With 102.6 million hashtagged videos on TikTok, 248,000 posts on Instagram, and a 5,000% increase in searches over the past 12 months on Google, headgear — especially balaclavas — probably never was. as popular in history.
While fashion designers, celebrities and social media have popularized the balaclava as fashionable winter wear in a mask-mandatory world, this The headgear was originally worn in 1854 by European soldiers fighting in freezing conditions during the Crimean War.
Regardless of the excitement it generated with the public, the balaclava sparked controversy when Vogue France commented “Yes to the scarf!” in a photo of American actress Julia Fox wearing a babushka-shaped scarf during Paris Couture Week back in January.
Rage flooded the comments. Vogue France’s response shed light on the double standard in France: Muslim girls have been forbidden to wear the headscarf in public schools since 2004, but fashion icons are lauded for wearing the same.
The History of Hijab Bans
back in 2010, France was the first European country to enforce a nationwide ban banning full-face veils like niqabs in public spaces. Even during the pandemic, France has made it compulsory to wear a mask in public while continuing to ban Muslims from wearing face coverings. Last year, the French Senate voted to add an amendment to a anti-separatism bill which ban women under 18 to wear a hijab in public. And last Januarythe Senate proposed banning the wearing of the hijab in sports competitions.
France is not the only country to limit the wearing of the hijab. Whatstarpast beak Bill 21 in 2019, which banned civil servants such as teachers, police officers and lawyers from wearing religious items such as hijabs, crosses, turbans and yarmulkes while on the job.
Although officials Argue that the ban on head coverings aims to promote women’s equality, secular tradition and diversity, restrictive laws are counterproductive as they reject the rights of Muslim women, attempt to assimilate religious practices and could create an ethno-religious division. Prohibition strips the liberal aspect of liberal democracy: minority rights must be protected independently of majority rule. In the case of the hijab ban, the rights of Muslim women are neither sanctioned nor respected by law.
Discover the double standard for headgear
The double standard of headgear is nothing new.
When Kim Kardashian wore a burqa-like full-coverage to the Met Gala, she was not denounced as an extremist but described as “novel” and “inventive”. When Olivia Rodrigue posted a picture wearing a balaclava, people loved the picture and left comments calling her a “queen.” Audrey Hepburn, who wore scarves that covered her hair and neck extensively in daily life, was praised for her beauty and was considered a “timeless style icon”. When it’s in the name of fashion, it’s celebrated; when it’s in the name of religion, it’s frowned upon.
When blacks wear hoodies, they expose themselves as targets for police due to the stereotypical signage of apparel of gang-related activity in black communities. Consequently, the hoodie has become an active racial profiling and crime-finding device, especially in the United States.
When Muslim women wear head coverings, they face discrimination at work, suffer verbal and physical abuse and are perceived as oppressed.
When European celebrities wear headwear, they are seen as fashion icons. When black men wear head coverings, they are identified as the criminals. When Muslim women wear head coverings, they are treated as The Terrorists.
It is ridiculous that the balaclava is considered trendy and avant-garde, but the hijab is considered oppressive and retrograde. The hijab can be oppressive only when it is imposed on anyone, as is the case for many in the Middle East where women are still struggling with the choice not to wear it. Nevertheless, it is proudly worn by many people in North America as a symbol of empowerment.
In democracies, people have the right to wear whatever they want – either to cover up or show parts of their body in public – because they have freedom of choice. Balaclavas, babushkas, hijabs, and hoodies are all headwear. Whether people wear head coverings religiously or stylishly, these garments should be considered the same under the law.
I am in no way denouncing people who wear balaclavas, or claiming that it is cultural appropriation to wear one. By all means, wear it with pride. What I am saying is this: when you wear a balaclava, understand that it is a privilege to wear one freely without fear of discrimination, brutality or punishment, as many people in the world are judged, mistreated and penalized for doing the same.
Although laws are made by governments, they are enforced by popular opinion. Hopefully, due to the balaclava trend, people can change the double standard regarding head coverings in western society.
Stephanie Shih is a first-year social science student at Woodsworth College.