I am not a lollipop or a pearl

Last week, a national religious organization, which focuses on proliferating accurate information about Islam, shared a photo on its Facebook page depicting two lollipops- one bare, with a swarm of flies and one in a wrapper with a solitary fly. Predictably, the photo likened the lollipops to women- those uncovered and those covered. Following a frenzy of angry comments, the photo was promptly removed, but of course once on the Internet, something is never truly erased and so this photo continues to surface on every social media platform imaginable.
Yet long before the arrival of social media, women have had such analogies preached at them at every turn. They take different forms: modest women have been likened to pearls which remain pristine hidden inside their shells or the current favorite, the clean candy covered by a wrapper. These analogies are problematic for many reasons: they divide women based on their appearances, they reduce women to something they are not, and they neglect the Muslim male’s responsibility to practice modest, chaste behavior.

Society has historically found dozens of ways to divide and categorize women: beauty, career, motherhood and more. In the Muslim community, we add hijab to the list. Analogies that compare women with and without hijab, often depict those without the headscarf as ultimately inferior. Instead of spurning the prevailing appearance-obsessed culture, these analogies conform to the age-old problem of judging women based on their appearances. Instead of objectifying women as sexual objects, this rhetoric objectifies women as delicate objects which must be protected from men.

A quick scan of these sorts of analogies reveals a disturbing pattern: nearly all of them insist on comparing women to inanimate, coveted objects, whether pearls or candies. To state the obvious—we are neither. By constantly comparing women to objects, dirty and clean or pure and impure, we reduce a woman to her sex, silencing her voice, ignoring her mind and soul and robbing her of her agency.

Most disturbingly, these analogies reinforce a self-constructed hierarchy in the Muslim community: that women who wear hijab are spiritually superior, regardless of their words or deeds. This divisive, demonizing narrative is troubling for obvious reasons. Both women who do and do not wear hijab are much more than inanimate lollipops or pearls; they are warm-blooded human beings with their individual consciousness and faith, who evolve and learn, especially in relation to Islam. To say a woman who dons a headscarf is a better Muslim than one who doesn’t is a simplistic and superficial evaluation. After all, God himself says: “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them” (Qur’an 49:11).

And what do these analogies say about men? They reduce them to flies that swarm an uncovered lollipop. For starters, a woman’s covering does not always serve as a shield from unwelcome attention. Studies show that in some Muslim countries men do not discriminate between harassing women who wear hijab and those who do not. Besides, the same set of Qur’anic verses that command women to guard their modesty begin by instructing men to lower their gaze, a responsibility these analogies conveniently neglect. In fact, these analogies go so far as to suggest that men are incapable of doing so, just as flies are incapable of resisting sugar. So what are we left with—men have the brain power of flies and women carry the burden of avoiding sexual interest.

These sorts of analogies and photos try to divide women, turning them against one another. They reduce women to their dress and dress alone. And they treat men like brainless creatures with no responsibility to exercise modesty or impulse control. Both sexes should be offended; we are not lollipops or flies.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the organization at issue is Islamic Relief. This was incorrect and has been changed.

Hafsa Ahmad is a graduate of Middlebury College; she is currently heading an anti-Islamophobia campaign with Matter Of Cause, and serving as Secretary for the Muslim Women’s Organization.

2 Comments

  • Star says:

    I just came from another site reading an opinion on this very matter. The author thought a Pearl would be more approrpriate and seriousness suggested this campaign could have shown just one fly over the unvovered lollipop (as most would not gaze at a woman.
    How about certain headscarf clad females stop viewing their fellow sisters in faith and humanity as objects and as worthy of being infested with bugs or harrassed buy 1 man or many (??). What now?

    How about treating each other with dignity and respect. How about not walking around proud and arrogant thinking some are better than others? And how about not attaching importance to your headcover in a way that you forget to fear Allah and denigrate his creation by looking down on other women just because they are Muslims do not choose the same interpretation as you? If clothing was ever a sign of piety, would not all dress the same? The tricky thing is many bad people LOOK pious. Even Allah warns us to attach significance to clothing as a sign of taqwa.

    If Islam is unity and a call for coexistance, then Muslims have a long way to go. I find it absolutely troubling that so many seem inept and just intellectually incompetent when blindly accepting these stereotypes of women and men such as lollipop campaigns promote. Its an insult to women and its an insult to men. Women are NOT lollipops, pieces of meat, pearls, candy, or other. Just like men (the real ones at least) are NOT flies, animals etc. We are humans. Do men who go to jail also deserve being raped and sodomized? Don’t do the crime, and dont get raped? What about kids who get molested? Don’t be an innocent child and you wont get molested? See where this is going? To a country called absurdia as theentire concept of equating sexual attacks with clothes and looks is absurd and also flies against the common knowledge we have today on sex crimes. People need to volunteer at a local rape crisis centre and educate themselves on the reality of rape, sexual harassment and unwanted attention.

    The Quran speaks on this very topic in no uncertain terms. The conclusion is – if many of the same people had bothered reading what the claim to believe in – that a man can control himself under ANY circumstance. I will not share further details because people should know this. If not then you now have homework to do. Its not groundbreaking or rocket science. Self control is a real thing. Muslims living in very liberal western societies usually have no problem abiding by the laws – whether they like it or not. So social conditioning and upbringing with the right values has a lot to say. In Egypt sexual harassment is rampant and indiscriminate in terms of clothing. Its accepted. No reprecussions. Social conditioning. Put the same people born and bread in say, France, and they would have a different outlook and culture. Bring in serious anti-harassment and anti-rape laws in Muslims country, stop the victim blaming and shaming and cut out the doubel standards which allow a guy to be sexually active or promiscuous just because he is a guy and disallows females to do the same in the name of social control, shame and honour. Islam disallows sex outside of marrriage for both genders and harassment is not allowed either. No matter how “deserving” you think somebody is.

    So to all the Muslim parents out there, do your job. Bring up your child with the unisex standards of Islam and teach your sons to respect all women irrespective of their clothing or life choices and to not be judgemental. Why? Because Allah knows best and is the judge,

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