Why Do White Guys Hate My Hijab?

Just last week, I graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. A few weeks before graduation, my best friend (the only other hijabi on Wesleyan’s 2600+ student campus) and I were taking one of our infamous long walks (we have preset one and a half, three, and five mile loops) around campus and the surrounding Middletown area. As was typical of our second-semester of senior year conversations, we were venting to each other about the many difficulties of finding post-undergrad work with our liberal arts degrees (she a government major and I a history major) and barely-there networks. As we paused our conversation to cross one of the many streets that interrupt our rather scenic routes, I turned around to “look both ways” when I heard a car honk at us and someone yell, “Take that shit off of your head!” Amused, all I could think was, “Hey look, it’s another one of those white guys who hates my hijab.” Unfazed (and quite honestly, used to such behavior at this point in our Wesleyan careers), we continued on our walk.

The next morning, I had to share this story with one of the librarians at Wesleyan’s Art Library, where I worked. During my shift the week before, much to her surprise, I mentioned to my supervisor how often Middletown residents (especially young white men in their red or white pickup trucks) verbally abused my friend and me when we left campus to walk into town. I even refused to walk into town for dinner the day after the Boston Bombings in fear that I would be attacked, like the many hijab-wearing Muslim women in Boston in the aftermath of the bombings. Horrified to hear what my friend and I go through (even though it doesn’t bother us very much), my boss mentioned that it was common for young white males in Middletown to drive around Wesleyan’s campus in the warmer months to “cruise for chicks” (her words, not mine). That’s when it hit me, “So that’s why these white guys hate my hijab – the way I look interrupts their ‘cruises for chicks.’”  More specifically, the way I dress denies them their privileged white male gaze – a privilege that society has taught them is their right, especially over women of color.

The male gaze.  The white male gaze. That infamous white male gaze. Kind of like the male gaze that permeates Hollywood and cinema. Except in this case, the white male gaze is separated from its objects of desire by car windows, not movie screens. And these young white men in their pickup trucks feel it’s their absolute right to “gaze” at women on and off campus. They drive around Wesleyan to see long flowing hair, short shorts, and even shorter dresses. Our hijabs, long-sleeved shirts, maxi skirts, and maxi dresses disrupt their cruises; we deny them their gazing privilege. And so, through their shielded windows and in their mobile getaways, they feel it’s their right to tell me to “take that shit off” of my head.

I hate to break it to you, white guys, but your male gaze is one of the major reasons (among many others, rest assured) I began to wear a hijab.

And let’s not kid ourselves:  the privileged white male gaze and the verbal abuse it provokes is not reserved for Middletown residents only. Although their remarks usually surfaced when they were under the influence, I’ve gone through the same phenomenon with white fraternity brothers at Wesleyan. On one Friday night in the spring of our junior year, my friend and I were taking a late walk when a couple of white fraternity brothers shouted out of their car, “Take that shit back to India.” I’ll admit, this time the words hurt a little more, mainly because neither of us is from India. All joking aside, it did hurt that these Wesleyan fraternity brothers – who we’ve sat in semester-long seven-student seminars with – felt that it was their right to openly and publically shame us for acting different, all because we choose to dress in a way that does not allow them to see us the way they want to.



Zainab Khan was born in Peshawar, Pakistan and was raised in the suburbs of Chicago, IL. She is a recent graduate of Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in History with a Certificate in Middle Eastern Studies. Zainab’s interests include advertising, branding, hijabi fashion and fashion theory, and studying the South Asian and Middle Eastern diasporas.

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  • nayem

    I would bang the hell out of her

  • Israel

    Because they think it is hypocritical for a young vivacious beautiful woman made by God to hide her beauty from the eyes of every other sensible man, as men it is not always about cleavage,boobs and half naked page three sun girls . In terms how men pay complements to a woman’s beauty, we want to see her face, her smile , her countenance but the Hi jab obscures this , besides all this concern , if every other woman would keep a video of how attractive and pretty she was in her hay days plus the attention she captured from men both wanted and unwanted , it would surely help the same woman feel great in her 40’s,50’s.60’s,70’s,80’s,90’s,100’s.
    a few seconds ago · Like

  • Ajay

    Zainab, no-one deserves the verbal abuse you suffer.

    As a white male, I know that my own (until now silent) unease with the hijab is not to do with the interruption of my gaze.

    I grew up in the care of my mother who worked actively for women’s rights, so it disturbs me to see a woman reproduce her own repression as you do in your hijab.

    I used to know a woman of the Anglican faith. Years before the Church of England authorized the ordination of women priests, I asked her, “Doesn’t it offend you that the men of your church deem you and your entire gender unfit to occupy the same office that they do?” Her response was that women are indeed unfit for such office.

    I can’t tell you how gobsmacked I felt at this woman internalizing her religion’s misogyny. I feel much the same about your wearing your hijab.

    While you’re busily appropriating the feminist concept of the privileged white male gaze, may I encourage you to appropriate and apply in your own life the basic feminist concept of equal rights for women.

    • Walikota

      Ajay, three simple questions for you:

      1. At a buffet, would you take the smorgasbord of food that are exposed and prone to flies infestation or would you only consume those under the cover?

      2. Two sweets you were holding fell off your clutches, one is unwrapped and the other is still intact in its wrapper. Which would you pick up?

      3. What in the world is “the basic feminist concept of equal rights for women”? Where did you pick up those “concepts”? Which university and what books taught you that?

  • Khadija

    MashaAllah sister! I am a hijabi too.I really enjoyed reading this.I have faced racism regarding my hijab but not to the extent you have.I will remember you in my prayers.Stay strong.We wear it for Allah and he is with us.
    take care,

  • Tom

    What a puerile rant, not to mention the racist undertones throughout the article attempting to generalise all white males and females. And trying to portray herself as morally superior because she wears a hijab. How did this get published?

  • Sakeenah

    I’m an American Muslim, and yes white too. How many awkward get togethers have I been in where people start in with the white people comments? Too many. IMO, It cheapens the argument for hijab and anything else when over and over again Muslimahs are posting rants about white people. I honestly wish people would stop wondering why “white people” do anything, it all gets very trite after a while. OK so men of color don’t objectify women too? Please tell me what hip hop videos and Bollywood are all about then.

    A librarian says one thing and it becomes this overarching cultural explanation that applies only to white males? It just sounds like the area isn’t very diverse. The author says “especially” white males would engage in this behavior, so maybe there were one or two people of color doing the same things? When you focus only on the white guys, it’s just anecdotal evidence.

  • Abhishek Arora

    yeah nowadays, its very common to see that white guys disrespect the other religions and ethnics, and to stop this if we want to do something against even though we can’t do. So, according to me we have to ignore them because until we haven’t unity between us we can’t do anything . like they are disrespecting others even though we can’t do anything because it has a big reason that is non-unity between us like firstly we haven’t unity …… its very sorrowful for me that we are also racists , firstly we should have to remove this racism feelings from our hearts like big racism between Hindu’s and Muslim’s . firstly we have to remove this from our heart because every one is a human being . on the name of religions, ethnics, color, caste we hate each other and it is very shameful thing for a human that they have a feeling of racism 🙁 🙁 Don’t be sad just ignore everyone and live your life happily 🙂 and just try to respect every culture, religion, ethnics without any racism and live happily 🙂


    Salaam sister…

    I am absolutely delighted to see that my muslim sisters of young age like you still think highly of hijab.

    Myself being a young bachelor and having studied in UK i can say that the the cruise for chicks thing is very real everywhere.. And no matter how stong willed man you are sometimes the shaitan gets the best of you.

    Personally whenever i see any of my muslim mother or sister in hijab.. I can only think how blessed they are by Allah who has given them guidance and courage to cover up when the environment is al vouching for the “shorter the better mantra”.

    Anyway.. May Allah bless you sister and may your writing be an inspiration to other sisters who want to do hijab but are sceptical.

    Allah hafiz.

  • Rocky

    Wow, you must be a proud Peshawari Pathan….

    Pukhtoons accept bullets fired with love, but not the flowers thrown with hatred.

    This was much more than that.

  • Racist article is racist

    You aren’t going to change people’s racist opinions about you by being racist to them back. You are crude and ignorant just like the ones that berate you for wearing Hijabs.

    What if I wrote an article, “Why do Muslim girls hate wearing normal clothing?”

    How’d you feel then you scumbag.

    • Walikota

      Zainab Khan wrote her true life experiences. What is horribly wrong with that? Just because she specifically mentioned “it’s another one of those ‘white guys’ who hates my hijab”, she’s being branded as a racist. Now who’s being crude and ignorant?

      By the way, calling people names doesn’t strengthen your viewpoint, in fact it degrades you, Mr/Ms “Racist article is racist”.