According to the New York Times, in 2018 Nike will begin marketing a “Pro Hijab”: a hijab made for Muslim women to compete in sports while still remaining “modest”. Featuring the prominent Nike “swoosh,” it’s made of a light and breathable fabric that can be tucked into clothing. It’s expected to cost about $35.
Recognizing the increasing number of women from Muslim countries who are participating in sports, Nike will undoubtedly introduce other “modest sportswear” in the future. After all, there are about 800 million Muslim women, and that’s a big market!
To accompany the hijab, Nike has released a video called “What will they say about you?” (There are English subtitles.) The company’s description:
Nike’s “What will they say about you?” campaign launches with a new film highlighting five remarkable women who have achieved personal success through competitive and amateur sport. Despite concerns or criticism, these women hope that the world will say they’re pioneers, role models and strong voices for their region.
The film features both professional and everyday athletes from the Arab region, including Parkour Trainer, Amal Mourad; Figure Skater, Zahra Lari; Pop Singer; Balquees Fathi; Fencer, Inès Boubakri; and Boxer, Arifa Bseiso. Narration is done by Fatima Al-Banawi, a Saudi Arabian social researcher, artist, and actress.
Of course I have mixed feelings about this. While other companies already market sports hijabs, putting a company logo on one won’t necessarily endear it to more traditional Muslims. On the other hand, maybe it—and especially the video, which sends the message “Screw your antiquated morals”—will inspire Muslim women to participate more in sport, and that gives them more freedom.
The part that saddens me is that all of this caters to a religious dictate that women must cover themselves to avoid inciting the lust of men. In short, it’s to keep women from being raped by revealing either a wisp of hair or a bare forearm or ankle. Non-Muslims in sports have evolved a style of dress that gives them the most comfort for competing, and that doesn’t include either head coverings (except for fencing) or full-body covering. Women, whether in sport or not, should be able to dress as they want, not to be bound to religious dictates catering to misogyny and oppression of women.
And we know that many women who now wear the hijab and full-body covering wouldn’t do so if it weren’t mandated by either their government, their parents, or their peers. (Look at women in Iran and Afghanistan in the 1970’s, or see the My Stealthy Freedom campaign.) There’s no avoiding the conclusion that if Muslim women suffered no social opprobrium for dressing however they wanted—for sports and otherwise—the hijab would largely be deep-sixed, along with all those arm, leg, and body coverings.
And if revealing a bit of hair incites lust, what about those women in the video who reveal a lot more? What good is it to cover your hair yet reveal lots of other parts? Won’t that incite lust, too?
I’d say “kudos to Nike” for giving Muslim women a chance for some kind of freedom, even if it’s limited, but somehow I can’t escape the conclusion that the Almighty Dollar is behind it all.