I do not envy Michelle Obama’s (pictured) position. No matter how innocuous her actions are — say, simply tackling childhood obesity with exercise and carrots — they are overly politicized. So many exploit her for their agendas even when she does not. The First Lady’s choice to forgo wearing a headscarf during an impromptu visit to Saudi Arabia following the death of King Abdullah is the latest example of such antics.
Initially, there were reports that Obama’s face was blurred out by the government-controlled Saudi TV stations in response to her refusal to wear a headscarf or veil to the kingdom. Sure, there was a tweet criticizing Obama’s “immodesty” that was retweeted some 2,500 times, but Saudi Arabia has more than 5 million Twitter users. It’s a paltry sum that was exploited for dubious reasons.
And yes, Obama wore a headscarf in Indonesia in 2010, though she was visiting a mosque at the time. The bottom line is, as a foreign-born woman in Saudi Arabia, Michelle Obama is not bound to Saudi Arabia’s oppressive laws that treat native women like children.
In the past, though, former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel all opted out of dressing the way Saudi women are forced to. The same goes for our previous First Lady, Laura Bush.
However, while some feigned faux outrage over Michelle Obama’s headscarf-less ensemble in the kingdom, others have tried to make it a political statement that likely only exists within the realms of their imaginations.
Enter Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a rabble rouser and media whore of the highest order, who took to Twitter to declare:
“Kudos to @FLOTUS for standing up for women & refusing to wear Sharia-mandated head-scarf in Saudi Arabia. Nicely done.”
It’s hard to let go of Cruz giving anyone with the last name Obama a compliment, but for a man who is anti-choice and anti-equal pay for women, it’s funny to see him champion someone else for “standing up for women.” That is, unless he’s suddenly feeling inspired by Michelle Obama and would like to change his political positions into ones that truly champion women.
I won’t hold my breath.
In the meantime, though, I will point to Arab American Association of New York director Linda Sarsour for providing us a reminder that while choices in fashion can double as political statements, each is open to interpretation.
Appearing on MSNBC, Sarsour said:
As you can see, I wear hijab. It is a choice for me to wear and cover my hair for religious observation; and I consider myself to be a feminist and someone who supports the upholding of all rights, specifically of women. So this conversation we’re having needs to be more about not obsessing over Michelle Obama wearing a headscarf or not wearing a headscarf — which she is not mandated to do or required in a place like Saudi Arabia, specifically in Jeddah. Also, she is wearing modest clothing, but she was not at a mosque, so she wasn’t required to wear it. But this conversation about, oh, she was standing up for women for not wearing hijab, what about women who do wear hijab, and who choose to wear hijab? I’m very proud of my religion, and my faith, and I’m very proud of the hijab that I wear.
It’s a fair point, but still serves as somewhat of a distraction to the real issue at hand: Some women choose to wear the hijab for religious reasons and that is well within their rights, but the women of Saudi Arabia do not have a choice. And regardless of whether or not Michelle Obama did or did not wear a headscarf, the fact remains that she is not an elected official so even if she intended to make a statement, it can only go so far.
Michelle Obama’s “loose black pants, loose, high-cut blue shirt, loose printed manteau were gorgeous” (thank you to the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson, for breaking that down), but it’s President Barack Obama and the rest of our representatives who ought to be saying more about the ugly conditions Saudi women continue to be subjected to.
They must cover their heads and their faces. They cannot leave the home without a male chaperone. They are not allowed to drive. They cannot vote. If they speak against any of this, they are subjected to harsh penalties.
So as nice as Michelle Obama’s hair looked flowing free from the constraints of sexist Saudi laws, it would be nice if this country finally had the heart to speak publicly on what goes on in that country.