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Veiled Microaggressions in Feminist Spaces

As women and femmes, we face countless microaggressions in one form or another, be it at school where we’re bullied, in the workplace where we’re ignored, or among strangers who give us dirty looks.

“Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.”

Kevin L. Nadal

Nadal’s definition of microaggressions also emphasizes negative racial slights towards people of colour, women, and religious minorities. Because we have various intersecting marginalized identities, the frequency and severity of these slights go up. 

The ways in which microaggressions are experienced by a veiled Muslim woman of colour are very different from the typical representation of the “oppressed” Muslim women where  mainstream feminism (i.e., Western feminism) is used as an argument to supposedly “save” us. For example, last month the BBC tweeted a clip (which seems to be have been taken off!) of Emma Barnett interviewing Zara Mohammed, the first woman Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, with the caption “How many female imams are there in the UK?”, as though this was enough to measure female leadership in the British-Muslim community. 

A person in a green head scarf speaking into a microphone

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More infuriating was Barnett’s tone and mannerisms throughout the interview. She constantly interrupted when Mohammed explained that the number of imams was irrelevant with respect to the representation Barnett sought to gauge. But Barnett relentlessly doubled down on her original position by saying: “Female priests have been around for some time. We’ve also seen the advent of female rabbis in this country. What is the picture for women leading prayer in Britain in Muslim communities?” 

Barnett, a white woman, is the host of “BBC Women Hour”. Muslim women often face these sorts of microaggressions in “feminist” or women-centric spaces, which only help the aggressor mask their prejudices as they cry for solidarity and position themselves as championing women. It’s in these spaces where we’re often welcomed into with open arms, only to be disrespected, tokenized, and hurt.

Experiencing targeted microaggressions has lasting and damaging implications on our mental health. It’s unfair to place the burden to educate aggressors on victims of aggressions. Finding solace in a community and seeking professional support has been helpful for me, but my immediate hope is that folks in the spaces we navigate are mindful of their privilege, and how they interact with and build relationships with those more marginalized.

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Also read:

Microaggressions Are A Big Deal: How To Talk Them Out And When To Walk Away

Misogyny Exists in Every Culture: An Intersectional Feminist against Imperial Feminism

A Guide to Responding to Microaggressions

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About the author:

Aseema Kabir is currently the communications specialist at Amal Center for Women. She is a first-generation Bangladeshi-Canadian who was raised in Fort Worth in the 90s, moved back to the motherland in the aughts, and eventually settled in Montréal in time for cégep. Aseema has since called Montréal her home. Growing up surrounded by books, Aseema is passionate about developing creative and engaging modes of visual storytelling and has been fortunate enough to do this throughout her career. In her spare time, she loves getting together with friends and chosen families, watching movies with her sister, swimming, and helping her community’s youth share their stories.