Women To Look Up To: Nadiya Hussain
Something wonderful’s appeared on my Facebook feed. A photo of a Christmas Tree topper in the image of Beyonce. Yes, it’s hard to imagine what could improve this powerhouse of a woman but now I know the answer: wings. WHAT JOY IS THIS!? Christmas had come early and I was hungry to know more; swifter than Santa down the chimney Women To Look Up To entered my life.
Women To Look Up To is a not for profit project merging my two favourite things: Christmas and female empowerment. Their manifesto reads ‘crown your Christmas tree with an inspiring figure made of more than plastic and glitter’. In a time where stories of female bodies being abused and rendered disposable are rife, this is a project which galvanises our precious women and celebrates them. In tandem with the options already available (Beyonce and Serena Williams) there's also the opportunity to vote for a topper of your choice. The range of options from Malala to Michelle Obama remind us that we have been gifted with myriad women of substance who deserve to be idolised. This isn’t just about buying something cute, it’s an invitation to re-write the entire narrative around what a female model looks like.
If you’re perturbed by the commodification of feminism, and lowkey panicked about the capitalist tendencies that Christmas unveils (you should be), then please enjoy a sigh of relief: this is a genuine opportunity to spend ethically and support the sisterhood. When I met with Dom and Savvy (some of the team behind Women To Look Up To) - I was delighted to hear more about the projects motives. They have long term aims of becoming a charity, which will support women, not just at Christmas but all year round.
Christmas cards with sassy pro female slogans can also be purchased - Savvys eyes light up when she tells me about them; we reminisce about the primary school days of sending cards to every person in the class and agree that we can’t wait to send empowering handwritten messages to our girlfriends.
We talked about the vote too. I don’t agree with all the options, but I love that we’re given a choice and I look forward to the reveal of the results. On that note, the conversation comes round to me: who would I have on my tree. I struggled with this to start with, to find someone just right, to find the embodiment of Christmas to me, and I left the conversation still wondering.
Last week a news story broke which provided my answer: the talented and kind Nadiya Hussain published a feature in the Daily Mail detailing her tips for a perfect Christmas and low and behold every Brexit Brenda with an iPhone responded expressing their disgust that a Muslim woman could be seen to represent Christmas.
Having been a long time supporter of her vocal social media presence which calls out injustices - I rushed to her Twitter feed to read ‘I get abuse merely for existing. Too brown to be English. Too Muslim to be British. Too Bengali to eat fish fingers!...Some days I hate myself for simply breathing the same air, that I’m so often told, I am not entitled to.’ I shed a quiet tear. That we have a media which facilitates this kind of abuse is sickening. Nadiya's ability to carry on, articulate and strong in spite of it all, is inspiring.
As I read her statement I had a flashback. I’m 12 years old, in my grandparents house on Christmas Day; framed picture of Ataturk on the mantlepiece, news on in the background, inshallahs at the end of every sentence and my grandad - head of the table - wearing a cotton wool beard sellotaped to his face proudly chiming, amidst a Turkey and all the trimmings - ‘we’re in England, so let’s do what the English do’. None of us are critiquing Christmas, but he defends it nonetheless, defends our right to have it. I was too focused on what the lords of Argos had sent my way to chew over identity politics, but there’s no escaping it now.
As an adult I don’t just enjoy Christmas, I value it. I value the energy of togetherness (and the food and booze). I love that my father's introduction to Christmas arrived in his late twenties when he came here, and that we’ve had pretty much the same number of Christmases as each other. I love that my mother’s love for Christmas was informed by a father who moved his family from violence-torn Cyprus and embraced a life in Britain. I love that my cousin enjoyed her Christmas visit so much she brought a tiny plastic tree, packed it in her suitcase and pops it on her Cyprus veranda every year.
What I don’t love, is that my parents respectfully stood in church halls and carol services as their kids abided by the cultural norms of England, but the gift was never returned. Instead we exist in a landscape where immigrant families are regularly attacked and used as scapegoats by the media.
The fact the British Empire has stolen from every other nation under the sun but now feels the minorities are hijacking Christmas is so audaciously laughable that it could be the joke in a Christmas cracker. But it’s not, it’s a painful reality that can only be combatted with active anti-racism and an even stronger commitment to showing love for the vulnerable.
The last time I wrote about Nadiya Hussain was when Liz Jones wrote her islamophobic ‘Why Are We So Bewitched By That Sweet Guzzling Bun Baker’ piece last year, again, in The Daily Mail; one year they hate her and the next they pretend to be fan while knowingly letting their readership tear into her - treating her like a plaything, a toy. Well she’s not a toy, she’s a resounding beacon of hope and I want to see her statuesque and resplendent on top of my Christmas tree. That’s my vote sorted. Fa la la la la.