Promoting a Lack of Freedom

By Adriana Cohen

November 17, 2017 4 min read

Will Barbies in burqas be next?

That's the question every parent, especially mothers, should be asking now that Mattel has rolled out a new Barbie for little girls to look up to — one wearing a hijab, the headscarf worn by millions of oppressed Muslim women worldwide.

Why would an American doll-maker promote a widely known symbol of female oppression, you wonder? You can thank political correctness.

In the spirit of promoting diversity, the toy manufacturer decided to honor fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad — the first American Olympian to compete wearing a hijab, at the Rio de Janeiro Games last year.

Memo to Mattel: No matter what PC "Kool-Aid" you're drinking these days, promoting oppression and the subjugation of girls and women is never OK.

In fact, it's flat-out dangerous.

The reality is that for millions of women and girls around the globe, the hijab is a spiritual and cultural prison — an everyday reminder of a basic freedom they don't have, the freedom to dress themselves, feel the sun on their heads and enjoy the harmless sensation of the wind in their hair.

Worse, women living in countries whose justice systems incorporate Shariah throughout the Middle East and beyond don't get a choice when it comes to wearing a hijab. To the contrary, if they disobey the blatantly sexist mandate that their heads be covered in public at all times, they risk being arrested, assaulted or even killed.

This is not an anecdote. It's common practice throughout the Muslim world. Just ask the morality police.

Last December, Malak al-Shehri, a young woman living in Saudi Arabia, dared to go out in public without her hijab. She snapped a photo of herself in Western clothing with — gasp — her hair showing and shared it on social media. What happened next should compel every parent who cares about the health and safety of girls to demand that Mattel recall its hijab-wearing Barbie.

Al-Shehri was immediately met with bloodthirsty calls for her to be "fed to the dogs," "beheaded" and stoned to death. She was swiftly arrested by the Saudi-approved morality police — and never heard from again.

Last year, The New York Times published a chilling account of what happened to a 4-year-old girl in India whose hijab accidentally slipped off at the dinner table. Her infuriated father brutally smashed her head to the floor, killing his own child — who had made the innocent, albeit fatal, mistake of showing her hair, even for a brief moment, in front of family members.

There are scores of other horrific examples of women and girls around the globe who've been subjected to torture, societal condemnation or outright execution for not wearing their hijab or burqa. An American toy company teaching young, impressionable girls that wearing a hijab is a positive thing sends a dangerous and misguided message, to say the least.

After all, what Mattel is forgetting is that the foundation of feminism is having choice.

The choice for women to decide — for ourselves — what clothes we wear. A choice to decide whom we marry or don't marry. The choice to have children, a career or both. If wearing a hijab were a choice for women living under Shariah, then this sort of doll would be acceptable, as promoting different cultures and norms is a positive thing.

However, given that millions of Muslim women and girls throughout the world are denied that choice, Mattel missed the mark, and it must remove the doll from its shelves before another woman or child is harmed for exercising a basic human right — freedom.

Adriana Cohen is a syndicated columnist with the Boston Herald. Follow her on Twitter @AdrianaCohen16. To find out more about Adriana Cohen and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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