I honest to God was not going to write a post about this, but since I have begrudgingly begun, I’m going to make this as brief as possible.
I don’t expect celebrities, like Katy Perry, or Madonna, or Lady Gaga–or, as much as I actually do like her–Angelina Jolie, to understand what they’re doing when they appropriate from cultures that are not theirs; in an ideal world, celebrities would have a clue and could subsequently be held accountable, and their apologies wouldn’t be seen as “giving in to the evils of the Muslim world and their horrible hatred of women’s ankles.” I do, however, expect celebrities to understand the simple concept of not being an asshole. And Selena Gomez was being an asshole. And she knows it.
The fact that Selena Gomez walked into a mosque in what I’m sure she’d call “one of those long back robe thingies” and decided to flash her ankle is demonstrative enough that she knows what she’s doing, even if she doesn’t register that it’s offensive because she’s playing off the stereotypical Western harem fantasy and not because she’s a woman flashing her ankle. You know who gets to flash her ankle at a mosque? ME. I get to do it. And when it’s a mosque that is not in a country where I live and legally affected–even that is questionable. I wouldn’t go to Saudi and start driving there just for the sake of the world being horrified when I’m categorized as a terrorist, because I can leave the country, come back to the US with my convenient US citizenship, and have pretended to have done something to “save” Saudi women while actually having no effect at all and possibly having made their lives harder, because now they have to hear sexist Saudi men rebuking this struggle for liberation with criticisms about the “influence of Western women.” It’s easy to be a rebel when you can escape, when you’re in a position in which the world is watching you, and, in the case of Selena Gomez, when you’re someone the West actually cares about.
Selena Gomez, of course, wasn’t trying to make that statement. She’s not championing the cause of freeing Muslim women; she’s not misguided into thinking it’s her place to do so. She is, however, trying to be scandalous. And she’s perpetuating the idea that all it takes to be scandalous is a little bit of ankle, and since Muslim men–and women–have reacted with the degree of outrage that white people expected, Selena’s achieved her goal while skewing the reason behind that outrage to one that fits the Western agenda. Conveniently, we can all now believe that what we thought of Muslims is confirmed–that they hate women, liberation, and ankles–while pretending we don’t understand the real reason: Gomez wasn’t looking to practice her rights; she was looking for people to offend. She relied on a context in which Muslim women are depicted as sexually enticing and rebellious with a single flash of an ankle, when that context exists no where except in the West. You know who doesn’t care if Muslim women flash their ankles? Everyone. All Muslim men. Literally, they don’t care. They don’t fetishize our ankles.
I’m sure someone could make the argument that this based solely off the context in which I live, and that maybe Muslim men in different regions do fetishize ankles. Undoubtedly, there’s someone somewhere with an ankle fetish. Good for him. What I’m saying is that although there are hadith cited in which women are advised to cover everything between their hair and their ankles (including those two things) no one actually enforces the latter. There’s a lot of hijab policing from Muslim men, but the only person who’s ever told me to cover my ankles was one of the infamous masjid aunties. What was offensive was the flashing ankle in conjunction with the abaya, in the context of Muslim women being fetishized by the West and Muslim beliefs misconstrued. Had Gomez worn only the outfit she donned beneath her abaya, which included ankle-revealing capris, she wouldn’t have been seen as being deliberately disrespectful, and there wouldn’t have been outrage. She wouldn’t have been seen as someone trying to modify a culture that isn’t hers of something it doesn’t even have. One might point out that she might have not been allowed to enter that masjid if her ankle weren’t covered–but the fact that she was not made to wear it elsewhere only proves that the ankle isn’t inherently offensive. What’s offensive is she thought it would be cute to pretend that Muslims do find ankles inherently offensive, and operated on that bizarre misconception, while simultaneously showing blatant disrespect for their actual beliefs and for the criteria for respect within a mosque. She not only misattributed the scandal to showing women’s ankles, but operated on that misattribution.
To conclude that everything there is to believe about Muslims from a non-Muslim perspective is confirmed from this incident Selena Gomez orchestrated is nothing short of unfair.