I saw a Muslim video that claimed women should wear hijabs, because not wearing them led men into the sin of lusting after them, and this made women guilty of a double-sin, not just once, but for each man they attracted. The idea was also expressed that revealing their attractiveness by not wearing a hijab caused men to feel tormented. The speaker told an anecdote of how a woman who was wearing lipstick and nail polish and not wearing a hijab was told that she was tormenting all the men around her. All of this strikes me as ridiculous.
Speaking as a straight non-Muslim man, seeing attractive women does not make me feel tormented. Seeing them does not make me rape them, nor even struggle with the temptation to rape them. I simply think of raping as something I don’t do, because it is a gross violation of a woman’s personhood, and I respect the personhood of women. But in Islam, women are treated as second-class citizens. Men who regard women as equals are less likely to rape them than men who regard women as inferior.
Another factor in Islam that leads to an increase in rape is polygamy. When some men have multiple wives, other men must go without wives altogether. The more polygamy is practiced, the more men there are who have to go without wives or girlfriends. This leads to sexual frustration, which increases the desire of many men to have sex. The reduced availability of wives and girlfriends also means that for many men, raping a woman is the only way they are going to have sex with one.
One more factor in Islam that can lead to more rape is that the testimony of a woman is worth only half that of a man in Sharia courts. Apart from the general disrespect this shows to women, it means that a man who rapes a woman is often likely to get away with it. Since his testimony counts for more than the woman’s, the woman would need witnesses besides herself to prove that she was raped. When men think they can get away with rape, they will be more inclined to rape. Additionally, Islam sometimes punishes the raped woman for adultery instead of the rapist for rape. When a man is already willing to rape a woman, the prospect of her being stoned to death might not be as much of a deterrent as the prospect of being punished himself would be.
So, here are three factors that increase the likelihood of men raping women. Polygamy increases the desire to rape, and it makes rape the only way for many men to have sex. Disrespect for women removes a moral barrier from rape. And the second-class status of women in Sharia law means men are more likely to get away with rape. Combine all of these, and rape is sure to be more common than it is in a society that enforces monogamy, teaches equal respect for women, and gives women equal protection under the law. All of these factors are tied in to the misogynous idea that women are inferior to and should be subservient to men. Although wearing the hijab may protect women from rape and sexual harrassment in such a misogynous society, it also contributes to the ethos that puts women more at risk. By making women appear anonymous, it strips away the identity and importance of individual women, and it visually sets aside women as a lower class than men. It makes the fact that someone is a woman more important than who she is, what she knows, or what she can do. Wearing the hijab is an act of subservience to men, and when a woman wears one, she is tacitly agreeing with the male chauvinism that oppresses her in Islamic society.
Furthermore, the hijab may not protect women from rape as much as it is thought to. One of the reasons the hijab is supposed to prevent rape is that it hides from a would-be rapist’s eyes how pretty or sexy the woman is. Inasmuch as this is something that matters to rapists, ugly and unappealing women are probably safer from rapists when they and other women are not wearing hijabs. Inasmuch as it doesn’t matter, it puts all women at more risk for rape, because it advertises that the person wearing one is a woman. In western society, women have the option of wearing short hair and dressing in a unisex way that can disguise their gender from a distance, and given that some men wear their hair long, and some men are even transvestites in western society, a would-be rapist can’t always tell when a long-haired woman he sees is really a woman. So, for a woman who is especially interested in avoiding rape, there are other options in western society than the hijab. She could downplay her looks and adopt a more unisex style.
But this is not to say that a woman who tries to look pretty and feminine is just asking for it. Admitting that desirability can increase a woman’s chances of being raped does not mean that a woman who tries to look desirable is trying to get raped. Rape is just wrong, regardless of how attractive the woman is. This is the message that society needs to tell men. But it’s not enough just to say that rape is wrong. Men need to understand that women are worthy of respect, and they need to understand that rape is a crime that will be punished. The hijab is part of a system that undermines respect for women, and women are better off in a society that truly respects women than in one that requires women to hide themselves under a hijab. Given the role that enforced wearing of the hijab plays in the oppression of women, I would support laws banning the hijab. Although I support religious freedom, it is with limits. Religious freedom should not give people the right to harm others in the name of their religion, and the enforced wearing of the hijab among Muslims does harm women. In a truly free society, one which includes full religious freedom, women must be regarded and treated as equal with men.