Balancing agency, gender and race: how do Muslim female teenagers in Quebec negotiate the social meanings embedded in the hijab?

Paul Eid
Ethnic and Racial Studies (2015)

In the past decade, the hijab has increasingly come to be regarded in the West as an unambiguous symbol of female oppression. Such an orientalist framework rests upon a feminist rhetoric using gender equality as a vehicle for the racialization of Muslims. Correlatively, from the 1970s onwards, conservative Islamist movements have converted the hijab into a natural(ized) symbol of cultural resistance to Western imperialism. In this context, what room is left to Muslim women’s agency in the production of the social meanings embedded in veil wearing? I explore this issue by presenting the findings of an interview-based research with veiled and non-veiled high school Muslim female teens in Montreal (Quebec). I show that, although these teenagers have much leeway to bypass and subvert the dominant framings of veil wearing, one should not overestimate their capacity to disrupt the dominant gendered religious framework through which this practice is socially construed.

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Paul Eid est professeur de sociologie à l’UQAM et membre de l’Équipe de recherche sur l’immigration au Québec et ailleurs (ÉRIQA). Ses intérêts de recherche portent sur l’immigration, les relations interethniques, le processus de construction identitaires des enfants d’immigrant-es, le racisme, la discrimination raciste à l'embauche, le profilage racial et l’islamophobie.