one of your own – usually a nice, middle-class White woman – and get her to translate the experience into a narrative that’s palatable to a Western audience. Hijab and niqab are thus shorn of their cultural, religious and social significance and reduced to tourist attractions and teachable moments for privileged outsiders. They swoop in, swan around in a veil for a few days (or weeks) and then write earnest op-eds about how much they ~learned~ from the experience.

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