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muslim women talk about the headscarf
November 21, 2005 12:31 PM   Subscribe

The Big Cover-Up: "Where once the sight of a fully hidden woman was restricted to a few traditionalist communities, nowadays it is not unusual to see the niqab on high streets throughout the major cities of England and in a number of smaller towns. Just a decade ago, this form of enshrouding was seen as an unambiguous sign of female oppression and feudal custom, but now it is frequently referred to as an expression of religious identity, individual rights and even, in some cases, female emancipation."
Veil: The view from the inside: "I was in the same Metro carriage as a nun and I smiled at our similarity of dress. Hers was the symbol of her devotion to God, as is that of a Muslimah. I often wonder why people say nothing about the veil of the Catholic nun but criticize vehemently the veil of a Muslimah, regarding it as a symbol of` 'terrorism' and 'oppression.'"
Politics of the veil: "Before I wore a headscarf I always slumped with my head looking down; now I walk straight and I look up at people. It's not that they accept me more than they did before, it's just that I don't care anymore how they regard me."
(Europe's Burqa Wars, Niqabs in the Classroom?)
posted by heatherann (213 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I often wonder why people say nothing about the veil of the Catholic nun but criticize vehemently the veil of a Muslimah, regarding it as a symbol of` 'terrorism' and 'oppression.'

I think I can field this one.
You see, Catholic girls are *never* pestered by their parents or their teenaged neighbors about donning a nun's dress.
On the other hand, it is quite common in many cities in Europe that Muslim girls who refuse to wear a veil are being followed around by teenage Muslim boys who'll call them sluts or whores and will treat them accordingly.
In the end, the poor girl may give in, but not out of a feeling of "female emancipation" or some such nonsense, but simply because she can't take the nagging of her parents anymore. And for protection against those teenaged boys.

The veil is indeed a symbol of oppression.

Before I wore a headscarf I always slumped with my head looking down; now I walk straight and I look up at people.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that your neighbors don't call you "whore" anymore?
posted by sour cream at 12:47 PM on November 21, 2005


After having read endless opinion-pieces and seen countless documentaries on similar topics I'm worn out.
I can't think of a thing to say. Or rather I could regurgitate all the viewpoints and counter viewpoints ad infinitum.
I don't care anymore or I care too much. I don't know.
It feels as if I've transcended these matters.

Sorry heatherann probably a good post
posted by jouke at 12:52 PM on November 21, 2005


Heatherann, thank you for posting on a topic that doesn't get much balanced discussion. I put on hijab in my early twenties and it continues to be an exceedingly liberating experience. From the moment a woman steps out her door she is confronted with the prying eyes of one man after another who pay no second thought to examining her for their own sexual pleasure if she is attractive, or holding her in disdain if she is not. Even if she is conservatively dressed by Western standards, the shape of her body and her hair which is one of the most important factors in determining how attractive someone is (which is why people can say they like blondes, or red heads, or women with long hair, etc.). By covering herself a woman reclaims her beauty as her own, rather than public property.
Many people have told me that women shouldn't have to cover themselves to prevent themselves being objectified, that the men should control themselves. They should. In fact Muslim men and women are also commanded to lower their gazes instead of admiring the appearances of people of the opposite sex. But the point is not that men should and could control themselves. It is that very often, whether accidentally or intentionally, they do not. When I go out, I don't want the men I encounter to decide whether or not they're going to control themselves. I don't give them the option. If someone were trying to murder me, I wouldn't be considering whether they should or could control themselves; I would defend myself without caring about their motives.
Given that, consider how heinous it is to tell French schoolgirls that they can attend class only if they undress, that they aren't welcome in public schools unless they will allow their sexuality back into the situation at an age when boys have perhaps the least self control in their lives.
The niqab issue is more complicated as it precludes the woman in question from being identified. Institutions may be justified in requiring a woman to show her face for identification if that is the real issue. But to see it as oppression is extremely wrong headed. It's a piece of fabric. It is no big deal.
posted by leapingsheep at 1:01 PM on November 21, 2005


Oh, and for all the people (including sour cream) who are going to say that the problem is that the girls are "forced" to dress properly, please. Almost all parents insist that their teenage daughters dress more conservatively than the girls would on their own, because parents know better than young girls about the messages that are sent by the way they dress. Why insisting that they wrap a piece of fabric around their heads as opposed to, say, insisting that they wear longer shorts or a shirt with sleeves is nearly insignificant.
posted by leapingsheep at 1:05 PM on November 21, 2005


The more women cover themselves up, the more fetishized whatever tiny bit of skin they cannot or do not cover up becomes. Sorry about that.
posted by fenriq at 1:11 PM on November 21, 2005


When I go out, I don't want the men I encounter to decide whether or not they're going to control themselves.

Looking (or even admiring) someone's appearance is hardly a "loss of control."

That said, I'm for freedom of choice in either direction, so if somebody truly wants to wear a burkha, knock yourself out.
posted by jonmc at 1:11 PM on November 21, 2005



There are two key passages that deal with the correctness of women's clothing:

'Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and women believers to make their outer garments hang low over them [adna al-jilbab has also been translated as 'wrap around them'] so as to be recognised and not insulted.' (33:59).

'And tell believing women that they should lower their gaze, guard their private parts and not flaunt their charms beyond what [ordinarily] shows.' (24:31). (Observer)


The niqab/scarf/burqa is a cultural signal. In a muslim society it would be interpreted as a sign of decency and faith. In a western secular society it is a sign of oppression. It sends a wrong signal.

Every time I see one, my first thought is: "domestic violence". I know I shouldn't, but I do anyway. That cannot be the way you want us "uncontrolled" men to think?
posted by hoskala at 1:15 PM on November 21, 2005


Seems backwards to me that rather than teaching young men/boys to control their emotions/appetites you'd attempt to remove temptation through obscuring the face.

As a person completely ignorant of the reasons behind a niquab, I interept the niquab to be yet another way for fundementalists to publicy express their piousness and superiorority.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:16 PM on November 21, 2005


leapingsheep -

So you're point is that it stops people for judging on appearances. This is true, and it is a valid point. And if everyone wore them, then no one would be judged on appearances, and maybe the world would be a better place. It's a big grey area, but until people advocate men and women wearing them, this remains a significant counter to the argument.
posted by iamck at 1:18 PM on November 21, 2005


Seems backwards to me that rather than teaching young men/boys to control their emotions/appetites you'd attempt to remove temptation through obscuring the face.

i.e. "blaming the victim," good point.
posted by iamck at 1:19 PM on November 21, 2005


Hoskala, of course that kind of thinking comes only from ignorance and I'd prefer that people educate themselves.
posted by leapingsheep at 1:20 PM on November 21, 2005


As a person completely ignorant of the reasons behind a niquab, I interept the niquab to be yet another way for fundementalists to publicy express their piousness and superiorority. - Keith Talent

Which of course says more about you than about the people wearing them, or the cuture they come from.
posted by raedyn at 1:20 PM on November 21, 2005


cuture = culture, of course.
posted by raedyn at 1:20 PM on November 21, 2005


iamck, it is well known that physical appearance is more important to men than women, at least as an initial source of attraction. Women don't sit around "man watching."
posted by leapingsheep at 1:21 PM on November 21, 2005


Interesting post, thank you.
posted by agregoli at 1:22 PM on November 21, 2005


But isn't it a matter of degree? Don't all people judge others superficially on appearances?
posted by iamck at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2005


Take it on!
posted by Peter H at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2005


As I said before, I'm for freedom of choice on these garments. I'd no more outlaw them than I'd outlaw yarmulkes or crucifix pendants.

I am a bit curious as to why readers of a site that has a strong distaste for Christian fundamentalism (especially when it comes to the rights of women and sexuality) seems to be eager to defend a different flavor of sexist fundamentalism. Or so it seems to me.
posted by jonmc at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2005


What about giving women the benefit of the doubt? If they want to wear the veil, why taunt them about their reasons?

Some of the brightest, most confident and most outgoing and participatory girls I've known have been hijabi. It's just an aspect of their dressing. Stop fixating on it.
posted by Firas at 1:27 PM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]


leapingsheep, in the culture I grew up in, boys learn how to deal with all the female stimuli around them, they learn how to control their hormones and how to respect women. They also learn quickly to pick up those subtle cues by which a woman signalizes that she is not interested / available.

It seems to me that many Muslims youths in European cities never learn those lessons.

As for those lustful prying eyes that you are trying to escape ... You have, of course, every right to wear a veil or a headscarf if it makes you feel better, but I have to say that this lustful eyes argument really sounds like a lame excuse. I've never heard this from a Western woman. I've never heard a woman say "gee, everyone was staring at my body, I wish I was wearing a burqa." Because, a woman *knows* how to dress/behave so people will not stare at her.
So I think this prying eyes thing is just a piece of Islamic folklore designed to justify wearing the hijab.
Honest non-snarky question: Is this (you should wear a veil to avoid men's lustful looks) being taught in Quran schools?

I also believe in respecting other cultures. In my opinion, wearing a burqha in Rome or Berlin is about as culturally sensitive as wearing tank tops in Mekka.
posted by sour cream at 1:28 PM on November 21, 2005


Women don't sit around "man watching."

There's some women I'd love to introduce you to.

(I realize that you're trying to make a point here, but it's best not to fight blanket assumptions with blanket assumptions, just sayin')
posted by jonmc at 1:29 PM on November 21, 2005


It seems to me that many Muslims youths in European cities never learn those lessons.

Be fair. Not many youths learn these lessons. But so what?

For an analogy: I'm sure the Quran has some passages regarding liberation from material pleasures - therefore, should a car be covered up in order to avoid these reactions?

(I realize I just compared women to cars, and in this context, it was a surprisingly easy analogy to make).
posted by iamck at 1:33 PM on November 21, 2005


I agree with leapingsheep, but there may be a more fundamental reason for the veil. This tradition may have evolved as a practical defense against respiratory problems in a very dusty place. Healthy children come from healthy mothers. Maybe the behavior and religion have evolved symbiotically. Who are we to mess with it?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:33 PM on November 21, 2005


If they want to wear the veil, why taunt them about their reasons?

because it has the flavour the slaves coming to love their yokes? My reaction to them is the same as hoskala's: the head-scarf is a way to blame women for mens' bad behaviour.
posted by bonehead at 1:35 PM on November 21, 2005


I man-watch all the time.
And I agree with Sour Cream's comment about how he learned how to control himself and respect women.
I respect what you're saying, LeapingSheep, but I just think that your argument runs as follows:

-men should not objectify women, stare at them and judge them by their looks
- however, men do do these things
- since they do, I'm going to remove the temptation rather than demand that they change their unaccepable (by any standard) behavior.

I understand why you would want to be judged without reference to your looks. But why is this YOUR problem? It is the problem of the people who are judging you. If a man honestly can't treat you as a human being because you have nice hair, the man is pathetic. Why cater to that?
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 1:35 PM on November 21, 2005


Sour Cream, have you asked them? I'll ask all the women here. Do you feel men's eyes on you when you're simply trying to go about your business? I grew up in Michigan not in some far off culture, and I went to public schools not a Qur'an school. But please, don't pretend that men don't check out women, even when they're not wearing particularly revealing clothing or acting particularly flirtatiously. They can control themselves, but many seem not to see a reason to unless they're in a particular situation where the woman has some sort of power over them, such as an employer-employee relationship.
As for cultural sensitivity, that is ridiculous. Is it also disrespectful for someone to wear dread locks or a Yankees t-shirt in these places?
posted by leapingsheep at 1:35 PM on November 21, 2005


Who are we to mess with it?

Using this arguement, emigres from Borneo should be allowed to continue with cannabalism.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:37 PM on November 21, 2005


I'm with Dormant Gorilla. A lot of the arguments in favor of the burkha (the hijab not so much, that seems to be more ceremonial and less obtrusive, and in NYC I see plenty of women in both all the time, plus plenty of Middle Eastern women with uncovered heads), seems vaguely...male and sex-phobic, for lack of a better phrase? "Heavens, men are out there thinking wicked, nasty thoughts. Whatever shall we do?" That's just adult life. Wherever you go people are thinking sexual thoughts whether the object is in a burkha or a thong bikini. But most of us are socialized to control those urges. Trying to repress them completely is doomed to failure IMHO.
posted by jonmc at 1:40 PM on November 21, 2005


Using this arguement, emigres from Borneo should be allowed to continue with cannabalism.

The postmodern "Moral Relativism" vs. "Universal Truth" battle. Please, don't open this can of worms.
posted by iamck at 1:41 PM on November 21, 2005


Dormant Gorilla, if I demand that they change their behavior it will be after the offense occurred. These things are so intangible...it would be ridiculous, and sometimes socially impossible to say "You were looking at my chest."
Why is it my problem? For the same reason it would be my problem if men fondled me wherever I went. That's my body and it is not available for public enjoyment.
posted by leapingsheep at 1:41 PM on November 21, 2005


But please, don't pretend that men don't check out women, even when they're not wearing particularly revealing clothing or acting particularly flirtatiously.

*gasp*

Could lead to dancing.
posted by jonmc at 1:41 PM on November 21, 2005


I've never heard this from a Western woman. I've never heard a woman say "gee, everyone was staring at my body, I wish I was wearing a burqa." Because, a woman *knows* how to dress/behave so people will not stare at her.

I don't wish I was wearing a burqa. I wish that men would not stare at me when I'm going about my business. And no, how I dress does NOT give anyone license to stare at me or make comments. That is dangerously close to the "She was asking for it" defense of rape.
posted by agregoli at 1:42 PM on November 21, 2005


I also believe in respecting other cultures. In my opinion, wearing a burqha in Rome or Berlin is about as culturally sensitive as wearing tank tops in Mekka.
posted by sour cream at 4:28 PM EST on November 21


No… false equivalence. The vast majority of the planet has laws related to revealing skin, not to not doing so! Just as there are laws related to making too much noise, but not any that prevent you from keeping an apartment quiet. The sliding scale of acceptability goes one way. Those who're offended by movements in the other way may need to take control of their presumptions.

Laws forcing the removal of the headscarf are just as retarded as those forcing its wearing.

There are two arguments here, I think. One is about whether wearing a headscarf is reasonable, which is a fine argument when conducted respectfully. Another is whether people who're wearing the scarf are all oppressed cattle. Which is, um, bigotry.
posted by Firas at 1:42 PM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]


That's my body and it is not available for public enjoyment.

Whether you're covered in a burkha or butt-ass naked, men are looking at women, women are looking at men, everybody's having nasty thoughts about eachother, and you know what?

There ain't a damned thing anybody can do about it.
posted by jonmc at 1:43 PM on November 21, 2005


Using this arguement, emigres from Borneo should be allowed to continue with cannabalism.

Reductio ad absurdum. We're talking about wearing veils, not eating people.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:44 PM on November 21, 2005


Well, jonmc has at least settled the point about whether all men choose to control themselves when women walk by.
posted by leapingsheep at 1:47 PM on November 21, 2005


Wow; if you're worried about being violated in someone else's mind, this world must be a terrifying place....
posted by mr_roboto at 1:49 PM on November 21, 2005


leapingsheep. I'm talking about thoughts not actions. And I think any reasonable person would agree that trying to control thought is wrongheaded and doomed to failure.

Also I was talking about women, too. Women are sexual beings as much as men are. But if you want to continue inserting foot A into mouth B, you go right ahead.
posted by jonmc at 1:49 PM on November 21, 2005


leapingsheep -

Couldn't one make the same argument that the "less" clothes one wears, the "less" sexually provocative on becomes? Couldn't this society and ideas of the female body being so damn sexually attractive been created from trying to surpress it in the first place?

Do we really have enough evidence here to state that the topless women of South Pacific tribes were more objectified for their bodies?
posted by iamck at 1:50 PM on November 21, 2005


iamck, i have no idea whether that is true or not, but if it is it is another good argument for modest dress as it will lead to stronger sexual attraction in the proper place - between married couples.
posted by leapingsheep at 1:56 PM on November 21, 2005


Non-Muslims should be more understanding when they see a woman who chooses to wear a hijab or burqa.
Muslims should be more understanding when they see a woman who chooses not to wear either.
In reality, too many people on both sides aren't very understanding at all.
posted by rocket88 at 1:57 PM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]


There ain't a damned thing anybody can do about it.

We could scoop out the eyeballs of every single human right before puberty with a grapefruit spoon, but I suppose that has it's own set of problems attached.
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:57 PM on November 21, 2005


iamck, i have no idea whether that is true or not, but if it is it is another good argument for modest dress as it will lead to stronger sexual attraction in the proper place - between married couples.

Well, maybe physical attraction is the problem here. Wouldn't it be better if all attraction, even between married couples, was based on something that transcended that?
posted by iamck at 1:58 PM on November 21, 2005


The irony of wearing a veil in the West is that you are probably more conspicuous, not less, while wearing one. I think Azadeh Moaveni mentions this in her book Lipstick Jihad, in a passage about her walking to some UN conference with a headscarf on.

Anyway, there is a difference between being forced to do something, and doing it of ones own accord. Forcing women to walk around in tents is oppressive and wrong. On the otherhand, if a women does so of her own free will, then that's her choice. All we as a society need to do is ensure that women can dress how they please irrespective of any coercion that may come from their family or community.

Also, I get the impression those so vehemently rallying against head scarves don't actually know any Muslim women that wear them.

As a person completely ignorant of the reasons behind a niquab, I interept the niquab to be yet another way for fundementalists to publicy express their piousness and superiorority.

Well thanks for sharing your informed opinion.
posted by chunking express at 1:58 PM on November 21, 2005


it will lead to stronger sexual attraction in the proper place - between married couples.

Anita Bryant, is that you?
posted by jonmc at 1:58 PM on November 21, 2005


Almost all parents insist that their teenage daughters dress more conservatively than the girls would on their own, because parents know better than young girls about the messages that are sent by the way they dress.

Ah. There we have the heart of the matter. It always comes down to this eventually. If a woman fails to carefully cover herself, she is sending a message of sexual availability. I think this is a pernicious load of crap.

The whole language of "feeling men's eyes on you" never seems to come from anyone who wasn't raised with the Muslim notion that this is a problem. If you grow up with your older female relatives talking about the leering of men and shuddering, then of course you'll develop a weird phobia of being looked at.

I personal could care less whether men look at me or don't. Why in the world should I? Seriously, how am I damaged by the mere gaze of a man? If he so much as opens his mouth to say something inappropriate, we're talking about sexual assault, and there are laws to deal with that. I will not stand by and be told that my very femaleness is dangerous and must be hidden, or I will reap the terrible consequences.

All of that said, it is also no skin off my nose if you choose to wear hijab, or whatever else. I oppose any laws that would prevent you. I just agree with those who consider it a misogynist practice. Hopefully, there will come a time when nobody considers it necessary any more.

Also: Women don't sit around "man watching."

*boggles* That may be the most grossly fallacious claim I've heard this month. I can't believe you really think that's true.
posted by Fenriss at 1:58 PM on November 21, 2005


Don't worry, leapingsheep. You may be beautiful now, but you'll get old someday and then the men will stop caring how you look. That'll show us!!
posted by billysumday at 2:06 PM on November 21, 2005


leapingsheep: Do you feel men's eyes on you when you're simply trying to go about your business?

No, I don't, although I don't think I would mind a little more attention on myself in that department.

But please, don't pretend that men don't check out women, even when they're not wearing particularly revealing clothing or acting particularly flirtatiously.

I do not pretend that. Men do check out women. My point was that in my culture we (both sides, that is) learn to deal with this. And we learn to deal with seeing a little meat. And many women learn to use their appearance to their advantage.

Now you tell me: don't Muslim men try to check out the woman underneath the veil? I understand that the veil is a cultural clue that will let them act more respectfully (although it is a little sad that they need to see a veil for this), but won't they try to check out a chick if they know the veil is in principle avei ... uh ... available?

As for cultural sensitivity, that is ridiculous. Is it also disrespectful for someone to wear dread locks or a Yankees t-shirt in these places?

No it isn't, because, among other things, many Germans and Italians wear dread locks and Yankees t-shirts.
Like someone else above said, the first reaction I get when I see someone wearing a veil in these places is "poor thing, she's probably being treated really bad by her husband / parents / neighbors."
I don't know the situation in the U.S., but in Europe, many Muslim husbands seem to be all too happy if their wifes stay at home in their veils and do not venture out of their homes, learn the language, and discover the wonderful countries they are living in.
I've heard stories about immigrant Arabic women living in Rome (or was it Munich?) who were basically not allowed to leave their homes and learn the local language, and who, after being able to venture outside their home for the first time, marveled at the beautiful city they lived in after living there for *years*.
So when I see a veil, I always wonder "is she one of those poor women?"
posted by sour cream at 2:08 PM on November 21, 2005


iamck, what's wrong with physical attraction in the proper place?
And Fenriss, I was raised by a semi-practicing Catholic mother and a secular father. I don't know why you aren't bothered by men ogling you, but I doubt that you're in the majority.
And billysumday accidentally brought up an interesting point about how old women who are no longer sexually attractive are devalued in this society, which originally placed a large amount of their value in their beauty.
posted by leapingsheep at 2:13 PM on November 21, 2005


Sour cream, I am not even going to bring up the fact that domestic violence occurs in all cultures, but let me point out an obvious problem with your line of reasoning. If you are seeing veiled women in public, they are obviously not locked away in their homes.
posted by leapingsheep at 2:16 PM on November 21, 2005


And billysumday accidentally brought up an interesting point about how old women who are no longer sexually attractive are devalued in this society, which originally placed a large amount of their value in their beauty.

Actually, no, you just did that, leapingsheep. Billysumday just indicated that older women aren't stared at any more. Odd that you, who seem to see men's staring as some kind of crime or violation, are now equating that staring with esteem and societal value in the stare-ee.

Good on you for arguing a minority opinion on a heated subject, though.
posted by gurple at 2:16 PM on November 21, 2005


Accidentally? Get off it. You think you're doing us a favor by denying us your beauty, and I'm saying that I don't care. You'll soon not have any men to ogle you. Just get over yourself.
posted by billysumday at 2:17 PM on November 21, 2005


Oh, and you know, there are a lot of German Muslims too. What's wrong with visitors dressing like German Muslims instead of German post-Christians?
posted by leapingsheep at 2:18 PM on November 21, 2005


Like someone else above said, the first reaction I get when I see someone wearing a veil in these places is "poor thing, she's probably being treated really bad by her husband / parents / neighbors."

Also, as someone else also said above, this speaks more about about you than them.
posted by chunking express at 2:20 PM on November 21, 2005


You know, I've noticed something about my own reactions to folks in headscarves that troubles me. I think I see it echoed here, too. I don't start wondering about domestic violence, no, but I think I pigeonhole the person in other ways. My gut reaction to someone in a headscarf is that she's actively pulling away from society, that she doesn't want to interact with me, she'll be happiest if I just ignore her.

Often, I then meet these people and talk and laugh and interact with them, and this prejudice goes away as far as that individual is concerned. Something for me to work on, I guess. But I think wearing a headscarf can be a barrier to more than just sexual attention.
posted by gurple at 2:29 PM on November 21, 2005


Personally, I don't care if men ogle me or not. What I do want is for them to take what I'm saying or doing at the time as seriously as they would if they were talking to another man.
posted by Zinger at 2:30 PM on November 21, 2005


I'll have to check out for now. Leave questions if you want to for later.
posted by leapingsheep at 2:32 PM on November 21, 2005


From the moment a woman steps out her door she is confronted with the prying eyes of one man after another who pay no second thought to examining her for their own sexual pleasure if she is attractive, or holding her in disdain if she is not.

You know, their thoughts can't hurt you. "Feeling their eyes" is nothing but paranoia, and any sizing up they do based on your looks will be done a thousand fold based on your hijab. For most western, liberal men (not to mention women!) seeing what they consider a sign of 'imprisonment' will anger them, and make them dislike your religion. Is that really what you'd prefer?


My interpretation has always been that it is rudeness on the part of the woman, because the man cannot control themselves, they will feel tempted, which is bad. So you cover yourself up, and then they don't feel tempted.

When I'm in the locker room going to take a shower, I'll wrap myself up in a towel, other people don't. I don't do it because I think other people don't want to deal with seeing my donger hanging out. I'm trying to be polite.

If men were going to be turned on by you, and then on top of that feel ashamed for being titillated, then the polite thing to do would be to cover yourself up. It makes sense in some Islamic countries, I guess.
posted by delmoi at 2:32 PM on November 21, 2005


leapingsheep: If you are seeing veiled women in public, they are obviously not locked away in their homes.

Often, the husband (or other male relative) is not too far away, and in those cases so they certainly seem to be well watched. I realize the situation must be a little different in the U.S. I suspect you would *not* feel at home in Eurabia.

Oh, and you know, there are a lot of German Muslims too.

My first reaction to this: Fortunately not as many as in France, or otherwise there would be as much anti-semitism and burning cars there as in the banlieus. But that would be much to non-PC to write here, wouldn't it?

What's wrong with visitors dressing like German Muslims instead of German post-Christians?

Where I live, I often see veiled Muslim tourists, some from Indonesia, some from the Gulf states (I guess). I really don't mind that at all (just like I wouldn't mind tank tops in Mekka). What I really don't get is women who flee their oppressive (Islamic) home countries and come to live their lives in relative freedom in Europe and *still* want to wear the hijab.

I'm with the poster above who said that it seems to be an ingrained piece of Islamic culture, almost like brainwashing: tell a girl she needs to wear a veil to protect herself from men, and after hearing it 10,000 times she'll eventually believe it.
posted by sour cream at 2:33 PM on November 21, 2005


Just to note, I would love it if women were checking me out.
posted by delmoi at 2:33 PM on November 21, 2005


iamck, what's wrong with physical attraction in the proper place?

It's all matters of degree though isn't it...
posted by iamck at 2:33 PM on November 21, 2005


When I see them I just think, "That poor girl is basically someone's property. A shame."

It also makes me wonder about genital mutilation. I understand it's more common than people think.
posted by mullingitover at 2:34 PM on November 21, 2005


sour cream: My first reaction to this: Fortunately not as many as in France, or otherwise there would be as much anti-semitism and burning cars there as in the banlieus. But that would be much to non-PC to write here, wouldn't it?

If by "non-PC" you mean vile and bigoted, then yes.
posted by gurple at 2:37 PM on November 21, 2005


sour cream: My first reaction to this: Fortunately not as many as in France, or otherwise there would be as much anti-semitism and burning cars there as in the banlieus. But that would be much to non-PC to write here, wouldn't it?

Those riots have no more to do with islam then U.S. Race riots had to do with being black.
posted by delmoi at 2:40 PM on November 21, 2005


Your continued assertion of the definition of "the proper place", for one.
posted by hototogisu at 2:40 PM on November 21, 2005


Wow, that skipped more than a few beats.
re: this...
posted by hototogisu at 2:42 PM on November 21, 2005


Oh man. Thinking about genital mutilation upon seeing a headscarf is like wondering about imprisonment upon hearing that someone was grounded.

Please. Lots of people here need to just educate themselves. (Here's some info on FGM from a muslim perspective.) Or need meet women who're scarved, perhaps.
posted by Firas at 2:44 PM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]


Actually even at my age I occasionally catch someone looking at me the "wrong way" . Altho I am not a big fan of hijab, I do like the thought of modest dressing, and it does creep me out to have a man look at me "that way."

However, to me the whole point of it needs to be personal choice and not imposition. If a lady wants to wear a burqa it is neither here nor there-if her society insists that ALL women cover themselves in such an extreme manner while men get to look normal, THAT I have a problem with.
posted by konolia at 2:45 PM on November 21, 2005


Those who defend wearing such coverups as a symbol of modesty and also to keepmen from becoming beasts, are right. And this is why ther is no such thing as adultery or indescretion etc in countries where wearing such garments ils the norm for women. Imagine, in our Western culture, we have office romances, 50% divorce rate, adultlery. All this would vanish were we to adopt coverup clothing for our women.
posted by Postroad at 2:48 PM on November 21, 2005


And what about Gay dudes? They're checking out other guys as well, so shouldn't we also wear stuff like that if we live in places like san-Francisco?
posted by delmoi at 2:49 PM on November 21, 2005


Leapingsheep, I seriously would like to know why a man simply looking at a woman, provided he's not saying anything or trying to communicate lascivious intent, harms that woman. I can't fathom it. I look at people of both sexes and appreciate them physically, and I'm not wishing them ill, or belittling their minds or souls in any way.

And, my other question: do you really think that women don't "man watch"? I am not being facetious. I want to know if you said that merely to reinforce your point, or if you truly believe it. Because I know dozens if not hundreds of women, both online and in RL, whose favorite activity is man watching.

I am trying to get at the assumptions here. The points that 1) men are sex maniacs who cannot control themselves, 2) that women are entirely different in their desires, 3) that one can transgress against another in one's thoughts, and actually damage the other's dignity... I find them hard to accept.

As I said, I don't object to the fact that some women want to cover themselves. However, I find some of the implicit assumptions disturbing. Like someone said above, if you are distressed by the possibility that someone might be violating you in their private thoughts, it must be an upsetting world to live in.
posted by Fenriss at 2:49 PM on November 21, 2005


One of the reasons that I posted these links is that my first reaction is similar to that of many of the posters here. I go to university in Toronto and have noticed a couple of girls wearing niqab lately and I have been struggling to think of a reason why they would wear it in a society that clearly doesn't require it, where they stand out more for wearing it than abandoning it.

Sometimes it's better to actually listen to the women who choose it than to rely on my WASPy rural-Ontario assumptions.
posted by heatherann at 2:49 PM on November 21, 2005


For the same reason it would be my problem if men fondled me wherever I went.

You don't see any difference between a man looking at you and a man fondling you? Really?
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:53 PM on November 21, 2005


This all seems so built around rigid gender roles and traditional expectations of male and female behaviour. When I walk down the street, I look at the men, the women and everyone inbetween. They look at me, and I can do nothing about that. Hell, when faced with a fully-covered Muslim woman, I have more scope to imagine whatever I like. Burly transvestite out for a stroll? Two people under there mid-coitus? Actually three dwarfs on each others' shoulders? If your reason for hiding under there is to avoid the leering eyes of others, it's worth being aware that you can never be truly 'safe', and that in their minds they can do whatever they like with you. So why worry?

Many Muslim women choose, completely of their own volition, to wear all-covering garments - I don't think anyone's claiming that absolutely every woman they see walking down the street in one of these garments has been coerced, indoctrinated or forced. On the same ticket, some of these women must have been forced, too - there absolutely must be non-believers and moderates growing up in fundamentalist families and societies, just as there are in all similar situations, the world over. I'm wholly in favour of France's approach - ban the headscarves and tents in schools. Ensure that indoctrination of kids by their parents is kept to a minimum, give them a taste of what life is like without the religious trappings, and you can be more confident that the women you see with everything but their eyes veiled have decided to cover themselves for their own, adult reasons.

Also, I think the Guardian writer's comparison of nakedness and veiled women is interesting. Leapingsheep, or anyone, really - would you fight for both to be legalised for adults, or is freedom of dress only important when it's your brand of magic under threat?
posted by terpsichoria at 2:59 PM on November 21, 2005


I suspect you would *not* feel at home in Eurabia.
Is that somewhere near Euranus? 'Cause you appear to be talking out of your ass.
posted by mr.marx at 3:03 PM on November 21, 2005


I don't understand this "stopping the gaze of men" argument. If you want to stop people staring at you, then wearing islamic dress in the U.S. probably won't work. The hijab seems (to me) to be more to do with modesty, respect and spiritual cleanliness. Personally, I don't care how you express this. Wear a nun's habit, a burqua or fasten the top two buttons of your blouse. Refuse to show skin below your bellybutton. Wear a suit, always wear a tie, take your hat off when you go into church, wear a bowler hat on your way to your job in the city. It's all the same and it's the reason that you'll get arrested in most countries for walking around naked.

I've seen the hijab described as an islamic statement of nationhood and a sign of the continued subjegation of muslim women. It's neither of these things. It's a piece of cloth worn over the head which respects the word of the Qu'ran.
posted by seanyboy at 3:06 PM on November 21, 2005


Leapingsheep, I seriously would like to know why a man simply looking at a woman, provided he's not saying anything or trying to communicate lascivious intent, harms that woman.

I think that pretty much sums up my perspective as well. A man/woman "checking out" another man/woman in a public place, and possibly thinking romantic or sexual thoughts is pretty much a daily happening for many, many people who are in the age bracket from adolescence to late middle age. If this truly offends or upsets you, well, there are plenty of empty square miles in the world where you can live in isolation from others.

(Note that I am not talking of catcalling, wolf-whistles or explicit come-ons or shouting, which could fall under the definition of verbal sexual harassment - merely friendly glances/looks/smiles.)


I can't fathom it. I look at people of both sexes and appreciate them physically, and I'm not wishing them ill, or belittling their minds or souls in any way.

Yeah - exactly.
posted by theorique at 3:10 PM on November 21, 2005


However, to me the whole point of it needs to be personal choice and not imposition. If a lady wants to wear a burqa it is neither here nor there-if her society insists that ALL women cover themselves in such an extreme manner while men get to look normal, THAT I have a problem with.

Hey Konolia,

Exactly.
posted by Divine_Wino at 3:10 PM on November 21, 2005


From the moment a woman steps out her door she is confronted with the prying eyes of one man after another who pay no second thought to examining her for their own sexual pleasure if she is attractive, or holding her in disdain if she is not.

You must have either an amazingly-inflated opinion of yourself or a very low - positively sexist - opinion of male behaviour. There's a big difference between someone glancing at you and perhaps registering whether they think you're attractive or not, and someone leering, ogling, prying, hitting on you or otherwise behaving inappropriately. This is as ridiculous as deciding that though both sexes carry cash, men are the high-earning wealthier sex, and more at risk of tempting people to look upon them with sinful envy everytime they go out of the house, therefore they are only allowed to go out if wearing a regulation plain sack-cloth uniform to disguise their wealth or guarded by a posse of their female relatives, whilst women are free to flash their cash, run about town on their own and dress up in Prada or Versace, if they like.

It's religiously-sponsored sexist nonsense, pure and simple and the sexist assumptions you make against men show it.
posted by Flitcraft at 3:12 PM on November 21, 2005


headscarves and tents in schools.
Why?
Are you including crosses in that list?

Religion's an important thing for people.
The whole point of a secular society is that people are free to practice whatever religion they want. By forcing people to turn their backs on a religion in what is effectively a public space, you're removing that right. That can't be right.
posted by seanyboy at 3:13 PM on November 21, 2005


Well, why do we wear clothes on the rest of our body?

It's just a matter of degree - different cultures have different ideas of what is shameful / respectful.

Supposedly liberal western culture is full of idiosynchratic shame just like any other culture - most people don't see it anymore because it's become so common place. Shame has a reason for its existance - to regulate behaviour of both the individual and the people around them. It's what is agreed upon by society as to what is and what isn't acceptable. It's part of our social contract.

When I was in Japan, I was extremely self-conscious to go naked amongst strangers in an onsen (hot spa). My self-consciousness could be seen as a "hang up" westerners have about being naked in a public place.

Nakedness is associated with sexuality in the west to the point that if you take a photo of your naked 3-year old child in the bath, you could get arrested.

Just thought I'd add some perspective to this debate.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 3:13 PM on November 21, 2005


You must have either an amazingly-inflated opinion of yourself or a very low - positively sexist - opinion of male behaviour.

Or possibly.....both. Flitcraft - excellent post....
posted by FieldingGoodney at 3:17 PM on November 21, 2005


It's religiously-sponsored sexist nonsense
Contrary to popular belief amongst huge swathes of both Western and Eastern societies, islam asks that both sexes dress with modesty. People should remember that.
posted by seanyboy at 3:18 PM on November 21, 2005


*offers self up to MeFi's manwatchers as object of adulation*
*feels their eyes*

Oooh, tickles..
posted by jonmc at 3:21 PM on November 21, 2005


seanyboy:The whole point of a secular society is that people are free to practice whatever religion they want

That's exactly my point - in a secular society, I'd hope people were free to practice religion based on its individual merits or attractions, rather than being indoctrinated as children. Making schools a truly secular space by disallowing religious symbols (and of course I include crosses, stars, effigies of the Spaghetti Monster etc) on children is about all the state can do to ensure that any religion these people choose to follow will be selected as an adult, with full knowledge of its positive and negative aspects.
posted by terpsichoria at 3:22 PM on November 21, 2005


Looks at jonmc with suspicion....

Oh what the hell.
/tickles jonmc.
posted by seanyboy at 3:22 PM on November 21, 2005


terpsichoria: So all religions should be rated R+
At what age should we allow children to "choose" their religion?
Maybe we should also ban Baptisms for the under 13's.

Parents get to choose the religion their children have. A school can show alternitives, but it shouldn't have the right to decide the moral structure that a parent indoctrinates into thier child. Despite every formulaic / team playing structure my school tried to impose on me, my parents taught me to think for myself.

If parents weren't allowed to indoctrinate whatever crazy ideas they have on us, we'd live in a bland grey world.
posted by seanyboy at 3:29 PM on November 21, 2005


Hey, I've had more than enough men carry on conversations with my chest to get exactly what leapingsheep is on about. It's rude and annoying and the vast majority of straight men seem to have no idea they're doing it, and no idea that it's degrading and off-putting.

If you look at a woman in a burqa or a hijab and think she's oppressed, you're looking not at her but at your own prejudice.

And I think it's very interesting how everyone is jumping to say that western society is at peace with our appearances and with people looking at us. From the way people around here talk about fat people, it seems like they'd be happier if certain people were covered up. We already know that fat people don't get jobs as easily as skinny people. Different side of the same coin.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:31 PM on November 21, 2005


I'll ask all the women here. Do you feel men's eyes on you when you're simply trying to go about your business?

Nope. It's called being over 35. Becoming invisible as I got older was simultaneously one of the most disorienting and freeing experiences I've had.

I feel disturbed by the sign of women in hijab because-- and I'm not saying that I'm not open to being convinced otherwise-- what I see there is an acknowledgement that the most important thing about a woman is being subject to the public gaze, and that to protect her from that gaze is a greater imperative than her freedom of movement or even her physical comfort (aren't those things hot?). So that bothers me.
posted by jokeefe at 3:35 PM on November 21, 2005


Hildegarde: A particularly nice cleavage is unfortunately eye-catching. It's very much like that situation when your best friend has a huge spot, and you can't help but look at it. You don't want to do it, you'll probably apologise for doing it, but you ... just ... can't ... help ... it.

Obviously, I'm not speaking for all men here, but that cleavage staring thing can't always be controlled.
posted by seanyboy at 3:35 PM on November 21, 2005


*leers at jokeefe*
posted by jonmc at 3:36 PM on November 21, 2005


We already know that fat people don't get jobs as easily as skinny people. Different side of the same coin.

Except nobody is advocating that.
posted by iamck at 3:38 PM on November 21, 2005


Not to say that I don't try and control it. And when I catch myself doing it, I'll always chastise myself. But... They're so nice.
posted by seanyboy at 3:38 PM on November 21, 2005


Hildegarde: A particularly nice cleavage is unfortunately eye-catching.

Besides, do we want to live in a world without flirtation, and sexual banter? Has it occured to some of you that some women dress sexy because it's fun for them? they *gasp* like the attention? hell I imagine some men do, too.

Just relax already.
posted by jonmc at 3:41 PM on November 21, 2005


(a) Laws against head-coverings and other religious garb, particularly garb worn primarily by women can be harmful because the laws may cause the families of those women to prevent them from leaving the house-- not a good thing.

(b) I just can't let this one slide:
consider how heinous it is to tell French schoolgirls that they can attend class only if they undress, that they aren't welcome in public schools unless they will allow their sexuality back into the situation

Exposed hair has little to do with allowing "their sexuality back into the situation." This is nothing but a cultural/religious quirk that associates exposed hair with explicit sexuality. Even in Christianity, which mentions head-covering in the Epistles of Paul, the act of women covering their heads while praying is taken to be a symbolic act, not one directly related to any supposed sexual immodesty associated with exposed hair.

I appreciate the views of people who prefer modest clothing (or even Modest Clothing). However, try not to claim that such garb such as flowy dresses or headscarves or face-masks is somehow directly tied up with sexuality. Outside of certain culturally isolated communities, lack of headcoverings is not considered allowing "their sexuality ... into the situation." If France is really concerned about head-coverings, what they need is a few generations for their muslim immigrants to slowly separate from their middle-eastern mores when it comes to style of dress. Once this happens, women will no longer have to be subject to social consequences from their families and other muslim men if they choose not to wear a hijab.
posted by deanc at 3:42 PM on November 21, 2005


Hmm. Well, different strokes for different folks (though in a classroom you'd need some identifying tags or a good seating chart to make discussion possible).

But doesn't wearing these just fetishize the voice? And the wearer's way of moving, and etc? Something more like this would probably be needed to experience the kind of liberation promised by the Burqa.

Can you imagine being the one non-Burqa wearing woman in, or in front of a class of Burqa-wearing students? It would be disconcerting. As I guy I'd be tempted to put one on before class myself.

A teacher couldn't couldn't easily tell by looking who was half-asleep, or confused or expressing disagreement. On the other hand, it might encourage more verbal communication, I suppose (though I sort of doubt it).

If, as they say, most communication is non-verbal, the Burqa is a withholding of communication that is tantamount to a non Burqa-wearer adopting an expressionless stone face when speaking with you.

Of course, everyone has a perfect right to look at me stone-faced and speak in a monotone, but then I also have a perfect right to prefer the company of persons willing to communicate more fully with me, and who do not imagine some kind of gross sexual assault constantly emanating from my eyes.
posted by washburn at 3:42 PM on November 21, 2005


Has it occured to some of you that some women dress sexy because it's fun for them?

Er...I know that they do. But when I'm at work, not showing any cleavage, but keeping my bust behind sensible work clothing, I'm not looking for flirtation and sexual banter. Especially not from men, because I am a lesbian. And yet...I get it anyway. Which is the point: as the comments above indicate, lots of men seem to think that it's unavoidable that women endure this kind of thing.

Everyone's nicely supporting leapingsheep's arguments for her while she's gone.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:45 PM on November 21, 2005


It's religiously-sponsored sexist nonsense, pure and simple and the sexist assumptions you make against men show it.
Right on.
Islam asks that both sexes dress with modesty. People should remember that.
Seems to me that Islam isn't asking, but telling about anything.
Well they can fuck off.
I for one have no interest in trying to adjust my life, and the lives of my countrymen to accommodate your half witted mediaeval ideas.
posted by Joeforking at 3:46 PM on November 21, 2005


^^
I'd like to disassociate myself from billysumday's on-the-surface similar comment, though, which I thought crass and rude.

Leapingsheep, perhaps you could comment on something that puzzled me the other night-- there was a story on CBC news about a Muslim dating service (I believe in Toronto). The woman who ran the service was both wearing a headscarf and was heavily made up-- eyeliner, rouge, mascara, blush, lipstick. This is not the first time I've noticed this apparent contradiction on either television or the University campus where I spend large amounts of my time. I don't want to be rude or insensitive, but if you're trying to de-stress what society defines as sexually charged signals, why the makeup? This isn't mean to be accustory, or to expect you to be the voice of all Muslim women, but if you have anything to share on the matter-- as you have generously been doing so far in this thread-- I'd be interested to read it.
posted by jokeefe at 3:52 PM on November 21, 2005


I for one have no interest in trying to adjust my life, and the lives of my countrymen to accommodate your half witted mediaeval ideas.

How very appropriate, Joeforking. I'm not sure what country you live in, but I'll bet that the idea that you have this monolithic block of uniform "countrymen", all of whom are somehow inconvenienced by people wearing the headscarf, is itself both half-witted and medieval.
posted by gurple at 3:53 PM on November 21, 2005


But when I'm at work, not showing any cleavage, but keeping my bust behind sensible work clothing, I'm not looking for flirtation and sexual banter. Especially not from men, because I am a lesbian.

Fair enough, but that's simply a sensible "there's a time and place for everything," attitude. That's a long way from "let's all cover ourselves from head to toe, and wish away all our impure thoughts." Let's keep that in mind. And what's being a lesbian got to do with it. I'm a straight male and I'll flirt with gay men, both online & IRL, cause it's an ego boost and it's fun.

as the comments above indicate,

I can't speak for everyone, but I'm merely expressing an opinion. (except for the *leer*, but I'm freindly with jokeefe from other sites and she knows I'm just being playful).
posted by jonmc at 3:53 PM on November 21, 2005


Joeforking: Uhm. Do you know what this thread is about? The people here are countrymen, in France, UK, et cetera.
posted by Firas at 3:53 PM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]


Contrary to popular belief amongst huge swathes of both Western and Eastern societies, islam asks that both sexes dress with modesty. People should remember that.

Except this never seems to extend into men having to wear anything like a niqab or a burqa. Only in the case of women are the Qu'ranic verses ever over-interpreted to mandate coverings which erase most of the face or impair the sight and movement of the wearer. I haven't seen any controversies over boys fighting to be allowed to go into school in flowing robes and headresses to protect their modesty - have you?
posted by Flitcraft at 3:56 PM on November 21, 2005


*leers at jokeefe*

Whoah. Weird.

*leers back, just for practice*
posted by jokeefe at 3:58 PM on November 21, 2005


Everyone's nicely supporting leapingsheep's arguments for her while she's gone.
leapingsheep's allowed to do whatever she wants to make her happy. I'm just saying that I think her arguments for wearing a hijab are personal, not representative of islamic teachings.

I think the phrase "endure this kind of thing" is harsh in this context. I'm not talking about the deliberate objectification of women and I have sympathy for the personal situations you describe. I was simply trying to place the natural ineptness of the human character in a context where you could perhaps perceive someone like me as less unendurable.

Also, you could probably cover everything up, and I'd just end up being fascinated with your eyes.

Joeforking: Burn them all. Burn them all I say.
posted by seanyboy at 4:03 PM on November 21, 2005


Both genders get sexual banter which may or may not be welcome, Hildegarde, and to much the same extent. I've been both at various times in my life, and have been in a great number of situations where I've been in a position to judge the amount of flirtation an average, reasonably-attractive individual receives. The difference might lie in the way the genders are taught to respond to it, or the relative positions of power and weakness those people feel they inhabit, but it isn't in the amount they receive.

Seanyboy: Despite every formulaic / team playing structure my school tried to impose on me, my parents taught me to think for myself.

Surely you're one of the lucky ones, then. A lot of parents don't. Preventing kids wearing religious trappings to school is just something we foresee enormously different results from - I think the world could be a much more varied, thoughtful place if more people were allowed to come to their own conclusions rather than being bombarded with dogma and religious rules from an early age. Short of France's half-hearted attempt to ban religious imagery from schools, nobody's really tried it in a secular society devoid of other major problems with religion, though, so there's not much evidence to go on.
posted by terpsichoria at 4:06 PM on November 21, 2005


that's simply a sensible "there's a time and place for everything," attitude

Yes, I have that attitude. But so many people around us don't. (All of them men, in my experience. Women look at men and at each other, but they are far more subtle about it, perhaps recognizing how obvious and annoying it can be.) They seem to think it's appropriate anytime anywhere, which is probably why leapingsheep wants to stay behind the viel. That's her perogative. Not one I'm going to take up myself, but I can certainly sympathize.

Fighting that particular battle in that particular way doesn't de facto mean she's oppressed.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:09 PM on November 21, 2005


Flitcraft: No I haven't, but that's because the hats, etc worn by Muslim men haven't been grabbed by the west as a symbol of islamic evil.

I'm aware that there are also discrepencies to how islam is interpreted across the sexes. It's tragic, and it's sexist but whatever the islamic clerics and anti-islamic types say, it is not (to my mind) anything to do with islam.

Sexism is ingrained into everything. Not just islam.
posted by seanyboy at 4:11 PM on November 21, 2005


I'd like to disassociate myself from billysumday's on-the-surface similar comment, though, which I thought crass and rude.

What did I say that was crass and rude?
posted by billysumday at 4:15 PM on November 21, 2005


which is probably why leapingsheep wants to stay behind the viel. That's her perogative. Not one I'm going to take up myself, but I can certainly sympathize.

But I'm sure you can grasp that it's something of an extreme reaction, and that's all I'm criticizing. As I said in my first comment, I have a fairly libertarian attitude towards these things, I'm for freedom of choice across the board, and as the uncle of an adorable half-Arab neice, i can assure you that it's not from any anti-Arab prejudice.

But my opinion on the matter is this: sexuality, of one kind or another is one of the prime directives of being human. It has to be managed and jandled approriately, of course, but the best way to do that is through parental and societal guidance, not by cloaking the body and sex in mystery, which is what veils and burkhas so, IMO.
posted by jonmc at 4:16 PM on November 21, 2005


they are far more subtle about it.

On wednesdays, I'll go out with my best friend, and she'll invariably ask me to look at someone without them noticing, and however hard I try I'll invariably do it in a way which is absolutely obvious.

I know other men who have reported exactly the same experience.

I'm generalising here, but women are a lot better at watching & looking at things in a subtle manner.

It's not about not recognizing that it's annoying. It's about not having those skills.
posted by seanyboy at 4:17 PM on November 21, 2005


as the comments above indicate, lots of men seem to think that it's unavoidable that women endure this kind of thing.

For the most part I think many of us think "endure" is a strong word for the type of being looked at most people will encounter during the day, and therein is the disconnect. Nobody's denying there are cretins who will talk to your breasts, sneer, leer, drool etc but if you're encountering more than one of those types of losers for every hundred men you deal with you might want to consider moving.

But, maybe it's a bigger deal to you or you live in the crassest city on earth and the effort to reward ratio is worth walking around swaddled up like a pillow all day. It's your knoggin, you can do what you like. Personally I question whether that's an approach that leads to progress, however. Do we achieve equality when we set up barriers and insulate ourselves from those that are different from us or do we manage it when we expose ourselves (ha ha) and demand correct treatment? I think seperate yet equal exists in a lot of forms, not just ours and theirs water fountains.
posted by phearlez at 4:21 PM on November 21, 2005


"From the moment a woman steps out her door she is confronted with the prying eyes of one man after another who pay no second thought to examining her for their own sexual pleasure if she is attractive, or holding her in disdain if she is not."
Everyone's judged by looks to some degree. I think I look dorky and a bit ugly, and can be quite paranoid about people looking at me and worrying about how people are judging me. I'd quite like to opt out of it too, but I don't think it would be considered healthy of me to start wearing a veil. Why should I think otherwise if a women decides to do the same?

Is your paranoia over men drooling over/disliking you because of your looks more valid than my paranoia over girls giving me funny looks and giggling because I think I look funny?

Maybe I just don't get out enough...
posted by Freaky at 4:22 PM on November 21, 2005


Last word before bed.
I'll say again. The hijab isn't about cloaking the sex in mystery, (Although, when you say it like that, it sounds really hot), it's about respect and modesty. If you want to cover your body from the evil lecherous prying eyes of men then that's your perogative, but there is more to the hijab than that.

And what's with those dog collars huh. Hiding the shameful sexual fury of the Adam's Apple. Those religious hussies. You can hide it, but we know what's underneath. Bulging out.
posted by seanyboy at 4:23 PM on November 21, 2005


Seanyboy, yes indeed, there are discrepancies as to how Islam is interpreted across the sexes, which is why people who dislike such distortions would do well to point them out, instead of hiding behind palpable nonsense like comparing burqas and niqabs to hats.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:35 PM on November 21, 2005


And many women learn to use their appearance to their advantage.

This bothers me, as I believe in meritocracy. Why should an attractive person get an advantage that is not directly related to securing a mate? Appearance is largely based on genetic factors which tend to be uncontrollable, unearned, and not related to, for instance, competence at schoolwork or at a job. How often a person actively searching for a mate, anyway? (my take: not that often at all).

I have more than once thought how nice it would be to wear a veil - frankly I wouldn't have to worry about bad hair days, for one thing. Women make their own personal cost-benefit calculations for the type of attention (both wanted & unwanted) they get for dressing a certain way.

Let them be. It is simply not your business if someone doesn't wish to be ogled sexually by the general public. That's their choice.
posted by beth at 4:39 PM on November 21, 2005


Hands up everyone who thinks leapingsheep wears a veil.

What she said was that she wears a hijab. That's a headscarf covering her hair, not a veil.
posted by russilwvong at 4:40 PM on November 21, 2005


By the way, I think some guys get turned on by veils and the like, the whole idea of female submissiveness and whatnot. And I'm sure people would stare much more if they saw someone in a hajib.

So it might not have an intended effect.

By the way, in my experience men only 'notice' and discuss women when they ware skin-tight and revealing clothing. Wearing normal, loose fitting clothes would be enough to make most men not take note.
posted by delmoi at 4:40 PM on November 21, 2005


Except this never seems to extend into men having to wear anything like a niqab or a burqa.

As I understand it, traditional Arab dress is intended to be modest in just this way: the flowing robes conceal the outline of the body.
posted by russilwvong at 4:44 PM on November 21, 2005


By the way, in my experience men only 'notice' and discuss women when they ware skin-tight and revealing clothing.

Do the women you know agree with this statement? I don't know any who would.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:45 PM on November 21, 2005


It's those women's rights, to exercise as they please. In the end in societies like the one I live in it's a choice. However, like all other choices of clothing there are assumptions that are made by others about those who decide to make it, just like at least some of the women who choose to wear scarves and veil make assumptions about women who do not.
posted by clevershark at 4:50 PM on November 21, 2005


Here's the biggerquestion, Hildergarde: is it neccessarily a bad thing that men (and women) 'notice' and discuss men (and women)? Appreciating beauty and *gasp* sexiness is not wrong. It's healthy.
posted by jonmc at 4:52 PM on November 21, 2005


I for one have no interest in trying to adjust my life, and the lives of my countrymen to accommodate your half witted mediaeval ideas.

These are British and French people we are talking about, but I imagine since they aren't white they don't count? Yeah, I thought so.

It must be hard being so inconvenienced by a woman covering her hair. I go totally mental when I see people in baseball caps.

It makes me so mad.

Hulksmash!!!?111!!!!1
posted by chunking express at 4:59 PM on November 21, 2005


yes, chunking express, any criticism of burqas and veils is nothing more than racism.

*pats head*
posted by jonmc at 5:01 PM on November 21, 2005


Taking the headcovering to the extreme-- the burqa--seems to be as much about hobbeling women as the ancient Chinese custom of foot binding. Wearing the burqa creates tunnel vision, much like putting blinkers on a horse. Losing your peripheral vision on the streets is dangerous.

As a cultural signal, it doesn't seem so far removed from the Amish attire. However, just as Catholic nuns are allowed to choose their lifestyle, the Amish allow their children a chance to actively choose the Amish way of life after a period of experimentation. I don't see the Muslims allowing their daughters any choice.

One of my greatest concerns is that by preventing any flirtation, Muslim parents are restricting their daughter's choice in marriage. I believe in most traditional Muslim families the daughter is limited to suitors that the family chooses for her. I find that sad.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:03 PM on November 21, 2005


However, just as Catholic nuns are allowed to choose their lifestyle, the Amish allow their children a chance to actively choose the Amish way of life after a period of experimentation. I don't see the Muslims allowing their daughters any choice.

The women in the FPP links all chose it on their own. I know Christian women who don't really have a choice about having waist-length hair and floor-length skirts. They're women, it's expected. The women in these articles didn't always wear the niqab, and chose it after thinking about it for a while, and have found it to be a positive experience.
posted by heatherann at 5:10 PM on November 21, 2005


Appreciating beauty and *gasp* sexiness is not wrong. It's healthy.

One person's "appreciating" is another's "ogling" and "leering".

Have you ever talked to a woman with particularly large breasts? The ones I've talked to have had continual issues with people staring at their breasts inordinately much. Who benefits when a woman is left to wonder if someone's talking to her because he sees her as a person, or because he sees her as a rack of big tits?
posted by beth at 5:10 PM on November 21, 2005


What did I say that was crass and rude?

billysumday: First post: Don't worry, leapingsheep. You may be beautiful now, but you'll get old someday and then the men will stop caring how you look. That'll show us!!

Followup: Accidentally? Get off it. You think you're doing us a favor by denying us your beauty, and I'm saying that I don't care. You'll soon not have any men to ogle you. Just get over yourself.

I linked to the second comment in my post. It does seem a bit rude to me, or overly forceful. And I mentioned it because I'd just finished basically saying that same thing, although from a very different perspective, i.e. my own experience.
posted by jokeefe at 5:13 PM on November 21, 2005


I want to clarify I am not against any and all appreciation of the looks of the opposite (or other preferred) sex. To me it's a question of appropriateness as to time, place, and situation.

At the beach? I don't see much of an issue with it. At work? Not good.

"Everywhere, all the time" is not the right answer, imho.
posted by beth at 5:13 PM on November 21, 2005


Have you ever talked to a woman with particularly large breasts?

No, beth, because I live in a cave with my eyes sewn shut.

One person's "appreciating" is another's "ogling" and "leering".


And since we're so terrified of talking frankly about these things, the best thing to do is return to medieval times and cover ourselves head to toe, and pray every night that our wicked lustful thoughts will go away.

Most women I know appreciate a little sexual attention from men (or women for that matter)*. It's all a matter of time, place and appropriateness. But we shouldn't let the most neurotically repressed and/or superstitious among us make that decision for the rest of society, thankyouverymuch.

Who benefits when a woman is left to wonder if someone's talking to her because he sees her as a person, or because he sees her as a rack of big tits?

Appreciating a nice rack of tits and seeing the woman they're a part of as a person are not mutually exclusive propositions.
posted by jonmc at 5:18 PM on November 21, 2005


I think the general rule of "don't be offensive, and don't be easily offended" applies here.

The women in these articles didn't always wear the niqab, and chose it after thinking about it for a while, and have found it to be a positive experience.

After thinking about it a little while, I'd say that a veil causes practical problems in a way that a headscarf does not, simply because we rely on people's faces for identification. (IIRC, there was a legal case a couple years ago where a woman in Florida refused to remove her veil for her driver's license photo. Found it.)
posted by russilwvong at 5:20 PM on November 21, 2005


* and just about all men I know appreciate ogling from women (or men, if they're gay). Just about every man I know's ultimate fantasy is to be swarmed by a crowd of lust-frenzied women.
posted by jonmc at 5:21 PM on November 21, 2005


I don't see the Muslims allowing their daughters any choice. ... I believe in most traditional Muslim families the daughter is limited to suitors that the family chooses for her.

Why don't you actually go talk to a Muslim person or family? Then you wouldn't need to rely on assumptions and beliefs in order to understand them. I think it is easy to shoe-horn an entire group of people into a stereotype, but in the end it is just that. I have no doubt there are plenty of ultra-orthadox crazy-ass Muslims who force their daughters to do all sorts of things. I just question whether that group forms some majority of the Islamic community. Most of the Muslims I know and work with are reasonable people. (Not to suggest you were saying they are unreasonable.)

It seems a lot of commenters here have opinions on Islam they got from watching the news, rather than from actually talking to people who practice the religion.

yes, chunking express, any criticism of burqas and veils is nothing more than racism.

I'm sorry what? Did I say that? Perhaps I'm reading JoeForkings comment wrong, but I think it is safe to assume that he is actually racist. Not because he doesn't like burqas and veils (which I'm no fan of myself) but because he sounds like a angry man afraid of the immigrants. But thanks for patting my head, all the same.
posted by chunking express at 5:28 PM on November 21, 2005


I don't speak for joeforking, chunking express. But there are those of us expressing our criticisms of veils and burqas without resorting to racial cheap shots. You seemed to be saying otherwise with you're broad little lampoon.
posted by jonmc at 5:31 PM on November 21, 2005


Clothing rules/laws in any culture essentially boil down to the same idea: the human body and human sexuality are indecent. Until a naked person can walk through the streets and not be considered indecent by their fellow citizens, then that culture has issues with respect to shame and the human body.

I'm not talking about fashion or clothing necessity due to temperature or sun burn. Just the idea that cultures place scorn on those who wear less than whatever its particular clothing mores decree. Islamic female clothing rules are simply an egregious example of this.
posted by jsonic at 5:31 PM on November 21, 2005


Until a naked person can walk through the streets and not be considered indecent by their fellow citizens, then that culture has issues with respect to shame and the human body.

Or maybe people simply don't want to see me walk down the street with my hairy ass in the breeze swinging my johnson. I don't want a burqa world, but nudity has it's time and place, too. All about balance, man.
posted by jonmc at 5:34 PM on November 21, 2005


But there are those of us expressing our criticisms of veils and burqas without resorting to racial cheap shots. You seemed to be saying otherwise with you're broad little lampoon.

Then I wasn't being clear. I found his comments to be obnoxious in a very base and ignorant way. That's all. I don't know who he is, but when I read stuff like that I tend to assume the worse.

I think questioning the legitimacy of some of these practices is reasonable, and as you have said, plenty of people have done so with out needing to state that Islam is a religion stuck in the 15th century or what have you.
posted by chunking express at 5:39 PM on November 21, 2005


The relevant question for consideration should be merits of eliminating choice in how we dress, not of what the dress consists.

Just as I don't believe the Saudi monarchy should have the right to impose covering upon women, the French Republic should not do the reverse in it's schooling system. What if a Catholic French girl wishes to don a scarf a la Catherine Deneuve, or Audrey Hepburn, for that matter. Should that be permissible, because it's intent is ostensibly secular; because the presumption is that she is white European and non-Muslim that she cannot have a sexist father or brother? If you believe that the law should apply facially to all and not look into the intent of the scarf-wearer, then you must consider that you are preventing all girls from wearing scarves on their heads but boys can wear the equivalent (caps, hats, or man-scarves, if their is such a thing), unless they are yarmulkes or the like. The French law is asking for trouble, from an enforcement perspective, and, I believe, will be counter-productive.

As to Islam and hijab/niqab/burka. Going back to the 2 Quranic verses quoted, first, it says that the Prophet should tell his sisters to dress modestly. It does not say they are bound to listen. As it stands today, there is no consensus in the world of Islam as to how women or men should dress, or even whether there is such a thing as 'Islamic' dress. What is construed as Islamic dress in other countries, is largely a function of the climate and pre-Islamic culture. Muslim women in West Africa dress like their Christian compatriots (some with elaborate headresses), not like women in Egypt or Pakistan or Indonesia. Women from most of the Islamic world, or its neighbors dress more modestly, because they have not undergone the sexual revolution, not because they are Muslim or otherwise. Asian dress is generally more conservative. The 'godless' Chinese or shinto Japanese, traditionally covered up. So did both Western women and men. Dress in the West has become dramatically more skimpy in the last century. Men did not really wear shorts when they played sports like tennis or cricket 50 years ago (Cricket is still played in sweats). Swimsuits were far more covering.

My point is that dress should not necessarily be viewed as a proxy for oppression until it is imposed or banned, in which case oppression reigns, regardless of how it is seeking to protect, in both cases, the women it is targetting: whether by making them wear more to allegedly protect their modesty or from gawking men or whether to allegedly prevent them from being harassed by their kinsmen.
posted by Azaadistani at 5:43 PM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]


Correction: or whether by making them wear less to allegedly prevent them from being harrassed by their kinsmen.
posted by Azaadistani at 5:45 PM on November 21, 2005


and as you have said, plenty of people have done so with out needing to state that Islam is a religion stuck in the 15th century or what have you.

Well, that's easier to see where I live (just a few blocks from NYC's "Little Cairo,") where there are plenty of modern Islamic folk walking around bareheaded smoking cigarettes and interacting with "infidels." Islam in the US and Europe is undergoing a transformation similar to Christianity and Judaism.
posted by jonmc at 5:46 PM on November 21, 2005


Just as I don't believe the Saudi monarchy should have the right to impose covering upon women, the French Republic should not do the reverse in it's schooling system.

Most sensible thing said thus far.
posted by jonmc at 5:47 PM on November 21, 2005


In most societies--all?--women are less than equal. In religious groupings, when fairly fundamentalist, women are second class citizens. It is always the woman who is (Eve) the temptress and must be ruled by her Man. In many schools, religious or otherwise, there are dress codes to avoid too much sexuality showing (ie, cleavage)...

How men meet wopmen differs in various cultures, and thus in secular West, we often meet and mate with office folks; in some societies, though, parents make the match and there does not seem the same need for the flirtation, wooing, etc since it is arranged for the couple. But then in some societies, in Muslim countries, a man can have more than one wife, so that perhaps he has less need for flirtation outside the home since he has variety within the home...

The nice thing about head and face coverings: lots of women who would not get a second look are just not known. But then in Arab countries, keeping women so reserved has led to a great deal of what the Koranhates: homosexuality, a sin that is less and less punished in certain Arab nations (Saudi Arabia for example)...
posted by Postroad at 5:51 PM on November 21, 2005


A few possibly useful links: hijab, niqab, burqa, traditional male arab dress. Also, Muslim male and female dress code:

From these and other references, the vast majority of Muslim scholars and jurists, past and present, have determined the minimum requirements for Muslim women's dress: 1) Clothing must cover the entire body, with the exception of the face and the hands. 2) The attire should not be form fitting, sheer or so eye-catching as to attract undue attention or reveal the shape of the body.

There are similar, yet less obvious requirements for a Muslim male's attire. 1) A Muslim man must always be covered from the navel to the knees. 2) A Muslim man should similarly not wear tight, sheer, revealing, or eye-catching clothing. In addition, a Muslim man is prohibited from wearing silk clothing (except for medical reasons) or gold jewelry. A Muslim woman may wear silk or gold.

posted by Flitcraft at 6:03 PM on November 21, 2005


Oops, sorry crossposted with Azaadistani.
posted by Flitcraft at 6:05 PM on November 21, 2005


I find it offensive to see woman hiding from me totally wrapped up. It's like hiding the right answers, because most people ask the wrong questions.
posted by parallax7d at 6:22 PM on November 21, 2005


My view is that clothing is primarily about politeness. Americans don't want to see my donger hanging out, or my flabby gut, so I wear pants and a shirt. As I get more buff I might consider not wearing a shirt in some settings. Anyway.

Wearing a hajib or burqua or whatever in a middle eastern country is about the same thing. Men feel bad if they get turned on, and they get turned on by seeing a woman's hair, so by not showing the hair, women make men feel less uncomfortable. The fixation on hair is a little weird, but no different then the western fixation on breasts (well, ok, a little different).

However, being offended at the imagined thoughts of other people who glance at you, and imagining that they are ogling you is totally paranoid, IMO. And a hajib wouldn't do anything, because A) Western men don't care about the hair, and B) it will draw attention to yourself and make people think about you a lot more then they otherwise would.

If you actually wanted people not to look at you, you would actually have to wear a vail.

By the way, as a matter of fact, France does ban overly Christian (or Jewish) regalia in schools. No "large" crucifixes or yalmicas can be displayed. This is again a cultural thing, in France it's just as rude to show your religious artifacts as it would be in the US to show your tits. People get offended.
posted by delmoi at 6:24 PM on November 21, 2005


Or maybe people simply don't want to see me walk down the street with my hairy ass in the breeze swinging my johnson.

That is simply an expression of the idea that hair and dicks are somehow indecent or undesirable. If I recall correctly, you've made the opposite argument in the past WRT hair and female body parts. (I'm not trying to be snarky there, I think it's an interesting dichotomy)

I don't want a burqa world, but nudity has it's time and place, too. All about balance, man.

It seems that the true balance would be in giving people the choice to decide how much or how little they wear.
posted by jsonic at 6:39 PM on November 21, 2005


I've never argued that woman should walk around butt naked all the time (well, maybe in my weaker moments, and I love nude beaches), I'm just saying that imposing your naked body on the general public is as obnoxious as insisting that we all go around covered head to toe. Time and place for everything, like I said.
posted by jonmc at 6:46 PM on November 21, 2005


What [leapingsheep] said was that she wears a hijab. That's a headscarf covering her hair, not a veil.

If that's true, and leapingsheep thinks that a headscarf has mystical powers that prevent people from looking at her ass, then she is completely 100% spot-the-looney crazy insane. Since she has thus far not complained about having bugs on her get them off get them off, and otherwise doesn't seem to be utterly bonkers, I think she must mean something more than a scarf.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:46 PM on November 21, 2005


Luckily, in the future, we'll all wear tattered colored rags, depending on our age, up until the age of 30, in which we'll die in the fiery ritual of carousel.

Renew!
posted by billysumday at 6:46 PM on November 21, 2005


And since we're so terrified of talking frankly about these things, the best thing to do is return to medieval times and cover ourselves head to toe, and pray every night that our wicked lustful thoughts will go away.

I don't know who you think is advocating this, but it sure as hell isn't me. I just think people should let those who wish to dress modestly be, and refrain from criticizing them for their choice. If they have reasons enough to convince them that they'd like to, fine. It's not your business.

I'm sensing some people feel way the hell too threatened by this. Nobody is going to take over America and make us all dress like the Amish.

Unclench, please.
posted by beth at 6:54 PM on November 21, 2005


I'm just saying that imposing your naked body on the general public is as obnoxious as insisting that we all go around covered head to toe.

It's only imposing if you think there is something indecent about the human body. You also argued above that being offended by someone looking at you was silly. Wouldn't it also be silly for you to be offended because you looked at somebodies body?

Also, your comparison is a false equivalency. Nobody is trying to force people to walk around naked, as they are with the burqa.
posted by jsonic at 6:57 PM on November 21, 2005


refrain from criticizing them for their choice.

Yeah, let's refrain from *gasp* criticizing anyone. There's that "open society," for ya!

You unclench, sister.
posted by jonmc at 6:58 PM on November 21, 2005


jonmc, obviously people are free to criticize, but that doesn't mean it's de facto an adult or reasonable thing to do. Really, how are you harmed by a woman wearing a hijab? (assuming for the sake of argument that it is freely chosen and she does not feel oppressed or under duress about it)
posted by beth at 7:15 PM on November 21, 2005


I speak from a position of someone who's always been on the side of freedom of expression, including freedom of dress. I love to wear masks and to see people wearing masks.

Yet in my heart I am against the hajib and the burqua. They scare me, they represent the antithesis of everything I stand for.

I love to see women's (and men's) faces and bodies. Yes, I am sometimes betrayed by my own lust but I have troubles with sloth and gluttony too. The thought of a world with all the women's faces covered by dark veils is like a hideous children's book, "The King Who Put Curtains In Front of the Sun," except that there will be no happy ending where the young page reveals the solar glories but darkness for the rest of time.

I am a liberal. I believe in progress through thought, learning, wisdom, objectivity, science. I look at the history of the world and I see billion dying because of stories like Christianity and Islam which, if looked at objectively, have claims that are completely ridiculous (Credo quia absurdum is indeed one of the roots of Christianity!)


I also believe in the glory of the world, of humans, of nature, of sex and art and dancing, of logic. While many Christians and Muslims would agree with some of these values, they'd consider some of them evil, and all of them distinctly secondary to devotion to their God and Prophet.

In their hearts, the devout Christian or Muslim believes that I *should* believe in their God, I am being evil simply by not doing so, and left to their own devices would stop at nothing to convert me one way or the other.

Their religions tell them to do this, and history shows that they do in fact do this, over and over again, first with missionaries and then the sword.

I know I probably come off as a jingoist bastard, but I cannot help it. I think women spending their lives behind veils is just wrong, deep in my child heart. It's like pouring ink onto flowers.


If I were Supreme Dictator, I'd take all you militaristic monotheists, all you unbending grim evil Christians and Muslims and Jews, and send you off to some other planet, the "Venus" of Kornbluth's Marching Morons(*) perhaps, and the rest of us New Testament Christians and Buddhists and Hindus and atheists and agnostics and pagans and perverts and regular people who just want to live their fucking lives could have a great big party where we pissed on all your crazy warmachines, and then went back and tried to fix this tired old Earth so it can be a place for our grandchildren to live and flourish in and their grandchildren and their grandchildren unto as far forward as we can see.


(* -- I read this as a kid. As an adult I realized that they don't really get to Venus... I only found one copy of the text, badly formatted, here.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:15 PM on November 21, 2005


Women can dress as they wish. Or maybe not, in that there is a left wing dress code that trumps personal wish.

It strikes me that this is pretty much like the kid who is told what to do. If there wasn't a weird reaction to women wearing potato sacks, they wouldn't want to wear potato sacks.
posted by stirfry at 7:16 PM on November 21, 2005


Really, how are you harmed by a woman wearing a hijab?

I'm not. I'm not harmed by people who eat peanut butter and onion sandwiches either, but I'll still say it sounds disgusting. I think that the idea that burkhas (hijabs don't bother me any more than a yarmulke, really) are somehow "liberating," is ludicrous, since they'reobviously born out of fear of the body and sexuality. And there's nothing non-adult or unreasonable about saying so. Sorry if that offends your tender little sensibilities.
posted by jonmc at 7:25 PM on November 21, 2005


"I've never heard a woman say 'gee, everyone was staring at my body, I wish I was wearing a burqa.'" -- sourcream

"I'll ask all the women here. Do you feel men's eyes on you when you're simply trying to go about your business?" -- leapingsheep

"In my experience men only 'notice' and discuss women when they ware skin-tight and revealing clothing. Wearing normal, loose fitting clothes would be enough to make most men not take note." -- delmoi

I don't know where any of you guys live. I live in New York City. I spend my days mainly around the Village area up to Union Square, and my nights in the financial district. I am built like a descendent of generations of peasants: extra-wide hips, broad shoulders, 36DDs -- just big everywhere, built to take over for oxen. Before coming to the city for college, I used to wear typical classy-preppy teenage girl stuff. After the first few weeks, I could not handle the comments, and now I wear fairly loose jeans and huge, baggy sweatshirts every day.

I am still guaranteed to get at least one comment a day, and usually more; most of these comments are very unwelcome and many are too graphic for my taste. I don't mean stuff like "Hey baby, damn, you look fine, what you doing tonight?" Although I do get some of those, a lot are "Fuck, baby, I want your sweet lips around my cock allll night long," and a good portion of these don't just give up after I fail to respond.

I have often seriously wished that I had a burqa or other "turned off, do not comment" sign. No matter how huge or how plain my sweatshirts are, they just aren't doing the trick.

Anyone is invited to give me advice on how I can get fewer, or less offensive, comments. Delmoi is especially invited.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:26 PM on November 21, 2005


Have you ever talked to a woman with particularly large breasts? The ones I've talked to have had continual issues with people staring at their breasts
posted by beth at 8:10 PM EST on November 21 [!]
I have very large breasts. I find them empowering. When I want to be serious, I wear a button down shirt and vest or sweater. When I want to knock men's eyes out, I wear a tight sweater or low cut blouse. In other words my sexuality is part of me and I use it as I deem fit.


I don't see the Muslims allowing their daughters any choice. ... I believe in most traditional Muslim families the daughter is limited to suitors that the family chooses for her.

Why don't you actually go talk to a Muslim person or family?

posted by chunking express at 8:28 PM EST on November 21

Hey Chunking, bite me.

I have talked to many Muslim women. I have also read extensively on the subject both fiction and non-fiction by both Western and Middle Eastern writers, viewed documentaries as well as movies from Iran and other Muslim countries. I express what I have learned from my Western (therefore necessarily limited) experience as "I believe.." because it is not necessarily true for all Muslim families.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:27 PM on November 21, 2005


There was a case about a year ago in New Zealand during which a Muslim witness who wore a burqa was required to testify sans veil, but allowed to do so behind a screen. The judge pointed out the importance of the jurist's, lawyers', and the accused's ability to view witnesses' faces during testimony. The screen was a compromise intended to protect her identity from others in the courtroom.

I mention this case because it seems to me that the concept of dealing face-to-face with others in modern society is also at issue here. Obviously, much of our social interaction these days takes place via computers and on the phone. Using those means, we're all on a level playing field. OTOH, when I'm speaking with somebody one-on-one, I enjoy -- and rely on -- their body language, expressions and eye contact for context and, yes, judging their responses. I don't have to give that up with the Muslim men I know. But if I were to engage in a (purely platonic) conversation with a veiled woman, it would feel like a very one-sided, um, affair. Probably I'm missing the point here: it may be that many strict Muslim women have no interest in speaking with men outside their own families on any topic, for any reason. But I'd be missing out, too.
posted by rob511 at 7:27 PM on November 21, 2005


since they'reobviously born out of fear of the body and sexuality

Wow, that's a pretty broad brush you're painting with there, dude. How amazing that you can psychoanalyze everyone who wears a burka so accurately.

So let me get this straight - when the so-very-"other" they dress funny, it's because they have incorrect attitudes about their bodies and their sexuality.

But we, we are so enlightened that we all run around naked 100% of the time.

Seriously, come on. Every culture has its ideas about what constitutes appropriate modesty. Some cultures just place the line in a different place than we do. That doesn't make them by definition wrong, or neurotic about sex, or whatever.

Are we in the US afraid of sexuality because women's breasts are usually covered? People from cultures where women's breasts are constantly on display might have some uncharitable things to say about us and our ideas of modesty, too.

How about not judging people harshly when they happen to make a decision different from yours, which doesn't harm you? (yadda yadda caveat chosen freely etc)
posted by beth at 7:40 PM on November 21, 2005


I find women wearing Islamic headgear to be wonderfully beautiful, or even sexy.

(All the more so if it is the kind that allows only the eyes to be seen...)

Just thought I would mention that.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:43 PM on November 21, 2005


beth, on what planet does covering youself from head-to-toe including the eyes (in desert heat, yet) not constitute extreme measures?

And if this was some holy-roller Christian saying that women should wear a garment like a burqa, you's be at the head of the line howling about how oppresive they were being. But, I guess you're afraid to criticize Muslims, since someone might *horrors* think you prejudiced.
posted by jonmc at 7:45 PM on November 21, 2005


And many women learn to use their appearance to their advantage.

As do men. In each case, it's arguable if it's too their ultimate advantage. Depends upon what they want from life I suppose.

Then I wasn't being clear. I found his comments to be obnoxious in a very base and ignorant way. That's all.

You're being very clear. johnmc seems to be in obtuse train wreck mode in this thread.

I think most of agree that being forced to wear item x or being forbidden to wear item x isn't good. Choice, however, is.

beth, on what planet does covering youself from head-to-toe including the eyes (in desert heat, yet) not constitute extreme measures?

This planet. It protects you from the heat and the Sun. I know women who have worn said coverings in the desert heat and they swear by it. These are, women who were raised in North America and wear shorts. Really, they do.
posted by juiceCake at 7:49 PM on November 21, 2005


beth, on what planet does covering youself from head-to-toe including the eyes (in desert heat, yet) not constitute extreme measures?

If you were born and reared in that culture, I think it would seem normal, not extreme. Provided that it's freely chosen, I don't see a problem with it. It's not what I would choose for myself, but hey, I have totally different life circumstances.

And if this was some holy-roller Christian saying that women should wear a garment like a burqa, you's be at the head of the line howling about how oppresive they were being.

Excuse me? Where the hell are you getting this from? Where did I say this?

I have no problem with Christians choosing to dress modestly, either. Frankly I think Amish styles are quite beautiful. What concerns me is whether a person is freely choosing their dress style, not how modest it is.

But, I guess you're afraid to criticize Muslims, since someone might *horrors* think you prejudiced.

This is ludicrous, obnoxious, and uncalled for. I criticize anyone and everyone when I feel I have a legitimate complaint. In fact I am a quite critical person and have a rather dim view of humanity on the whole, so this happens a lot.

You speak as though you presume to know me, my thoughts, and my attitudes, extrapolating from comments I make about other things. Please quit doing this - you are way the hell off base and know not whereof you speak.

Please, address the points I make and refrain from attempting to extrapolate what I think. You keep attributing all sorts of bizarre viewpoints to me which I do not hold.

Unless of course you have no response to my arguments, in which case, by all means, let's clog the thread with your accusations and my denials, because I'm sure that's what everyone here wants to read more of, right?
posted by beth at 7:58 PM on November 21, 2005


Well, beth, forget about your specifics with whatever rude person is hassling you -- how do you address the point that as a liberal, feminist, compassionate, striving-to-achieve-enlightenment male, I believe in my heart that, while one person wearing a veil might be charming, nations of women hidden beneath veils (and not-so-coincidentally completely subservient to men) are an affront to the Goddess or aesthetically suboptimal or creepy or whatever term you like?

I really do believe that a very large number of Muslims (and Christians) would consider my life and the way I lead it to be an abomination and would, when they got around to it, punish me and strip me of all their freedoms if they gained control. And I believe that their religions tell them that it is correct to try and gain control over me, so they can punish me and strip me of my freedom. Even my belief that people should do as they please as long as they are responsible and don't hurt others alone marks me as a sinner to these religions.

Thus, while I strongly defend the right of all individuals to dress the way they please, I still view the thought of an English street fiiled with women covered from head to toe as a nightmare of oppression by evil forces.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:13 PM on November 21, 2005


Isn't it still illegal for a woman to be topless on the street in the US? OPPRESSION!

(And really, I do actually think it is oppressive to have a law against women being topless in public, because it's not illegal for a man to walk around topless. Where's everyone's outrage over this? Why have you not yet lobbied to change this law in the United States?)
posted by Hildegarde at 8:24 PM on November 21, 2005


Quoting jonmc: "beth, on what planet does covering youself from head-to-toe including the eyes (in desert heat, yet) not constitute extreme measures?"

Seconding juiceCake, I just wanted to remind/ask jonmc if he had ever noticed traditional, male Saudi or Kuwaiti dress? The men, too, are covered up from head to toe in a loose-fitting white, flowing garment, with a a white or red and white 'rag' on the head held in place by rope-like fasteners.

In their Saudi male garb, all you see is there faces, which is all you see of their women. Why do you not find that objectionable (given that it is the covering that bothers you, rather than the legal obligation for women to cover in Saudi as opposed to men who are free to choose which is more comfy)?

Loose, flowing garments are much more comfortable in the extreme heat. You do not expose your skin to UV radiation and your skin ages at a 'non-caucasian' rate. Have you ever been in that heat? Been in a sandstorm? A head covering is essential to protect the face and the eyes, and provides shelter from the scorching sun.

Lastly, why does no one complain about Amish dress codes or Chassidic (or even Jewish Orthodox) dress codes? Orthodox Jewish girls cannot wear pants because they are considered immodest. Sound familiar? Orthodox Jewish women who are married, cannot show anyone but their husband their natural hair (many wear wigs, others cover up!): again sound familiar!? How come the subjugation of women in Orthodox Judaism, given such misogynist dress codes, is not discussed here regularly? Note that Israel does not recognize any other form of Judaism (reform, conservative, and the like).

I am so sick of moronic, ignorant, culturally stunted individuals (be they self-presumed liberals or otherwise--and whoev that was above, saying you're a liberal don't make you one) who have little appreciation or interest in history or culture, and want to see the world only from their own staggeringly-limited perspectives. It's a wonder you bother with MeFi? There seem to be too many of us non-Westerners (or non-we think we are the most superior civilization-Westerners) on this weblog, that may actually give you pause to reflect. Go back into your little 'educated' worlds. You'll get a rude shock when your kids (or if you're lucky), grandkids are speaking Mandarin, and may be running around in a little more regimented a manner.
posted by Azaadistani at 8:26 PM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]


Right on, Hildegarde!
posted by Azaadistani at 8:31 PM on November 21, 2005


I was about to say the same to you! w000t!
posted by Hildegarde at 8:32 PM on November 21, 2005


I really do believe that a very large number of Muslims (and Christians) would consider my life and the way I lead it to be an abomination and would, when they got around to it, punish me and strip me of all their freedoms if they gained control.

I guess I'm just not as alarmed about this actually happening as some other people are.

I still view the thought of an English street fiiled with women covered from head to toe as a nightmare of oppression by evil forces.

I really think the chances of this are nil. Just ain't gonna happen. Sharia will not be imposed over Western society. People will fight to the death to avoid that - just think of all those Christian gun nuts.
posted by beth at 8:33 PM on November 21, 2005


I'm sensing some people feel way the hell too threatened by this. Nobody is going to take over America and make us all dress like the Amish.

Probably not Beth. But then again...
posted by Zinger at 8:38 PM on November 21, 2005


Azaadistani, I have lived near Hassidic neighborhoods for much of the last twenty years, and I consider their treatment of women to be substandard to say the least.

I remember the first time I saw a man address his wife, whop was walking behind him, by shouting out to the air ahead of him. It gave me quite a turn.

That said, if you leave the community, they do nothing worse than never speak to you again (most of the time, yes, I've read the Hassidic dissidents blogs too) and the Hassids don't really care what I do as long as we aren't in direct competition for resources nor do they have any interest in converting me or being converted.

(I've had several orthodox Jews as friends before which was very enlightening. I never felt that any of these decent humans were truly comfortable however with the role of women in their lives and community and might have changed it if they could.)



Unfortunately, Beth, there are already streets in England where more women than not wear some form of Muslim covering -- so this is hardly theoretical. It will never happen in America, that I agree.

Of course I don't think Sharia will be imposed on Western society. But then -- what's going to happen exactly? When large groups in Europe wish to claim, are already claiming, that Sharia law in their areas trumps secular law, what happens next? Are the English, French, etc going to back down and say, "OK, you get your little enclave with your own laws and legal system"? I don't think so.

Unfortunately, I see continuing conflict between the vast majority of us people who really just want to live and let live and two groups of reactionary crazies beating on us and on each other -- the fundamentalist Christians and the fundamentalist Muslims.

I hope we will win just because there are a lot more of us and some people might turn coat and say, "Fuck Jesus/Allah, I just want to have a reasonable life now without all these righteous assholes in my face and my wallet all the time."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:17 PM on November 21, 2005


man, oh, man ... next thing you know, girls will be wearing blue jeans to high school and distracting the students from learning

it's depressing ... things haven't changed a bit since i was a kid in the 60's ... except the clothing we argue about
posted by pyramid termite at 9:49 PM on November 21, 2005


Here is what I understand ,when Allah created sexual pleasure,he divided it into ten parts, to the woman he gave nine.
posted by hortense at 10:37 PM on November 21, 2005


ROU: If that's true, and leapingsheep thinks that a headscarf has mystical powers that prevent people from looking at her ass, then she is completely 100% spot-the-looney crazy insane.

That's not what she said. She referred to

hair which is one of the most important factors in determining how attractive someone is (which is why people can say they like blondes, or red heads, or women with long hair, etc.).

And:

The niqab [veil] issue is more complicated as it precludes the woman in question from being identified. Institutions may be justified in requiring a woman to show her face for identification if that is the real issue.

My understanding from this is that she doesn't wear a veil herself.

Azaadistani: You'll get a rude shock when your kids (or if you're lucky), grandkids are speaking Mandarin, and may be running around in a little more regimented a manner.

Huh? If this is intended to be a prediction of Chinese World Domination in the next couple of generations, I have to say that it strikes me as extremely unlikely. (A little more likely than Canadian World Domination, of course.)
posted by russilwvong at 10:41 PM on November 21, 2005


Beth: I just think people should let those who wish to dress modestly be, and refrain from criticizing them for their choice.

Beth: I criticize anyone and everyone when I feel I have a legitimate complaint. In fact I am a quite critical person and have a rather dim view of humanity on the whole, so this happens a lot.

posted by urbanwhaleshark at 6:13 AM on November 22, 2005


Joeforking: Burn them all. Burn them all I say
Don't worry, now Metafilter is here to save the day.
posted by Joeforking at 6:33 AM on November 22, 2005


OK, here's my compromise. All men, especially Muslim men, should wear dark sunglasses.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:42 AM on November 22, 2005


Well, there is a lot here. There seem to be a lot of repeated questions but I hope I've hit everything at least once.

When I see them I just think, "That poor girl is basically someone's property. A shame."
Well, now you know better. It is in fact a way of stating that she is not the collective property of every man on the street.

My first reaction to this: Fortunately not as many as in France, or otherwise there would be as much anti-semitism and burning cars there as in the banlieusI guess I see your real problem.


And, my other question: do you really think that women don't "man watch"? I am not being facetious. I want to know if you said that merely to reinforce your point, or if you truly believe it.
It seems to have been an exaggeration. I suppose some women do it sometimes, but I do believe that it isn’t nearly as common and that it takes less effort to avoid.

You don't see any difference between a man looking at you and a man fondling you? Really?I do see a difference, but only of degree. It is the same difference between being fondled and raped. They are both violations; that one is more severe doesn’t make the other acceptable.

If you want to stop people staring at you, then wearing islamic dress in the U.S. probably won't work.
True, people look, but when they look all they can see is clothing. The more common it becomes, the less attention it will get. If I take off hijab now it will remain difficult for Western Muslims to dress modestly in the future. If I struggle through this now, it will gradually become more of a norm and will be easier in the future.

You must have either an amazingly-inflated opinion of yourself
Not at all. This isn’t a problem faced only by unusually attractive women. Any average looking woman of childbearing age deals with the same thing. And it is a problem for women who are considered unattractive, too. They shouldn’t have to be judged and found wanting everywhere they go, before they even open their mouths.
or a very low - positively sexist - opinion of male behaviour.
I think it has been made thoroughly clear in this thread and elsewhere that at least some men feel the behavior I have described is well within their rights, and indeed feel angry that a woman might consider it her right to prevent them from observing her body. Even if these men are in the minority, it happens frequently enough.

I feel disturbed by the sign of women in hijab because-- and I'm not saying that I'm not open to being convinced otherwise-- what I see there is an acknowledgement that the most important thing about a woman is being subject to the public gaze, and that to protect her from that gaze is a greater imperative than her freedom of movement or even her physical comfort (aren't those things hot?).
Wearing loose clothing is less hindering to movement than wearing, say, tight pants or high heels. And of course women would be much cooler if they would simply remove their shirts, but that is not generally considered reason enough for them to go around topless in public. As far as an “acknowledgement that the most important thing about a woman is being subject to the public gaze.” Why? Why is that the most important thing? It’s just one thing, and it is easily solved. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but only becomes one when people misunderstand its purpose and begin to think of it as a kind of oppression.

A particularly nice cleavage is unfortunately eye-catching. It's very much like that situation when your best friend has a huge spot, and you can't help but look at it. You don't want to do it, you'll probably apologise for doing it, but you ... just ... can't ... help ... it.
Just pointing this out for the people who told me I’m sexist or paranoid for “imagining” that men give unwanted looks at women when they’re simply trying to go about their business, and doing nothing to invite the unwanted attention.

Exposed hair has little to do with allowing "their sexuality back into the situation." This is nothing but a cultural/religious quirk that associates exposed hair with explicit sexuality.
Also, someone said Western men don’t care about women’s hair or aren’t attracted to it or something.

These are the results of an Observer poll on the subject:

Which part of the body do you find most attractive in others?

Eyes 25%
Face 18%
Bottom 10%
Hair 7%
Breasts 7%
Mouth/Lips 5%
Legs 5%
Skin 3%
Stomach 2%
Shoulders 2%
Genitals 2%
Other 14%



Hair is number four. 7% chose hair as the most important feature, so it seems likely that others would also consider it an important feature.

Note that while (nearly all scholars agree that) Muslim women are not required to cover their eyes or faces, both men and women are instructed to lower the gaze instead of looking at members of the opposite sex for prolonged periods of time, effectively blocking view of the eyes. Everyone knows how important eye contact is in communicating sexual interest.

both wearing a headscarf and was heavily made up-- eyeliner, rouge, mascara, blush, lipstick. This is not the first time I've noticed this apparent contradiction on either television or the University campus where I spend large amounts of my time. I don't want to be rude or insensitive, but if you're trying to de-stress what society defines as sexually charged signals, why the makeup?
I agree that it’s a contradiction. It’s a kind of going half way, like women who wear a scarf but then also wear tight pants that show the shape of their rear end. Or sometimes it’s a matter of women wearing hijab not because of a deep religious understanding, but because it is what people from their culture wear. Not everyone thinks deeply about religious matters. Or sometimes it might be someone in transition from Western dress to Islamic dress. People don’t always dive in all at once, but sometimes make the change gradually.

which is probably why leapingsheep wants to stay behind the veil.
I don’t cover my face. I understand why people thought I did when comparing what I wrote to the linked articles, but no, I only cover what has been required, which is everything but the hands and the face. (and thanks russilwvong for pointing it out while I was gone)

Everyone's judged by looks to some degree. I think I look dorky and a bit ugly, and can be quite paranoid about people looking at me and worrying about how people are judging me. I'd quite like to opt out of it too, but I don't think it would be considered healthy of me to start wearing a veil. Why should I think otherwise if a women decides to do the same?

Is your paranoia over men drooling over/disliking you because of your looks more valid than my paranoia over girls giving me funny looks and giggling because I think I look funny?

Well, the Islamic answer is that women shouldn’t be looking at men and giggling out on the street. Everyone goes about his business without being evaluated by every passerby. But catching of a glimpse of a funny looking man is not going to stir up lustful thoughts in the same way as someone less than fully dressed.

And many women learn to use their appearance to their advantage.
There’s a name for that, like it or not.

By the way, I think some guys get turned on by veils and the like,
Well, if that is true it must surely be a smaller number than are turned on by actually seeing exposed women.
the whole idea of female submissiveness and whatnot
which is the opposite of what hijab is actually about.

just like at least some of the women who choose to wear scarves and veil make assumptions about women who do not.
That’s not good either, particularly when the women are non-Muslims who are dressed respectably according to the standards of their own cultures. They are exposing themselves to the kind of misuse that I’ve been complaining about, but it isn’t because of anything they’ve done wrong. Indeed, within their own frames of reference they’ve done more than is expected of them yet still face these problems.

Ignorant Muslim women who don’t understand what hijab is for should have it explained to them, and Muslim women who do understand what it is for but feel scared to face a little prejudice should get some backbone, but I agree that everyone should be more patient with them about this, especially in the West where it is difficult.

I for one have no interest in trying to adjust my life, and the lives of my countrymen to accommodate your half witted mediaeval ideas.
In what way do you actually have to trouble yourself to accommodate my choice of apparel?

I find it offensive to see woman hiding from me totally wrapped up.
Why do you feel that you have any claim at all over their bodies?

If ... leapingsheep thinks that a headscarf has mystical powers that prevent people from looking at her ass,
No, no mystical power. In fact a hijab is the headscarf itself, but the concept of wearing hijab als includes wearing loose clothing that doesn’t show the shape of the body. For example, I wear long skirts and loose shirts with a scarf that covers my hair, neck, and chest. There are other ways to achieve the same effect. The clothing doesn’t have to be ethnic, or “tents,” it just has to conceal the body (and it’s shape) except for the hands and face.

pray every night that our wicked lustful thoughts will go away
-------------------------------------------------------------
since they'reobviously born out of fear of the body and sexuality

I understand why people coming from Christian roots think of it this way, but in fact Islam has no fear of sexuality like Christianity does. Prophet Muhammad spoke openly about sex, harshly criticizing men who don’t sufficiently arouse their wives during foreplay, clearly stating that it is the woman’s right to have regular orgasms and that not being sexually satisfied is a legitimate and sufficient reason for divorce, and so on. But Islam differs from secular society in considering sexuality a private matter, not a matter of public consumption.
posted by leapingsheep at 6:44 AM on November 22, 2005


Thanks for all your responses, leapingsheep. I guess there's one thing that still confuses me. OK so going with the assumption that "men staring at women = bad", then why oh why is it the women who have to deal with it? Why is the religion/society not trying to re-educate the men? Reinforce behaviors of not staring/making women feel uncomfortable?
posted by gaspode at 7:17 AM on November 22, 2005


Gaspode, it's a joint effort. Men aren't supposed to look at women either...they are supposed to lower the gaze. But at the same time women can make it easier by not distracting them unnecessarily. Plus, not everyone follows his religion carefully, and even some people who are normally careful slip up sometimes. Modest dress protects women against these slipups.
posted by leapingsheep at 7:27 AM on November 22, 2005


Thank you, leapingsheep for all your responses in this thread.

I find it offensive to see woman hiding from me totally wrapped up.
Why do you feel that you have any claim at all over their bodies?


That particular one made me happy, as I didn't quite get why that comment pissed me off. You answered perfectly.
posted by agregoli at 7:53 AM on November 22, 2005


In fact a hijab is the headscarf itself, but the concept of wearing hijab als includes wearing loose clothing that doesn’t show the shape of the body. For example, I wear long skirts and loose shirts with a scarf that covers my hair, neck, and chest.

Then you're flat wrong if you think that you're not "confronted with the prying eyes of one man after another" because you dress like that. Just because people have told you that it will avert men's gazes, and you believe it, does not make it so.

I swear to you that any difference you experience is entirely and completely in your own head, and that men are still checking out your ass under its long skirt and your face from under its scarf.

By all means, wear whatever you like and be happy doing it. But wearing loose clothing to keep men from looking at you is as silly as wearing loose clothing to keep bears from attacking.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:58 AM on November 22, 2005


ROU-Xenophobe, yes, they can look...but they won't see anything!
posted by leapingsheep at 8:07 AM on November 22, 2005


That makes no sense at all. They'll see the same stuff under a long skirt that they'll see under a pair of jeans, and anyone telling you different is trying to sell you something. If anything, long, loose skirts are more revealing of a woman's shape than pants are, once they hit even a weak air current. I think you've just convinced yourself that wearing these clothes has effects that it simply does not.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:07 AM on November 22, 2005


Are you even being serious?
skirt
pants
posted by leapingsheep at 9:22 AM on November 22, 2005


leapingsheep: Thanks for your responses to all of the answers above. It's cool on metafilter when people can have heated debates but still keep their cool and be rational.

Still, I think that all of the points you bring up are simplistic and derived from repeated conditioning. I don't see how else one could arrive at your conclusions, or why they would want to. There seem to be two reasons why one would wish to wear the hijab: religious and spiritual reasons, or to hide from men. I can understand the need and desire for ritual, but hiding from men gives them power that you alone credit them.
posted by billysumday at 9:38 AM on November 22, 2005


leapingsheep: Thanks for your responses to all of the answers above. It's cool on metafilter when people can have heated debates but still keep their cool and be rational.

Still, I think that all of the points you bring up are simplistic and derived from repeated conditioning. I don't see how else one could arrive at your conclusions, or why they would want to. There seem to be two reasons why one would wish to wear the hijab: religious and spiritual reasons, or to hide from men. I can understand the need and desire for ritual, but hiding from men gives them power that you alone credit them.
posted by billysumday at 9:38 AM on November 22, 2005


Oops.
posted by billysumday at 9:38 AM on November 22, 2005


Also, answers? Geesh, sorry. I meant comments. It's early.
posted by billysumday at 9:39 AM on November 22, 2005


Azaadistani, one reason that people don't get upset about Amish clothing is that the Amish very explicitly make a choice to do this. Their teenagers get to spend a few years dressing and acting like the 'English' - drinking, driving cars, dressing in Western clothes, etc. This period of time is called rumspringa. The teenager can decide whether or not he or she wants to renounce those things and officially join the Church, or whether they'll remain in modern society. [There's a documentary I watched on this recently called The Devil's Playground, actually.] So the Amish very explicitly let their children experience what life in the rest of the world is like, and make sure that following the Amish lifestyle is actually a choice. It's not totally free, of course - there's inevitably some social and familial pressure to join the church, and if someone, having joined, renounces their faith, their family generally mourns them as dead. Still, the fact that Amish teens do get to make that initial choice is important.

That isn't really the case in a culture where a girl who's not dressed in a hijab or burqa is likely to be subjected to harassment far worse what the average Western woman goes through [including rape], and may even be arrested. Choosing to wear a burqa or hijab isn't much of a 'choice' under those conditions. I'm fine with Muslim women in the West who get to choose on the basis of their own morals and their own understanding of the Koran whether or not they should wear a burqa or hijab. I'm not fine with women who are forced to wear such things not out of belief but because they know they might be arrested or raped or otherwise punished for going unveiled. I'm not fine with the idea that a woman who chooses not to wear the veil is essentially inviting sexual assault or sexual comments [and deserves them if she gets them, because she chose to dress in a way that tempts men.] When it's a choice, made without coercion and with knowledge of both the Koran and of the range of ways free Muslim women respond to its rules, that's fine. For many women, though, that isn't the case, and I think that's what almost everyone in this thread is really objecting to.

leapingsheep, it doesn't matter if they see anything. Clothes aren't any hindrance to people fantasizing about you sexually. They can see your face, they can see your form when the wind blows your clothing against your body. They can imagine the things they can't see. I'm not sure why that seems less invasive to you than people thinking about things that they can see. People are still thinking of you, in part, as a sexual object. If you're happier this way, good for you, but you, like every other adult human, are still very definitely subject to the sexual thoughts of others. Wear the hijab and modest loose clothing if it's what you believe in, that's laudable, but don't do it because you believe that your clothing choice will prevent people from thinking of you in a sexual way.

Also, I should like to note that I've never experienced the catcalling and talking-to-breasts that other posters have mentioned. I'm certainly willing to believe that others have had much more difficulty than I, but constant leering in the streets is not a universal experience.
posted by ubersturm at 9:45 AM on November 22, 2005


Let them be. It is simply not your business if someone doesn't wish to be ogled sexually by the general public. That's their choice.
posted by beth at 7:39 PM EST on November 21

And this is what it all boils down to: choice. I think many in this thread (and in the Western culture) believe there is no real choice involved. The Islamic fundamentalist culture is forcing this "choice" by throwing acid on women who walk the streets without the Burqa. But even the more mainstream, moderate Muslims are forcing the hajib on their women with more subtle pressures.

Ignorant Muslim women who don’t understand what hijab is for should have it explained to them, and Muslim women who do understand what it is for but feel scared to face a little prejudice should get some backbone, but I agree that everyone should be more patient with them about this, especially in the West where it is difficult.
posted by leapingsheep at 9:44 AM EST on November 22

So according to Leapingsheep, Muslim women who choose not to wear the hijab are ignorant and/or spineless. In other words if you are a Muslim woman, you don't really have a choice if you wish to belong to the community.

So the real question is whether this Cultural signifier is burdensome. The burqa, as I explained above, cuts off all peripheral vision. It also makes identification difficult. I remember one Muslim woman explaining that when she went shopping with her sisters, they had to follow each other's shoes, because every other woman on the streets was wearing an identical burqa. One western reporter said that it bothered her to smell her own onion breath all day and it felt suffocating and oppressive, but she wore it while in Iraq because not to do so would result in physical blows from men passing by her on the streets.

The hajib, or scarf, has its own issues, but it is not nearly as unpleasant. I think of my childhood attending Catholic church when I spent the night at my friend's house. There was the last minute rush to find the lace mantilla, and the ironing and the careful placement on the head with pins, etc. Not really a big deal, but I would hate to have this hassle every time I left the house.

To be fair our own culture also has restrictions on women's clothing. Try to get a job at a fashion magazine without wearing a mini skirt, 4 inch heels, and layers of make-up. But we can choose not to wear these things and still be a member of the community in good standing.

So I guess the question comes down to "What price are you willing to pay to be a member of your community? And what is an unreasonable request by the community?"
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:52 AM on November 22, 2005


leapingsheep writes "A particularly nice cleavage is unfortunately eye-catching. It's very much like that situation when your best friend has a huge spot, and you can't help but look at it. You don't want to do it, you'll probably apologise for doing it, but you ... just ... can't ... help ... it.
"Just pointing this out for the people who told me I’m sexist or paranoid for “imagining” that men give unwanted looks at women when they’re simply trying to go about their business, and doing nothing to invite the unwanted attention."

Cleavage is not the same thing as a covered set of breasts. "The hollow between a woman's breasts, especially as revealed by a low neckline." Having your eyes drawn to a clothing choice that exposes a bodily feature for the sake of visual appeal doesn't strike me as "unwanted attention." Staring rudely is still inappropriate but you can't claim that someone turning to look when you blow an airhorn is unwanted attention. Subsequently staring, swivelling your head or whistling is unwanted attention.
posted by phearlez at 10:10 AM on November 22, 2005


Are you even being serious?

Dead completely serious. A touch of wind comes along and molds a skirt, even a fairly heavy skirt, to the legs, bum, and crotch in a way that pants could never do. Similarly, loose shirts mold and drape in powerful good ways. I assure you of this from my long experience at girl-watching.

Your argument about your chosen form of dress is only ideologically or doctrinally true, not factually true. It is "true" in exactly the same way that it is "true" that having sex with a virgin cures you of AIDS. What makes you feel secure against the unwanted attention of men is that you feel secure against the unwanted attention of men. Your chosen dress is just a talisman with no effect at all (at least in comparison to standard western go-to-work attire; I'd concede that loose, long clothing will get you less attention than a bikini or a miniskirt).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2005


I think many in this thread (and in the Western culture) believe there is no real choice involved. The Islamic fundamentalist culture is forcing this "choice" by throwing acid on women who walk the streets without the Burqa.

I think this is one reason people in the West have such a strong negative reaction to the burqa (the full black cloak with veil). Another reason is the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and their treatment of women.

To me, the headscarf doesn't really seem like an issue. As Azaadistani pointed out, orthodox Jewish women who are married are also required to cover their hair.
posted by russilwvong at 10:17 AM on November 22, 2005


Dead completely serious. A touch of wind comes along and molds a skirt, even a fairly heavy skirt, to the legs, bum, and crotch in a way that pants could never do. Similarly, loose shirts mold and drape in powerful good ways. I assure you of this from my long experience at girl-watching.

You know, the more I read this thread, the more I'm sympathetic to women who want to wear a burqa.
posted by russilwvong at 10:19 AM on November 22, 2005


ubersturm: I'm glad you brought up Rumspringa (I too have seen the documentary), though you elected not to address dress code impositions made on Jewish orthodox and Chassidic women. You mention that Rumspringa gives Amish children the opportunity to experience 'English' life for however long they like. First, if they choose not to come back, they lose all contact with their families, which really makes me wonder how much 'choice' there is (Muslim women, too, can run away from their oppressive families). Second, I do object to hijab being imposed upon women, precisely because there is a lack of choice. My point was, that the French govt is doing the same in reverse: eliminating the choice to cover your head in public school.

Both are unacceptable. Curiously, however, when the French law was being debated, the French supported the law because they felt it was more important to protect the choice of the women who did not wish to cover than those who did. That reveals a bias of French society: a bias that many in France and outside of France will consider to be anti-Muslim. After all, the majority of women in France do not cover. It is much easier for a Muslim woman in France to blend into French society without covering. Isn't a cornerstone of democracy, the protection of the rights of minorities? Since when does egalite or liberte become all about protecting the rights of only the majority, or only of what the majority thinks ought to be protected of the minority?

Just as an Amish youngster can turn 'English' during his or her Rumspringa (but only after a certain age), so too can a Muslim French young woman should her family pressure her to cover, whenever she can get those rather generous unemployment benefits. The cost to both is that they will lose touch with their families. Both have that Hobson's choice.
posted by Azaadistani at 10:52 AM on November 22, 2005


Isn't a cornerstone of democracy, the protection of the rights of minorities? Since when does egalite or liberte become all about protecting the rights of only the majority, or only of what the majority thinks ought to be protected of the minority?

I'd guess that most people here would agree that the French ban on headscarves (and other religious symbols) in schools is wrong.

Myself, I'd disagree, or at least reserve judgement. I see the French ban as similar to the Turkish ban on headscarves: it's to enforce the secularism of the state. Whether or not they're justified depends on the local history and the local context, and I don't know enough about French or Turkish society to say whether they're justified or not. I don't think such a ban would be justified in Canada or the US, but France isn't the same as Canada or the US.

TEuropean Court of Human Rights recently upheld the Turkish ban.
posted by russilwvong at 11:09 AM on November 22, 2005


It would be nice to see some of the major religions getting excited about something other than sex. Maybe if they would focus on good and evil for a while (being nice to your neighbors, etc.) the living conditions in this fucking world might improve a little.
posted by MotherTucker at 11:16 AM on November 22, 2005


You know, the more I read this thread, the more I'm sympathetic to women who want to wear a burqa.

It's not like I spend my time leering at women now, but I was a teenager once.

My point was that it's not leapingsheep's dress that's doing anything. It's her (utterly misplaced) confidence that it does that gives her the protected feeling she likes.

But that's a very different thing. Leapingsheep wanted to tell a story about how empowering and freeing the hijab is, but that's not true. What's empowering and freeing is confidence in yourself, and you can be confident in yourself whether you're wearing a hijab or a fishnet body stocking and fuck-me pumps.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:21 AM on November 22, 2005


It's not like I spend my time leering at women now, but I was a teenager once.

Okay, thanks for the clarification.

What's empowering and freeing is confidence in yourself, and you can be confident in yourself whether you're wearing a hijab or a fishnet body stocking and fuck-me pumps.

Remember the "pretty girl" blog post from a few months ago? (Maybe it's been deleted, I can't find it. I did find a similar one.) My take on that thread is that sexual attractiveness brings with it a fair amount of power to get people to do what you want (and such power incurs resentment, of course, but that's a different story). It's important enough that women spend a lot of time on their appearance--hair, clothing, makeup, etc.; it's unusual for a young woman to have no concern whatsoever for her appearance.

As I see it, dressing modestly and wearing a headscarf is a way of downplaying this power, of deliberately choosing not to maximize one's sexual attractiveness, choosing not to play the "pretty girl" card.

This isn't affected by the fact that men can still leer at someone who's dressed modestly. That's their problem. (IMHO, leering is rude, and although I understand the argument that it's "natural," I don't really buy it; we're supposed to be civilized, not barbarians. That said, I guess it's much less rude than the kind of behavior described by booksandlibretti.)
posted by russilwvong at 11:53 AM on November 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


we're supposed to be civilized, not barbarians.

kepp telling yourself that, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
posted by jonmc at 1:24 PM on November 22, 2005


I know it's an extremely thin veneer. I still don't think that fact justifies rudeness. If we can learn to read, write, and eat with tableware, we ought to be able to learn some impulse control.
posted by russilwvong at 3:04 PM on November 22, 2005


I still don't think that fact justifies rudeness.

I'm not talking about leering or making rude comments. I'm just saying that no matter how much we protest, we're all thinking naughty thaughts when we see the attractive appendage of our choice on the street (even if it's overed in a burqa) and nothing's ever going to change that. And I don't think that's a bad thing.
posted by jonmc at 3:34 PM on November 22, 2005


I'm not talking about leering or making rude comments. I'm just saying that no matter how much we protest, we're all thinking naughty thoughts when we see the attractive appendage of our choice on the street (even if it's covered in a burqa) and nothing's ever going to change that.

Okay, no real disagreement from me. I'm not arguing for thought control, just good manners.
posted by russilwvong at 4:02 PM on November 22, 2005


An Iranian friend told me that in Iran, scientists have discovered that female pheromones are released through the hair more then any other part of the body-- and that Mullahs were using this to explain the need for hair-veils.
posted by cell divide at 4:06 PM on November 22, 2005


Anyone is invited to give me advice on how I can get fewer, or less offensive, comments. Delmoi is especially invited.

Well, you could move somewhere where people aren't rude assholes.

Actually, my sister just moved to NYC, and this started happening to her. She said talking on a cell phone keeps it from happening.
posted by delmoi at 6:57 PM on November 22, 2005


ROU_Xenophobe: I disagree.

As I've said, the amount of time a guy looks at a girl is very much dependant on how sexy (or odd) she looks. Someone wearing an Islamic headscarf would get much, much more looks then even the most revealingly dressed women though, simply because of the oddness.
posted by delmoi at 7:12 PM on November 22, 2005


"I am so sick of moronic, ignorant, culturally stunted individuals (be they self-presumed liberals or otherwise--and whoev that was above, saying you're a liberal don't make you one) who have little appreciation or interest in history or culture, and want to see the world only from their own staggeringly-limited perspectives."

That's really a gross and unfair overstatement.

Although cultural relativism has its genesis in the western liberal tradition, it in some ways comes into conflict with it. In those cases the thinking person must decide which of the two competing values they believe is more important. Those two values in this case being fighting sexism and not being ethnocentric.

My conclusion after decades of thought is to privilege an assumed shared value of anti-sexism over cultural relativism. Being that I believe that these traditions of female dress are in their origin explicitly an oppression of women, and practically in today's world an endorsement of that sexism, I oppose them even though I remain as least ethnocentric as possible.

So I think it's quite reasonable for a classic liberal, certainly, and to a lesser degree, a progressive, to actively oppose these restrictions on women's dress even though doing so conflicts with the values of the culture that demands these restrictions.

Implicit in making this sort of decision in the practical world—that is, actively opposing something like this—is that you are forced to again weigh this anti-sexism value against another value, in this case, a specific individual's rights. I long ago decided to privilege an assumed shared value over any given individual's view on the matter, even with practical respect to themselves.

The best example of this is how we formally address women in our culture. I've decided that an individual woman's personal preference for Mrs. or Miss. does not outweigh my values of anti-sexism and because of this I will always use Ms. regardless of the addressee's preference.

So, similarly, while I try to respectful in every way that I can, I won't tolerate someone else's personal choice to do something that is as sexist as this is. Even if you put aside the obvious moral argument about protecting people from themselves, you've still got to deal with these actions in the social context. And in the social context, an individual woman's choice to dress this way, for whatever reason, is practically endorsing one of the most important and oldest sexist traditions by which woman have been oppressed. In a civil context, in a democracy, it is a practice I will oppose.

And it should be repeated that I could have and would have come to a different conclusion if the context were different: that is, if the context were not that these restrictions on women's dress are deeply sexist both in origin and in practice. I think that many of the arguments above assume a non-sexist context that is completely possible in theory but laughably false in reality. This is a sexist practice that was and is intended to subjugate women and does, in fact, subjugate women.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:36 PM on November 22, 2005


This is a sexist practice that was and is intended to subjugate women and does, in fact, subjugate women.

Burqas, perhaps. I think it's more difficult to make this argument for headscarves.
posted by russilwvong at 9:35 AM on November 23, 2005


Well, you could move somewhere where people aren't rude assholes. Actually, my sister just moved to NYC, and this started happening to her.

Yeah -- I didn't have this happen to me when I lived in the suburbs; it started when I moved to New York. But you know, if I move because of this, the terrorists will have won!1!! Right?

Talking on a cell doesn't seem to have much impact. Walking and talking with other people -- either male or female -- does, but it kind of sucks to work by the buddy system once you're in college.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:45 PM on November 27, 2005


Woolly hat? Glasses?
posted by russilwvong at 1:20 PM on November 29, 2005


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