Liberation through shopping

Ever since I read this New York Times article a few days back about the identitarian fashion issues of Muslim American women I've been trying to figure out exactly what bothers me about it. It's not just the article's utter naiveté (the New York Times discovers that Muslim women--even veiled ones--care about fashion!) or the trite dichotomies it sets up. Here's the lead, for example:

For Aysha Hussain, getting dressed each day is a fraught negotiation. Ms. Hussain, a 24-year-old magazine writer in New York, is devoted to her pipe-stem Levi’s and determined to incorporate their brash modernity into her wardrobe while adhering to the tenets of her Muslim faith.

(Wow, get it? Pipe-stem Levi's = "brash modernity." Muslim faith = the opposite.)

And it's not just that it seems to be trying to turn a pretty mundane observation (what a Muslim woman chooses to wear “is a critical part of her identity," says one interviewee) into a sociological phenomenon that is unique to Muslim women.

It's mostly the way the article seems to subscribe to a "liberation through shopping" theory. The title is "We, Myself and I." Presumably, in the outfits of the Muslim women interviewed, the "we" is exemplified by the veil and the modest long sleeves, and the "myself" by the brash, modern touches of Western coutoure. Theres' no questioning of the assumption that fashion and consumerism do anything but allow the individual woman to express herself.


Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.