With Nike’s launch of it’s branded hijab, there have been some heated reactions. There are a number of people who are cheering the move, and of course, the expected amount of outcry and backlash on social media. But before we get to that, let’s take a look at the campaign itself.
Along with the black head-covering adorned with a simple signature Nike swoosh, a video promo was released embodying the spirit of the message the popular sports apparel brand was trying to send. ‘What Will They Say About You?’ was specifically geared toward female athletes in the Arab world, encouraging them to continue playing sports and participating.
With the media focus on certain female Muslim athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics, many of whom adorned the hijab as well as full body covering while competing, it has opened up new conversations about how women across the Arab world are playing sport and utilizing athletic endeavors as a way to push gender restrictive-boundaries that exist in a number of conservative Muslim countries.
We’ve shared a number of articles about women who are doing this, as sport is typically seen as a male endeavor, not something girls are encouraged to aspire to. And yes, of course there is a massive consumerist aspect to Nike’s campaign, there is no denying that. It should also be noted they are not the first clothing apparel company to cater to female Muslim athletes.
But where Nike is able to take the conversation and representation further is with their global reach and iconic popularity. In the video we see a number of prominent Muslim athletes featured, such as Zahra Lari, an Emirati figure skater, and runner Manal Rostom. One of the athletes who was pivotal in the creation and launch of the pro Hijab was United Arab Emirates weightlifter Amna Al Haddad. She worked closely with Nike to develop material and give them insider knowledge on some of the problems with other material.
Amna also spoke about how enthusiastic she is to see more attention being paid to female Muslim athletes and how brands are starting to recognize their value in the marketplace.
“From my perspective as a former athlete who competed in hijab, in the past, the big brands didn’t see the need or market for it as it was not ‘popular’ and it was unheard of to see women train, exercise and compete in hijab. It is a recent phenomenon where more women have expressed a need for it and more professional athletes have fought for rights to compete with a headscarf, and have an equal playing field. We made it big in the news, we couldn’t be ignored,” she wrote in a Facebook post addressing the Nike hijab.
She also spoke to the negativity the campaign has been receiving.
“As an innovative company, they will create products and they will meet market needs – whatever they may be. It is not dismissing any other hard work done in the past to develop sports hijabs, it’s just there is more competition in the market for modest clothing now. I support Muslim women with or without hijab, and how they dress is their choice. And with the Nike Sports Hijab, it surely will encourage a new generation of athletes to pursue sports professionally, and without us athletes who fought for this right and made it happen, Nike wouldn’t ‘just do it’,” she said.
Teen Vogue shared some of the posts on social media from users declaring they plan to boycott the brand, for example, and how they refuse to support the oppression of women with the hijab. Our take on some of the negativity expressed, especially by American people, is that it is not exactly consistent with their supposed stance on the empowerment of all women.
We certainly hope these people openly sharing their disdain for the Nike hijab are as vocal about a woman’s right to choose her own healthcare options, equal pay, paid family leave, affordable childcare options, and rape and sexual assault. But we digress…
The Nike campaign goes beyond just its own branded product, and contributes to a growing discussion of the representation of Muslim women in a greater aspect. We are seeing a number of fashion brands, such as H&M and Covergirl, finally waking up to the fact that Muslim women also love fashion and are including them in various campaign imagery and videos. In an effort to transform the stereotypical and often negative ways Muslim women are portrayed in the media, Getty Images recently teamed up with MuslimGirl.com, the largest Muslim women’s online platform in the United States, on the launch of a new photo collection which “authentically represents Muslim women in a fresh and contemporary light.” It aims to tackle misrepresentation of Muslim women in the media and advertising.
None of these campaigns, initiatives or brands are denying any sort of oppression that exists for women in certain parts of the world and in certain cultures, they are simply bringing nuance and greater depth to what society’s idea of a Muslim woman is. She is not a monolith, she is complex, unique and individual like everyone else, and it is about time we started seeing some disruption in the mainstream when it comes to how they are portrayed.
Nike’s question of “what will they say about you?” specifically addresses the type of narrative often thrust upon women in the Arab world, but can also be seen as a way to challenge our own perceptions of what WE as a society say, and think, about Muslim women.Recognizing the knock-on effect of allowing women in the Arab world to physically see Muslim women participating in sports is allowing them to be the kind of role models many of these athletes never had themselves.
“There are a lot of…women and girls who are breaking barriers. For me growing up, though, I never had these women to look up to. I had to break these barriers for myself,” runner Manal Rostom told Vogue.
“This phrase, it’s every little girl’s nightmare growing up. We hear this every time we do something that might be met with criticism. There’s a fear to stand out and do something that’s not part of the norm,” said Emirati parkour trainer Amal Murad who is featured in the video. Also seen in the video are Jordanian boxer Arifa Bseiso, Emirati pop singer Balquees Fathi, and Tunisian fencer Ines Boubakri.
If we are going to be champions for the liberation of all women, we need to be able to understand nuance, give room for women to express themselves without us policing their choices, and hold companies and brands accountable for their initiatives which seek to capitalize on the female empowerment movement.
Watch the full Nike video below: