Young Conservative Tries to Mansplain Hijab in Viral Olympic Photo, Gets It All Wrong

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If mansplaining was an Olympic sport, millennial conservative activist Charlie Kirk would be a shoo-in for this year's gold medal.

When a photo showing a women's beach volleyball match at the 2016 Rio Olympics went viral this week, Kirk used the opportunity to make sexist and Islamophobic comments about the hijab — and got his facts pretty much all wrong.

The photo in question featured 19-year-old Egyptian athlete Doaa Elghobashy — wearing a climate-controlled, long-sleeved getup and a hijab — facing bikini-clad German player Kira Walkenhorst across the net. 

The picture seemed to represent everything the Olympic Games are supposed to be about: namely, bringing people from different countries together in a spirit of goodwill and healthy competition. 

But rather than celebrate this spirit, Kirk posted a patronizing tweet perpetuating a "clash of civilizations" narrative that essentially just clashed with reality.

Kirk, the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, a student conservative group, made the blanket generalization that all Muslim women are oppressed. 

Yet Doaa Elghobashy says wearing hijab doesn't stop her from doing anything. She told the Associated Press this week that wearing it is her own decision, and one that clearly hasn't kept her from playing volleyball.

"I have worn the hijab for 10 years," she told the AP. "It doesn't keep me away from the things I love to do, and beach volleyball is one of them.

Kirk, an outspoken anti-abortion advocate who has called for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, went on to slam those who appreciated the appearance of 19-year-old Elghobashy at the Games by saying her presence was not a sign of "progress."

In reality, if Elghobashy's presence isn't progress, it's unclear what is. 

According to the Huffington Post, the International Volleyball Federation recently changed their dress code policy to better accommodate women from different cultures, as part of a move to diversify the sport and include more Muslim women. Female beach volleyball players are now permitted to wear sleeved tops and shorts as part of the shift.

And according to the Independent, Elghobashy made it to the Olympics partly due to a volleyball tournament created to make the sport more inclusive to countries outside of Europe, North America and Latin America. In this context, Elghobashy's presence clearly represents progress.

None of this stopped Kirk from mansplaining further about the hijab, however. He followed his initial post by tweeting a screenshot of a Wikipedia page with statistics claiming 33% of Egyptian women have experienced physical domestic violence in their lifetime. 

But if this is his case, it's equally worth considering the epidemics of domestic violence against women and rape on college campuses in the United States. If Egypt is mired in endemic sexism, then by these same standards, the U.S. must be, as well.

According to a CDC study released in September 2014, 31% of American women have experienced physical domestic violence — and that's just from their spouse or partners. Meanwhile, one in five female undergraduate students have reported being sexually assaulted since starting college.

It's also worth noting that Kirk is a fan of Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is known for proposing legislation harmful to women, including but not limited to his vote against the 2013 Violence Against Women Act

The hypocrisy is stunning. Yet Kirk's praise for the "different racial, cultural [and] religious" backgrounds represented on the USA women's gymnastics team suggests he's interested in at least paying lip service to celebrating diversity.

One can only hope he includes hijab-wearing Muslim women into his celebration moving forward, instead of dismissing and condemning Elghobashy's hijab.

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Sarah A. Harvard

Sarah is a staff writer covering religion, race and politics. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Slate, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, and VICE. Send tips and feedback: sharvard@mic.com

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