Naheed Mustafa Essay Definition

Naheed Mustafa in her article My Body Is My Own Business, published by The Globe & Mail on 29 June, 1993,argues that the jihab – a special garment worn by some Muslim women – protects her from discrimination by appearance. However, she ends up facing the other type of social discrimination in that she receives many strange looks from people stereotyping her as either a potential terrorist or a victimized Muslim woman. She accurately underpins the humiliating standards of female beauty in the Canadian society and makes a valid point that she herself should be the master of her own body. However, her argument is rather far-fetched because it has several logical flaws and lacks references to credible sources.

Canada’s national Mustafa starts with telling about other Canadians who often treat her as a stranger and irk her with questions in slow and articulate English as if she never spoke it. This is the fact. Then, she proceeds to say that, when she wears the jihab, people perceive her “as a radical, fundamentalist Muslim terrorist packing an AK-47 assault rifle inside [her] jean jacket…Or maybe they see [her] as the poster girl for oppressed womanhood everywhere”. Although these statements sound genuine and vivid, they lack objectivity in that she cannot really tell what people think just by looking at her. Growing up in this country, she might very well have faced the stereotypes she is talking about, yet she has no way of knowing what each and every stranger thinks of herself.

The author’s claim that the person wearing the jihab has an ultimate control of her own body sounds intriguing. Indeed, it would be hard for a by-standing observer to judge her by the existing male requirements for beauty. Mustafa tries to link her wearing the jihab to the long-standing Islamic tradition, saying that the covering gives her liberation from inescapable attention to her personality. She thus does not need to be afraid anymore of exposing her body and face ridicule because of her stretch marks or disorderly hairstyle. However, the opposite seems to be happening in real life. She gets that “gamut of strange looks, stares, and covert glances” only because people do notice her presence and naturally attempt to make out some personality inside that impenetrable veil. Paradoxically, she ends up facing even more judgment, which then shifts from her physical self to the cultural features of her personality. 

In several places in the text, Mustafa refers to the almost omnipresent male standards for women’s beauty. She thinks that the male-dictated models of appearance strip her of personal freedom unless she covers her body. She regards other women as slaves to the patriarchal system of values. Yet, in her strand of criticism towards men and their domination, she forgets to mention that men also confront similar pressures. For example, there are also standards of beauty for men flowing from TV screens and glossy magazines, the standards that make many men go to the gym and expose their beautiful bodies to get women’s attention. These gender archetypes are something nearly every man and woman has to go through in their lives, not only Mustafa.

The other point about her article that merits mention here is that she did not really refer to any documented facts that would prove her points. For instance, she says that she is not the only one “reclaiming the jihab”; however, she does not cite any numbers or expert opinions substantiating this statement. Her illustrative discourse surely invokes empathy in most readers; however, she fails to win the critical reader’s confidence by making overly general statements of what men and women in Canada think of beauty and of her personally. Although the author’s emotional appeals are persuasive, she has not been known for any other works on the cross-cultural issues of Muslims in Canada. Therefore, her ideas, albeit wise, should be taken with a grain of criticism.

In summarizing this critique, Naheed Mustafa, with her own example, makes a decent attempt at shaking the jihab stereotypes as she sees them in Canada. As persuasive as it is, her argument is flawed in several aspects. For example, she tries to second-guess people around and their stereotypical perceptions of herself wearing the jihab. She stands up for the ultimate control over her own body but confronts even fiercer discrimination against her, disguised in the jihab, personality. While making a strong point about the standards of beauty that many contemporary women have to fit in, she omits the fact that many men also must follow very similar standards in order to be considered attractive to the opposite sex. Mustafa uses a lot of personal opinion and employs many ethical appeals to make her message persuasive to the audience, yet her claims would be stronger if she provided some documented evidence in support of her argument.

While both of these essays touch on feminist issues, they certainly have their distinct differences that make for some interesting comparison possibilities!

"My Body is My Own Business" is a very straightforward, traditionally organized, persuasive opinion essay. Mustafa makes a clear, specific point--that she is part of a group of Muslim woman who are "reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light of its original purpose to give back to women ultimate control of their own...

While both of these essays touch on feminist issues, they certainly have their distinct differences that make for some interesting comparison possibilities!

"My Body is My Own Business" is a very straightforward, traditionally organized, persuasive opinion essay. Mustafa makes a clear, specific point--that she is part of a group of Muslim woman who are "reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light of its original purpose to give back to women ultimate control of their own bodies." She then supports this claim with specific points, including the assertion that the wearing of a hijab prevents the objectification and self-objectification of women based on physical appearance. Her discussion is tight and focused, and is built around this primary argument. She invokes a call to action for women everywhere to abandon the slavery to physical beautification that is created by society's impossible standards: "Narrow hips? Great. Narrow hips? Too bad." There is also a linked theme of cultural tolerance/education in Mustafa's essay, particularly when she alludes to the assumptions about her based on her Middle Eastern dress and appearance.

"The Female Body" by Atwood is an altogether different type of writing. It drops any type of cultural focus, and broadens to span a full spectrum of feminist issues.This is a common topic for Atwood, an extremely well known Canadian author. According to the eNotes author profile on Atwood, "Two concerns remained foremost in her work: the self-realization of women and the cultural independence of Canada." Atwood's style of writing is far different from Mustafa's. It is fragmented (each of those numbered sections has a different focus, and a different story behind it). Also, rather than a first person narrative--with, perhaps, the exception of the first vignette--Atwood"s writing is fictional and contains implied messages. She doesn't have the logical, precise argument that Mustafa does, but uses story to reveal truth. For example, the fourth vignette addresses the difficulty of deciding which approach will foster positive body image in a child, speaks to the danger of media messages, and also celebrates the power of young women to define their own standards of beauty. This type of veiled, loosely implied, non-traditional, fragmented but powerful message is very typical of Atwood's style. See her essay "Happy Endings" for another example.

Touch on differences in both style and scope, and you'll have a successful comparison!

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