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Can I Have an Earlier Curfew?
May 30, 2010 4:07 AM   Subscribe

A fresh perspective on the hijab, different from the more common apologist/sexist arguments, the carefully academic expositions, appearances in controversial news, and especially the crassly commercial.
posted by bardophile (131 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm probably the only person in the world who thinks that the hijab is sexy.

Way to backfire, uptight muslims!
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:16 AM on May 30, 2010


Actually, it would seem that an awful lot of men in the Arab world also find it incredibly sexy. Anecdotal evidence only. Beats me why that's true.
posted by bardophile at 4:23 AM on May 30, 2010


Beats me why that's true.

It could be "reverse stripping", whereupon it becomes sexy to see women put on more and more layers of clothing.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:28 AM on May 30, 2010


Some delusion at work in that first link
posted by A189Nut at 4:29 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some delusion at work in that first link
In what sense? The mother? The daughter?
posted by delmoi at 4:32 AM on May 30, 2010


Headscarves can be very beautiful, since the girl sees so many women wearing them she may be emulating their fashion more than their beliefs. As a radical feminist working with a population wearing headscarves I have been tempted to wear some of the more fashionable ones I see
posted by saucysault at 4:36 AM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


'The veil: A modesty slip for misogyny' by Laurie Penny in the New Statesman.
posted by knapah at 4:41 AM on May 30, 2010


I know that there are Muslim feminists. I know that some wear headscarves.

I do not say that they are bad feminists, but I do say that I am confused. I simply don't get it. I can't see how a headscarf can be seen as anything but a symbol of misogyny, how it can convey any message but "my religion teaches me that I am icky and must be hidden away and I agree that I am icky".

Self evidently those Muslim feminists see a different message, but I am baffled as to how they do or what that message might be.

If Muslim men also wore headscarves I could see the argument that it is a cultural issue and not sexist. But Muslim men in America wear comfortable clothes and don't swelter under veils. Only women are otherized by the scarf and other distinctive clothing. To me it looks very much the same as the Menonites, the men wear "normal" (as defined by contemporary culture) clothes, the women dress like something from the early 19th century, the only message I can see there is that women are defined, by their clothing, as different, as "other", and that seems bad to me.

Again, I won't and don't say that Muslim feminists are bad feminists. Merely that I flat out don't understand their position and haven't yet seen anything that explains it in a way that I can understand.
posted by sotonohito at 4:59 AM on May 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


I do not say that they are bad feminists, but I do say that I am confused. I simply don't get it. I can't see how a headscarf can be seen as anything but a symbol of misogyny, how it can convey any message but "my religion teaches me that I am icky and must be hidden away and I agree that I am icky".

It is more to do with men not being able to control their primal urges than women being 'icky'.

My personal belief on the veil issues is that nobody should be forced to wear anything, be that a burqa or a necktie, but equally nobody should be prevented from wearing whatever they want. It is idiotic to suggest that you make someone more free by limiting their clothing options.
posted by knapah at 5:06 AM on May 30, 2010 [20 favorites]


I do not say that they are bad feminists, but I do say that I am confused. I simply don't get it. I can't see how a headscarf can be seen as anything but a symbol of misogyny, how it can convey any message but "my religion teaches me that I am icky and must be hidden away and I agree that I am icky".
This kind of thing is ridiculous. Breasts don't have any sexual function, but most women keep them covered up. Why? it's just culturally we're used to it. No one goes around saying "Women who keep their breasts covered are conveying a message that 'my cultural teaches me that my tits are icky and must be hidden!"

It's just a cultural convention, it's meaningless. Plus, are you confusing head scarves with full body covering like a Burqua? Head scarves only hide people's hair, not their faces. You know that, right?

(On the other hand, a lot of people, men and women are worried about their abdomens looking flabby, but people don't see that as some kind of misanthropy)
It is idiotic to suggest that you make someone more free by limiting their clothing options.
Exactly.
posted by delmoi at 5:24 AM on May 30, 2010 [15 favorites]


If Muslim men also wore headscarves I could see the argument that it is a cultural issue and not sexist.

Not head-scarves, but male Muslims are also required to cover their heads. A (Muslim) friend once characterized this as a good-to-have requirement, as opposed to a must-have rule such as the prohibition against eating pork.
posted by the cydonian at 5:29 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


sotonohito: "I simply don't get it. I can't see how a headscarf can be seen as anything but a symbol of misogyny, how it can convey any message but "my religion teaches me that I am icky and must be hidden away and I agree that I am icky"."

For some women the message is "I am sick of being accorded more or less worth according to how pretty you think I am. The headscarf may have cultural baggage, but so does living within the endless, unwinnable beauty pageant that is a world dominated by the Male Gaze and I am opting the fuck out. Maybe now when you judge me it will be on my words and actions."

I mean, in and of itself, there's nothing especially feminist about eschewing make-up either, but seen as a reaction to the culture in which we live, I can understand why some women see this as a feminist stance.
posted by the latin mouse at 5:35 AM on May 30, 2010 [29 favorites]


To me it looks very much the same as the Menonites, the men wear "normal" (as defined by contemporary culture) clothes, the women dress like something from the early 19th century, the only message I can see there is that women are defined, by their clothing, as different, as "other", and that seems bad to me.
To me, it looks very much like my neighborhood, where guys can take off their shirts when it's hot and that's considered normal, but if I took off my top in public I would get arrested. It's exactly the same, except, of course, the bit about being arrested, because while she lives in California, Aliya isn't going to be arrested if she decides not to wear her headscarf.
posted by craichead at 5:38 AM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Right on, Knapah. Certainly, there are complex arguments and cultural identities involved, but I do find it interesting that people fail to see that no-headscarf is just as restrictive as always-headscarf. I want to live in a world where people are free to wear whatever they want, and my opinion on their outfits is largely irrelevant - as is anyone else's.
posted by smoke at 5:59 AM on May 30, 2010


What? No mention of the metalhead hijab?
posted by NoMich at 6:10 AM on May 30, 2010 [13 favorites]


I do not say that they are bad feminists, but I do say that I am confused. I simply don't get it. I can't see how a headscarf can be seen as anything but a symbol of misogyny, how it can convey any message but "my religion teaches me that I am icky and must be hidden away and I agree that I am icky".

I think it's equally important to be allowed to choose to wear it as it is not to wear it. The point is the choice, and I think it's disgusting that Muslim women are often labeled as self-hating or enemies of the feminist cause for choosing to wear a symbol of their religion and, far more importantly, their culture. Why should that be any worse than all the women who wear what vogue tells them to? Hijab can be fashion, too, and IMO far more tasteful fashion than what a lot of young girls put on these days.

In many ways, the idea of the hijab is romantic. You only take it off in front of your husband, because your hair is something sacred and beautiful only to be shared with those you love the most. I had a class mate when I was 10 who was Turkish, and who wore a hijab. She took it off after P.E., and we used to fight over who got to brush her long, gorgeous, wavy brown hair. It's a shame for hair like that to be hidden away, but what a lucky man her husband will be...

Anyway, many things that have started out as the result of misogyny in our part of the world have been integrated as a normal part of modern society, so why can't the hijab?
posted by MaiaMadness at 6:15 AM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


What? No mention of the metalhead hijab?

Awesome! :D
posted by MaiaMadness at 6:16 AM on May 30, 2010


I'm failing to see why the last link is crassly commercial. It's just an online clothing store. There's nothing particularly outstanding about it design and contentwise, good or bad.
posted by asockpuppet at 6:16 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


>gorgeous, wavy brown hair. It's a shame for hair like that to be hidden away, but what a lucky man her husband will be...

MaiaMadness, please don't feel that I'm picking on you here, I'm not and you clearly were envious of your friends pretty hair. But I've heard stories like yours, and seen similar after-PE reactions to classmates without their headscarf and all I ever take from comments like that is: gee, even her hair is only there for her future husband.

He's not a lucky man because she rocks as a volleyball player (as our scarfed girl on the team did), or because she's funny, or smart, or loving, or caring, or because she loves him back and they're a match. If she decides to marry (what if she doesn't want to? What happens if she's gay?) He's a lucky man because he gets to see her hair. Intimacy isn't a body part, and they way people talk about hijabs and scarves always serve to make me - as a woman - feel like a thing.
posted by dabitch at 6:25 AM on May 30, 2010 [14 favorites]


Merely that I flat out don't understand their position and haven't yet seen anything that explains it in a way that I can understand.

Perhaps you should read the article, where a reason for Muslims wearing modest clothing is clearly given.
posted by >> at 6:27 AM on May 30, 2010


I am not Muslim, but I don't see any more inherent sexism in the hijab than I do in the idea that women must, to fit in in social and professional settings, do things that men don't have to do--maintaining a lower relative body weight, spending tons of time doing hair/makeup, spending tons of money on beauty products men aren't expected to use. Which, with a nod to sotonohito above, does a very good job of teaching women that they are naturally icky and they must dedicate their lives to pretending not to be icky.

Some of which is indulged by women for convenience. Some of which some women find they actually enjoy--ooh, pretty things!--and don't feel oppressed by. And some of which contributes to body dysmorphia, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, general unhappiness. And any culture which bans women from living by one social standard for appearance while still requiring them to live by another is, I'm sorry, objectifying women just as much as the fundamentalists.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:29 AM on May 30, 2010 [14 favorites]


Obviously, the hijab (and its brethren, the niqab and burqa) is not worn in a perfect world of free will and choice. I always thought that if it were worn in in at least somewhat more perfect world, it is actually kind of an awesome option to have as a woman. At any point if embarrassed, crying or just plain not in a good mood, one can disappear into the anonymity of the veil.
posted by Suparnova at 6:35 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am not Muslim, but I don't see any more inherent sexism in the hijab than I do in the idea that women must, to fit in in social and professional settings, do things that men don't have to do--maintaining a lower relative body weight, spending tons of time doing hair/makeup, spending tons of money on beauty products men aren't expected to use.

You're not going to be arrested if you leave the house without makeup on or tip the scale a little higher. I understand there are inherent social pressures involved in both, but there's a huge difference in the consequences of your actions.
posted by Hiker at 6:40 AM on May 30, 2010


There's a big glaring flaw in the first link. The mother never asks her daughter why she wants to wear the head scarf. She theorizes once or twice and then complains that she doesn't know her own daughter any more. She might know her daughter if she had a conversation with her! Any speculation without the girl's input is pretty much speculation, and the article ends up being more about the mother's reaction to her daughter's choice. As the girl is only in 4th grade, I'd be interested in an update several years from now. Is it just a phase? Will she keep it up, especially when she reaches high school? Also of note, while the mother mentions her husband's faith, and it appears the family at least follows Ramadan, it doesn't seem the mother is offering her daughter any other religious path to follow besides Islam. Therefore, should she be surprised when her daughter latches onto the faith of her father?
posted by Atreides at 6:48 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hiker, the girls in North America, like the girl in this story, is clearly not going to be arrested for not wearing a headscarf. You can't really bring up legal issues from another country to assign criticism to a practice in the US. These girls are citizens of the US who make the choice to wear the headscarf. You seem to be making them aliens in your head because of what they wear.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:56 AM on May 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


I do not say that they are bad feminists, but I do say that I am confused. I simply don't get it. I can't see how a headscarf can be seen as anything but a symbol of misogyny, how it can convey any message but "my religion teaches me that I am icky and must be hidden away and I agree that I am icky".

That's pretty much how I used to think about it, right up until I had some strong, articulate, feminist friends who had (like the girl in the linked article) chosen to wear variations on the hijab. There wasn't even a tiny tinge of "I am icky" in it -- it was for them a choice about meeting the world on their own terms. Some of them wore it always, others only for special occasions, as I might wear a suit.

Just like I don't think headcoverings should be mandatory in a society (for men or women), I think people should be free to wear them, and I think it's important to acknowledge how much power there can be in making that choice, especially in a secular society.

Pretty much all the clothing choices we make are culturally delineated. We are used to women covering their chests, men not wearing skirts, heads being exposed, and so on. Changes and challenges to those choices can be incredibly difficult for a lot of people -- think a few decades back to the agonies over long hair on men, for example.
posted by Forktine at 6:59 AM on May 30, 2010


Obviously, the hijab (and its brethren, the niqab and burqa) is not worn in a perfect world of free will and choice. I always thought that if it were worn in in at least somewhat more perfect world, it is actually kind of an awesome option to have as a woman. At any point if embarrassed, crying or just plain not in a good mood, one can disappear into the anonymity of the veil.

This thread is interesting. I've wondered more than once when the hijab would begin to creep into mainstream western fashion.
posted by marimeko at 7:05 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is very courteous of the wearer of a [hijab, cross pendant, yarmulke, Free Tibet t-shirt, etc.] to warn me that they are a religious fanatic and I should avoid dealing with them, or at least not worry about taking the person seriously.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:10 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


NPR interview with the mother in the first link.
posted by cazoo at 7:10 AM on May 30, 2010


I have small breasts and don't wear a bra. But apparently the sight of my nipples is "unprofessional" and titillating in our culture, so I cover them with little silicone pasties. Sometimes I think about how dumb that is, especially when I see pictures of topless women living in tribal cultures. I bet they aren't Vitamin D deficient like almost all the women in the Islamic world and most of the women in the U.S. and Europe.

In fact, most clothes are dumb and serve one way or another to mold us into arbitrary cultural prescriptions. I'm not going to judge people covering their hair when I'm sitting here typing while wearing "nippies."
posted by melissam at 7:15 AM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Honestly, the author of that first article sounds like kind of an insufferable ass. Through most of the article, it seems like she's pouting over losing some sort of cultural contest (in her mind) with her husband. She doesn't really explain what makes her so uncomfortable about her daughter wearing the headscarf, except that it looks weird.
posted by lexicakes at 7:17 AM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


It is very courteous of the wearer of a [hijab, cross pendant, yarmulke, Free Tibet t-shirt, etc.] to warn me that they are a religious fanatic and I should avoid dealing with them, or at least not worry about taking the person seriously.

What if they're just wearing the hijab because they like to have their head covered? Or a cross pendant because they like how it looks?
posted by knapah at 7:17 AM on May 30, 2010


I get the feeling that headscarves and hijabi started as a way to hide and protect women, essentially treating them as a precious, meek, passive, and vulnerable objects. That strikes me as funny because objectification is one of the justifications the Youtube video cites for the hijab.

I think this argument - saying, "I am covering myself up and being modest so that people don't judge me by how I look" - is an apologist one. I don't think the people who started mandating hijabi had that in mind at all. That it's apologist doesn't make it any less valid, though.

I would rather hear an argument for hijabi - the modern, feminist, anti-objectification argument - from a Muslim woman than a man with bad teeth.
posted by boghead at 7:26 AM on May 30, 2010


MaiaMadness, please don't feel that I'm picking on you here, I'm not and you clearly were envious of your friends pretty hair. But I've heard stories like yours, and seen similar after-PE reactions to classmates without their headscarf and all I ever take from comments like that is: gee, even her hair is only there for her future husband.

I can understand that... I guess for me, I didn't really know her very well (she was quite popular and I was a social reject, and it's such a long time ago, anyway), so I wouldn't know any of those things about her... But seeing it from my own perspective, we do have things that we save for our loved ones, don't we? Some people save their virginity for the person they marry, though this is rare nowadays. All the same, most of us still tend to keep our sexuality as something we give only to someone we love; we don't show our naked bodies to anyone else. In Muslim culture, it just so happens that a woman's hair goes along the same lines as her bosom. I just see it as a different cultural expression, and truly see nothing wrong with it.
posted by MaiaMadness at 7:28 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obviously, the hijab (and its brethren, the niqab and burqa) is not worn in a perfect world of free will and choice.

Why not? Doesn't free will and choice entail the choice to wear whatever clothing you like?
posted by MaiaMadness at 7:30 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the biggest issue I can see with this is the stark dichotomy between the daughter, who has the choice to wear what she wants, and the culture she's emulating, which for the most part actively and stridently denies women that choice. It seems like if she became a big fan of the series Roots and decided to start wearing shackles around because she liked the way it looked... sure, SHE can remove hers whenever she feels the urge, but the cultural scenario she's shallowly imitating never HAD that choice, and the thing being copied is in fact the rather specific symbol of that lack of choice.

A large portion of this could be illuminated if they had, say, interviewed the daughter about her choices. An entire article written as a reaction to someone else's reaction to something else is a bit oblique.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:33 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pretty much all the clothing choices we make are culturally delineated. We are used to women covering their chests, men not wearing skirts, heads being exposed, and so on. Changes and challenges to those choices can be incredibly difficult for a lot of people -- think a few decades back to the agonies over long hair on men, for example.

Or the introduction of the miniskirt.

I know a fair few men who occasionally wear skirts, many of them gay, but not all. They're not cross-dressers, either; they wear skirts made for men. And I know skinny, double-A-cup girls who purposefully wear clothes that make them look androgynous. These are still things that are difficult for some to swallow.
posted by MaiaMadness at 7:34 AM on May 30, 2010


I thought the article was beautiful and, just as important, honest.

It is very courteous of the wearer of a [hijab, cross pendant, yarmulke, Free Tibet t-shirt, etc.] to warn me that they are a religious fanatic and I should avoid dealing with them, or at least not worry about taking the person seriously.

I'm sure they'll be glad to avoid you as well. Seriously, one of the funniest, sharpest, most blisteringly intelligent women I know wears a hijab. My life would be a little less full if I had let a piece of fabric stand in the way of my getting to know her.
posted by sallybrown at 7:39 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


In fact, most clothes are dumb and serve one way or another to mold us into arbitrary cultural prescriptions. I'm not going to judge people covering their hair when I'm sitting here typing while wearing "nippies."

Hear, hear! If I could get away with it, I would never wear any kind of bra or similar. Unfortunately, that appears to be considered inappropriate...
posted by MaiaMadness at 7:42 AM on May 30, 2010


sure, SHE can remove hers whenever she feels the urge, but the cultural scenario she's shallowly imitating never HAD that choice, and the thing being copied is in fact the rather specific symbol of that lack of choice.

But they do have that choice. She's 10 years old, she's not imitating a cultural scenario, she's imitating other Muslim girls in America who also make that choice.
posted by MaiaMadness at 7:44 AM on May 30, 2010


There's a large number of young women at my school who wear the scarf. They are mostly born and/or raised in Canada, and have made this choice for themselves. You can tell this by the fact that they clearly have zillions of the scarfs and have one to match every outfit they have. And they look fantastic! Some of them wear simple black scarves, but most of them are patterned and colourful and really beautiful. It's a really joyful piece of clothing that gets you a big smile when you compliment them on it. Designer jeans, heels, makeup, and flashy hijab: that covers about 20% of the students I see every day.

I noticed a real uptick in scarves on campus when the Toronto 18 (an alleged terrorist cell) were arrested, largely out of high schools in our community. I respect those young women a lot for that; proudly displaying their religion when it was under attack in the news and fear was running high. That's a brave and subversive thing to do.

A dear friend of mine is a Muslim from Iran who will not wear a headscarf because she was required to by law in Iran and she's had her fill of that kind of religion. Her husband (who is far more devout), was also born and raised in Iran, is frankly offended by all the headscarves he sees in our community. He wants to shake these young women and tell them not to give in to the pressure. His wife patiently explains what she knows by going to school with these women and spending time with them: they do this by choice, to make a statement, to declare themselves, to feel true to themselves and their families. Just because it's the same piece of clothing doesn't mean it has the same meaning and purpose in a new context.

Perhaps nothing underscores the normalcy of the scarf for me as much as sitting with a Muslim student with her attractive scarf, her perfect makeup, her fantastic (and modest) outfit, telling me about how she and her friends got high in her basement over the weekend. Is she a Muslim? Yes. She's a proud Muslim, but that doesn't stop her from being a typical young adult Canadian, pushing boundaries, experimenting with things legal and illegal, and being herself.

So: don't imagine you know everything about a girl you see in a headscarf. Don't imagine she's oppressed or unable to express her individuality. You're seeing a clothing choice, probably a religious affiliation, but nothing more.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:46 AM on May 30, 2010 [37 favorites]


I do find it interesting that people fail to see that no-headscarf is just as restrictive as always-headscarf.

I see what you're saying, because in both cases a choice has been removed. Someone is being told, "No, you cannot dress this specific way you choose." But in one case there is an additional restriction: "No, you cannot dress any other way, either," so surely it's still right to say that "always-hijab" is more restrictive than "sometimes no hijab" or the fictional "never hijab."
posted by fleacircus at 7:54 AM on May 30, 2010


It is very courteous of the wearer of a [hijab, cross pendant, yarmulke, Free Tibet t-shirt, etc.] to warn me that they are a religious fanatic and I should avoid dealing with them, or at least not worry about taking the person seriously.

When you can't tell if someone is mocking atheists or being serious, does it still count as Poe's law?
posted by creeky at 7:55 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The women who is not hiding behind something "willingly" is wonderful, but rare. Bad hair day? Bad skin? We have all sorts of veils via cosmetics, clothing choices. It's the part about choice that bothers me. Are women who don't bother with cosmetic, bras, or shaving their legs (for instance) treated differently (by both men and women)? Yes! I have to wonder, do I wear anything I wear by choice? (I mean, right down to the SPF I slather on daily to protect me from wrinkles).
posted by marimeko at 7:56 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


A little lesson about the hijab, courtesy of Degrassi: TNG:
-In media immersion class-

Mr. Simpson: Guys. Settle. We’re gonna start today a little differently. Hazel has something she wants to show us.

Hazel: I lied to you all yesterday. Some of you I’ve been lying to longer than that. So let me introduce myself. My name is Hazel Aden and I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. Not Jamaica and yes I’m a Muslin. These are my parents. My mom came here first with me to flee a civil war. My dad who was fighting in the war came later.

Terri: Fareeza wears that headscarf thing. How come you don’t?

Hazel: It’s a hijab and I do when I go to mosque, but to take it on full time it’s a personal and important decision. Anyway I’m sorry I lied. Unlike you guys I was ashamed of who I am, but not anymore.

*They begin clapping for her*
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:00 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The mother never asks her daughter why she wants to wear the head scarf.

It might be illuminating to know what Daddy, and perhaps more to the point, the aunties and granny are saying. When are you getting your hijab? Don't you want a hijab? Won't you look beautiful in your hijab? A big girl like you, and still no hijab? Apparently an awful lot of men in the Arab world also find it incredibly sexy! Won't you feel good when you're wearing your hijab? Look at your cousins' lovely hijabs!

Maybe not, but I've known several couples where one partner thought it was their duty to let the child make up its own mind about things, while the other partner, and still more the rest of the other side of the family, were playing hard ball for their own team as vigorously as they knew how.
posted by Phanx at 8:06 AM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


The GF is sure going to be surprised when I tell her that her headscarves are the sign of a submissive religious nut and not, as she supposes, merely keeping her 'fro under control.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:09 AM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm currently watching The Doha Debates on the BBC. This episode strays from the normal format in that it's a comedy special with a tabled motion entitled: This House believes women are superior to men. The participants' bios are available here.
posted by gman at 8:32 AM on May 30, 2010


Are women who don't bother with cosmetic, bras, or shaving their legs (for instance) treated differently (by both men and women)?

Oh, yes.

I have thin, blonde hair, everywhere. If I had never shaved my legs, the hair there would have been negligible, invisible, practically unnoticeable. But when I was 13 years old, the girls in my class told me how nasty I was for not shaving my legs, so I did. To think I could have gotten away with au natural for the rest of my life if I hadn't folded to peer-pressure back then...
posted by MaiaMadness at 8:34 AM on May 30, 2010


One of the things I found very interesting living in Senegal was the issue of headscarves. Only a very small percentage (1% or 2%) of women wore them on a daily basis. Most women wore them only for going to mosque and at prayer time. It was always explained to me as a choice.

One of the first things I had to learn was that the women who wore head coverings also did not touch men, unless they were married. (Obviously this is not true of everyone who wears a headscarf, but it was true there.) In a culture where everyone shakes hands, this can be important to remember. Entering a room with ten people in it, you are generally expected to shake ten hands.

I later found out that there were also men who made a similar choice, always covering their head and not touching any women but their wives.

Now, Senegal is of course very different from places like Saudi Arabia. There was no law forcing women to wear anything. But it is a majority Muslim country.
posted by Nothing at 8:47 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yet, MaiaMadness, you don't speculate that this girl might be giving in to peer pressure too? The article is disappointing in that it doesn't give us the girl's perspective, OR her father's.

I can't see the hijab as anything but a symbol of oppression for women.
posted by agregoli at 8:49 AM on May 30, 2010


The French Anti-Burqa Jihad: Secularism does not justify eliminating women's clothing choices.
posted by homunculus at 9:00 AM on May 30, 2010


I wore hijab for quite a few years in my late teens and early twenties. It was ok. I simultaneously experimented with drugs, boys and punk rock so I wasnt the best Muslim. Pros: not being bothered by horny dudes, pissing off uptight Islamophobes, not having to worry about whether I looked hot, and getting to fuck with peoples notions about what Muslim women are like. Cons: being bothered by horny dudes, it got hot in the summer, it limited some of my social life (going to the beach) and occasionally invited the hostility of bigots.

I ultimately stopped wearing it for convenience reasons, but I do sometimes miss it. I was never particularly religious but I appreciated the idea that the hijab could liberate a woman from objectification. To those who see it as a symbol of misogyny, all I can say is that misogyny was never a part of my experience with the hijab.

If you dont like the headscarf, dont wear it. Live and let live, people.
posted by MXJ1983 at 9:02 AM on May 30, 2010 [19 favorites]


I guess like other people have said, I don't quite understand it still - I kind of get the liberating a woman from objectification, but at the same time, it seems like she is still being treated as an object - an object to hide from the world. To me, covering a woman is not an acceptable solution to the male gaze.

I don't hate on anyone for wearing it, but I can't see it as positive for women overall.
posted by agregoli at 9:24 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I simply don't get it.

So now I'm going to justify its wrongness.
posted by iamck at 9:34 AM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dammit all, this is America, and you can wear any damned thing on your head that you like. Me, I got these literal Viking horns here. My buddy's wearing a trucker cap. Anything you like, on your head, at any time. That's what freedom's all about.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:43 AM on May 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


That first link is excellent, and I'm sorry you felt compelled to add a bunch of pointless other ones (Wikipedia! a hijab-selling site!) to ward off the feared single-link-hating crowd. But thanks for the Krista Bremer article, which was well written and thought-provoking.

> I can't see the hijab as anything but a symbol of oppression for women.

Well, don't wear one, then. But don't put down other women for the choices they make. (And it's quite telling that some people don't seem to be able to imagine that women could possibly choose hijab—they must be being brainwashed by evil religious fanatics!)
posted by languagehat at 9:49 AM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is probably incredibly "white" of me to say, but the character Rayyan on the CBC show Little Mosque on the Prairie really exemplifies to me how a woman can be a liberated, modern feminist and choose to wear the hijab. I honestly feel like I've learned a bit about Muslim culture from watching that show. Also it's just plain good! God bless Canada...
posted by bloody_bonnie at 9:57 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how a hijab, or modest dress in general, liberates women from sexual objectification. Is the idea that we suddenly don't know if the woman in question fits into society's ideas of attractiveness? You can still see her face, how tall she is, if she's walking with a limp, if her teeth are pearly white, if she's enormously fat or disturbingly skinny, and so on, and you're still going along the idea that how a woman appears to other people is important.

I do understand that modest clothing is a religious requirement for many people, and that's not something I care about one way or the other (to the relief of millions, I'm sure). But saying it's a feminist statement, and not strictly a religious one, is where you lose me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:10 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually I'm against double standards that legally require me to keep a top on and have funny attitudes towards breast feeding. I don't think body covering garments limit the objectification of my breasts/hair/face any more than trying to hide an elephant under a bedsheet stops people from going "Oh look, an elephant!" People are still going to judge me on my appearance and horny dudes exist everywhere. Quite frankly "warm and concave" is about all it takes with this bunch, and I could wear a suit of jousting armor and all I'd get would be snickering jokes about a can opener.

Plus, as I observed in the last hijab thread, many of the women you see wearing a head cover and modest clothing are made up to the nines or wearing brightly coloured scarves in attractive layering. And the stripper heels. You see a lot of those. For some women this is about modesty, for others, this is culture.

There is nothing wrong with funny hats. However, as a woman I want more socially acceptable clothing items that are not body restrictive. In my wardrobe I have heels and corsets, push up bras and thongs, boned strapless cocktail dresses and ankle length funeral skirts I trip over and modest mormon-esque blouses, but I don't want those to be my only clothing options.
posted by Phalene at 10:13 AM on May 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Me, I got these literal Viking horns here. My buddy's wearing a trucker cap. Anything you like, on your head, at any time. That's what freedom's all about.
posted by Baby_Balrog


Aha! So Balrogs do have horns.
posted by homunculus at 10:15 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


WHAT IS THERE NOT TO UNDERSTAND?!?!

Muslim Feminists are wearing the Hijab not because of modesty but because of racism, imperialism and ultimately genocide against their people.

It's a "FUCK YOU" to crypto-white-christian-supremacists who would rather see them dead or wiped off the face of the earth for their culture, their language, their beliefs and the way the look.

If you don't get what women need to do to reaffirm to their children and their "tribe" that they won't back down about who they are, you know NOTHING about what it takes to fight to not just survive but thrive and just be.

and from my archives:

Gloria Steinem is wrong


Tennessee Guerilla Women's Red Burka : Is this what bigoted, racist, imperialist feminism looks like?



Needless to say, posts like these have made me a notoriously "bad feminist".
posted by liza at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


I can't see the hijab as anything but a symbol of oppression for women.

This is an ignorant and simplistic interpretation that is willfully ignoring a range of Muslim history and attitudes towards the hijab. Please educate yourself.
posted by >> at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just vacationed in Turkey and it was the first time I had ever been around such a wide spectrum of dress styles for women ... from skimpy clothing to headscarves to hijabs. I saw a few women in niqab, but probably fewer than 10. We visited several mosques, so perhaps we saw a greater proportion of varying degrees of covered women due to that. Case in point, we wore scarves in the mosques - and I would rarely wear a head scarf in any other circumstances - maybe a snowstorm or when visiting small rural churches while traveling.

I was struck by how modern, stylish, beautiful, and hip so many of the women in hijab appeared. (So much for being entirely free from the insidious grip of fashion expectations). We three western women were wilting in the heat but the hijab women looked cool and serene - maybe they were just more accustomed to heat than we were.

Many of the rural women we saw seemed to be wearing scarves and certain clothing out of tradition rather than religion - more like Slavic babushkas. But hey, I can't be sure it wasn't religious in nature because my 40 words of Turkish didn't allow for probing.

I admit to mixed feelings about the hijab. On the one hand, it strikes me as a manifestation of inequality and oppression of women and the overt patriarchy of religion, which I can't help but bridle against. (Perhaps this is less true in a country where it is a choice.) On the other hand, I favor a person's right to freely choose their style of dress, faith, sexual partners, lifestyle, and what have you. I can also see where there might be liberating aspects to being largely freed from the expectations and stereotypes of women which go along with an advertising culture. Plus, here in the US, I think women are downright brave to wear the hijab -- I do admire that. So as a free choice, yes of course. It's the choice thing that I sometimes question - having grown up in a pretty repressive Catholic household, I know something of the power that religious patriarchies can impose.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:42 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Damn no wonder I don't read women's magazines.

Women: hey! it sucks to be you if you wear headscarfs, kinda, but also it sucks to wear a bikini! Basically everything you do will make you feel like shit or look weird at one point or another. Because you're a woman.

Heartwarming! Thanks for the info!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:44 AM on May 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


People are free to wear a swastika, so why should anyone object to a woman choosing to wear whatever she pleases? The swastika has a nasty history behind it, and many wear it for that reason, yes, because they love the ideology behind it; others will say that they simply like the design of it and nothing more, yet others want to reclaim the ancient symbol from the Nazis and so on in endless variations. It can mean many things, just like the hijab, burka and son on.
posted by VikingSword at 10:58 AM on May 30, 2010


I just want to say one more thing. Women: hey!

That's all.
posted by boghead at 11:03 AM on May 30, 2010


twoleftfeet: Got any good hijab porn? 'Cause that would be super hot.
Uh, posted by anonymous
posted by ctmf at 11:13 AM on May 30, 2010


Comparing the swastika to a headscarf? Really? A headscarf isn't the symbol radical Islam rallies behind as it sends Jews to concentration camps and tries to conquer the genetically inferior people of Europe, despite what Belgium, France, and Switzerland might claim. The swastika represents complete and aggressive intolerance of other people, beliefs, and ways of life and is almost universally understood as such. You've seen case after case here of women choosing to wear a headscarf of their own free will for their own reasons; what the headscarf represents is not "universally understood" period.

Also, good on you Metafilter! This thread seems a lot more open-minded about the issue than the last one I saw. Long Live "it's not for me to tell people how to dress or what it means when they do".
posted by Kirk Grim at 11:44 AM on May 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


People are free to wear a swastika, so why should anyone object to a woman choosing to wear whatever she pleases?

I think you'll notice that people object pretty strongly to anyone wearing a swastika. If not always by calling for banning it, then by judging the wearer. Just as people are doing about hijabs in this thread.
posted by jacalata at 11:50 AM on May 30, 2010


I'm reading this whole long article about how this clothing protects women from the leering stares and unwanted sexual attention from strange men. I get that.

But why is it beholden upon women to address this problem by hiding themselves? Where is the item of clothing that teaches men to respect a woman's sovereignty? To not leer and offer unwanted sexual attention?

Women are not the ones who are behaving badly, and yet it is women who bear the burden of correcting the problem. That can't be fair, can it?
posted by ErikaB at 12:02 PM on May 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


(And it's quite telling that some people don't seem to be able to imagine that women could possibly choose hijab—they must be being brainwashed by evil religious fanatics!)

There's a father who visits our store who keeps his wife and daughters in his car while he looks at books outside until there are no men around, then he allows them out. The wife's in full cover in a niqab, including gloves, the daughters are allowed to show their hands and faces - for now. When I come out of the store, the father quickly herds the women away from me, none of them making eye contact. When I came out twice in succession one day, he herded them all back into the car, paid and drove off. He was polite, I was polite.

I was also completely disgusted. I doubt the opinion that those girls are "being brainwashed by evil religious fanatics!" is going away any time soon.
posted by mediareport at 12:05 PM on May 30, 2010


For some women the message is "I am sick of being accorded more or less worth according to how pretty you think I am. The headscarf may have cultural baggage, but so does living within the endless, unwinnable beauty pageant that is a world dominated by the Male Gaze and I am opting the fuck out. Maybe now when you judge me it will be on my words and actions."

The only problem is it does nothing to address that particular issue in practice, because it's not a choice women as a whole made to deal with the issue. The choice is made by their religion with the underlying premise that sex is bad, women will lead men down a morally decrepit path (therefore implying there something inherently wicked about women), and that men can't be trusted to treat women like human beings if they so much get a look at their face.

I can understand how some of this looks attractive from a feminist point of view. The hijab does address a few specific issues, but it doesn't do so with the idea that women should throw off the oppressive yoke of male dominance. Its history is not one of choice for women. It more or less relegates women to the position of temptress, which is not a position of power. Moreover, it does nothing to encourage men to behave like fellow human beings to women. If it did, I think we would at least see different outcomes for women in some of the societies which utilize it.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:07 PM on May 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


A headscarf isn't the symbol radical Islam rallies behind as it sends Jews to concentration camps and tries to conquer the genetically inferior people of Europe, despite what Belgium, France, and Switzerland might claim. The swastika represents complete and aggressive intolerance of other people, beliefs, and ways of life and is almost universally understood as such.

A headscarf can be, and historically often was a symbol for incredibly repressive Islam. Swastika-like designs have existed for centuries in benign ideologies, but with the Nazis it became a symbol of " complete and aggressive intolerance of other people, beliefs, and ways of life and is almost universally understood as such". The incredibly repressive - unlike the benign versions - of Islam are known for "complete and aggressive intolerance of other people, beliefs, and ways of life and is almost universally understood as such". Are repressive strains of Islam exactly like Naziism? Of course not - nothing is, otherwise it'd be the same thing. But is the comparison far off? Nope. Jews in concentration camps? No. But murderous anti-Semitism? Yes. Then again Naziism wasn't nearly as misogynist as those strains of Islam are - and the suffering of many women under such a regime is immense. Also: both hate gay people. And so on. Is it a perfect analogy? No - nothing ever is, otherwise it's the same thing. But is it apt? Absolutely. Both can be hateful, and both can be benign. Can swastika-like designs be benign? Sure. Can a headscarf be benign? Sure. But when you put on either one, you open yourself up to interpretation - such is the power of symbols and that is why people fight to define and redefine symbols.

You've seen case after case here of women choosing to wear a headscarf of their own free will for their own reasons; what the headscarf represents is not "universally understood" period.

Same with swastikas. Plenty of people wear them voluntarily, and plenty for all kinds of reasons. If I see a fan of death metal or some such, wearing a swastika, I don't leap to the conclusion that they're supporters of Naziism. When I see a headscarf, I don't leap to the conclusion that it represents radical Islam. And in neither case do I look askance at them. Not my cup of tea, but to each his own - I support everyone's right to express themselves.
posted by VikingSword at 12:09 PM on May 30, 2010


Well, don't wear one, then. But don't put down other women for the choices they make.

Where did I put down women for the choices they make? I specifically said I don't hate on anyone for wearing one - wear whatever makes you comfortable. I really don't care what people wear. Personal happiness is one thing. But I can't personally see it as positive overall for women - to me it does not speak of anything positive - of course coming from the perspective of someone who has never worn one. Which is why I'm expressing how I don't understand it. I think it's jumping to conclusions to say I have ill intent.
posted by agregoli at 12:30 PM on May 30, 2010


The Hijab?? In our society, what's the difference between that and a ballcap?
posted by Neiltupper at 12:38 PM on May 30, 2010


Honestly, the author of that first article sounds like kind of an insufferable ass. Through most of the article, it seems like she's pouting over losing some sort of cultural contest (in her mind) with her husband. She doesn't really explain what makes her so uncomfortable about her daughter wearing the headscarf, except that it looks weird.

I think "insufferable ass" might be a bit harsh, but yeah, I didn't really love this woman's essay for the same reason.

The conflation of her daughter wanting to wear a hijab and the mother feeling embarrassed when she wore an itsy-bitsy bikini as an adolescent disappointed me because it slid riiiiight past a point that I was hoping that she'd raise. Do Libyans wear the hijab at such a young age? My understanding is that most cultures don't encourage girls to start covering until they're teenagers. Little girls want to emulate adult women, and sure, I was allowed to play dress-up, but I wasn't allowed to have high heels until I was old enough. Is it appropriate for a nine-year-old girl to wear a garment that is intended for adult women? I don't know, but I wish the author had given us some perspective on this.
posted by desuetude at 12:56 PM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


VikingSword, it's hard to see your argument as anything other than an attempt to equate Islam with Nazism, despite your many qualifier escape clauses, such as "to each his own," "repressive strains of Islam," "murderous anti-Semitism" and so on. Doing anything is open to interpretation by others, but your "argument" seems rooted more in joy from equating Islam with Nazism than anything actually called for in this thread. So yes, you are making yourself look like an ass. There's not much point for what you're saying

For what it's worth, in the Muslim land I'm from, we're very proud of our shared history with Sephardic Jews, whom we invited to seek refuge after they were cast out of Iberia - anti-semitism carries little weight there We have gay dance clubs (for instance) and relative tolerance for homosexuality, compared to many countries. Men in my home society are almost uniformly against the veil - it has more support from women. Given that there is no Nazi-like hierarchy in Islam, and most Muslims are not in fact Arabs, most of what you cast as Islam bears no relationship to what most Muslims know - that's certainly true for me.

People are free to wear a swastika, so why should anyone object to a woman choosing to wear whatever she pleases?

That's pretty much the definition of a disingenuous argument, which is probably why no one seems very impressed by it.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:01 PM on May 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Hey, VikingSword, when you compare swastikas to the hijab, it sounds like you're comparing Islam to Nazism, much like those people who speak of the threat of "Islamofascism" gradually taking over Europe, in their bids to regulate what women may or may not wear in public, or whether certain religious buildings may or may not be built in their countries. Is that the case here?

Because at first that's what it seemed like you were doing - taking a major world religion and more or less equating it to one of the most murderous and vilified political movements in recent times - but then you said,
If I see a fan of death metal or some such, wearing a swastika, I don't leap to the conclusion that they're supporters of Naziism. When I see a headscarf, I don't leap to the conclusion that it represents radical Islam. And in neither case do I look askance at them. Not my cup of tea, but to each his own - I support everyone's right to express themselves.
Which sounds like liberal accommodationism to me. So to clear up any confusion - when you see a woman wearing a hijab on the streets of Los Angeles, do you truly believe it is reasonable to assume that this indicates that she supports murderous anti-Semitism, misogyny, and/or homophobia? I'd like to find out where you really stand here, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.
posted by skoosh at 1:03 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


[few comments removed - at the point at which you are quoting the words under the comment box to people - you need to go to metatalk or step away. This needs to end here. thank you. ]
posted by jessamyn at 1:12 PM on May 30, 2010


VikingSword, it's hard to see your argument as anything other than an attempt to equate Islam with Nazism, despite your many qualifier escape clauses, such as "to each his own," "repressive strains of Islam," "murderous anti-Semitism" and so on. Doing anything is open to interpretation by others, but your "argument" seems rooted more in joy from equating Islam with Nazism than anything actually called for in this thread.

When you dismiss my qualifiers, you are doing so precisely so that you can mischaracterize my argument. That's disingenuous. I put the qualifiers precisely to make my argument more clear. Sorry that it spoils the design of the strawman you want to erect.

And I do not think that all Islam is monolithic - anymore than all Christianity is, or any other religion. So no, I do NOT wish to equate Naziism with Islam. I have defended Islam many times here in the blue from unfair attacks (honor killings etc.), or stupid laws (Switzerland thread, Canada thread etc.). Islam has a long history and many strains. Most of the history of Islam is quite benign (Islamic countries were far more liberal compared to Christian ones for much of history). And most strains of Islam are quite benign (as you point out, it was so in Yugoslavia and so many other countries). So please to not burlesque my argument.

It would however be a lie to say that there do not exist societies which use Islam (their interpretation) to erect incredibly oppressive societies where women's rights are violently repressed, where gay people are murdered just for being gay, societies which are totalitarian in their control.

My point was not Islam=Naziism. My point was that some symbols can have a painful history to many people and cause controversy, even if that is not inherent in the symbols themselves. Even in this very thread we had examples of people fleeing from repressive Islamic societies being offended by women here adopting the hijab or burka. It's painful the same way someone else may react to the swastika.

I'll have more on this later (have to run now). But the analogy is very apt indeed, and I think very useful to examine. How a symbol might hurt or agitate, even if the wearer doesn't always mean it that way.
posted by VikingSword at 1:14 PM on May 30, 2010


The hijab is a topic unto itself already - without it being unecessarily confused by other topics- either marginally, or reaching.
posted by marimeko at 1:22 PM on May 30, 2010


I also just came back from Eastern Turkey, and in the villages the headscarf was one element of much more elaborate dress for women. Some villages they dressed in heavy cloth like babushkas (above), in others they looked more Indian with flowing colorful wraps. The color and fabric of the scarves told you tribe, sect, origin - it was far more than just an "Islamic thing."

There certainly was a lot of sexual inequality in the countryside. That doesn't make the scarf a symbol or result of that inequality.
posted by kanewai at 1:24 PM on May 30, 2010


If you have to put that many qualifiers in, it's maybe not such a good analogy.
posted by rtha at 1:40 PM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


In Muslim culture, it just so happens that a woman's hair goes along the same lines as her bosom.

In Romani culture, a woman's breasts are seen as functional, not sexual, and thus no big deal. But exposed knees, on the other hand . . . watch out!

It may somewhat archaic to save one's hair for one's true love, but it's a long-standing cultural expression of modesty in many Islamic lands which bears comparisons with religious tradition in Judaism and even with those Baptist church ladies I see in restaurants at Sunday brunch in their big colorful hats. When I first came to America, I wore quite short skirts, which is the norm in Sarajevo (and much of the Slavic world), particularly if a girl is fairly tall and has nice legs. No one thinks anything of it. I quickly learned that in America, such apparel has sexual overtones that seemed insanely repressive and backward to me.

There's a kind of a problem with the West - perspective is shaped entirely by the West. Whereas in the rest of the world, differing local customs and perspectives intermingle with those which are hegemonous in the West. I suppose this is why many people here just don't understand the hijab et al.

As far as I know, MXJ1983 and I are the only Muslims who've posted here on this subject. I've never covered myself, but it's interesting to read how similar MXJ1983's experiences - which contradict a lot of the paranoid "oppression" talk here - are to many women I know who've covered themselves. I want to think sallybrown, Hildegarde, forktine and MaiaMadness (among others) for their great, well-reasoned and insightful comments.

I would rather hear an argument for hijabi - the modern, feminist, anti-objectification argument - from a Muslim woman than a man with bad teeth.

I think you heard it from MJX1983, actually. Wearing the hijab has pros and cons. Not wearing the hijab has pros and cons. It's the fundamentality of "choice" which is the crux of feminism. And from a female Muslim perspective, I can understand why the removal of the right to cover oneself - as proposed in many Western countries, local governments and school districts - is seen as oppressive. It is oppressive! It means that women may be forced into choices which in their cultural traditions are seen as licentious or immodest or simply uncomfortable. About the only way to justify such a thing is to maintain that "it's for their own good." Isn't that the same old line?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:43 PM on May 30, 2010 [11 favorites]


Even in this very thread we had examples of people fleeing from repressive Islamic societies being offended by women here adopting the hijab or burka. It's painful the same way someone else may react to the swastika.
You mean like in this comment from Hildegarde? The one where she doesn't mention swastikas or Nazis, and therefore does not obscure her point by dropping a Godwin bomb in the thread? I will respectfully submit that, even for the Iranian couple that Hildegarde mentions in her comment, who escaped a violent totalitarian Islamist theocracy, seeing a girl wearing the hijab is probably not actually as painful as it is for someone whose neighbors and family members were rounded up and murdered by the Nazis to see someone with a swastika tattoo.

I do not believe this analogy is apt, and I very strongly disagree with the notion that it is "very useful to examine" it, because an "X is like the Nazis" analogy is a very large, blunt instrument that ends up pulverizing whatever nuanced argument you might have been trying to make. Can you see where languagehat, Dee Xtrovert, and I are coming from in that regard?
posted by skoosh at 1:50 PM on May 30, 2010


My point was that some symbols can have a painful history to many people and cause controversy, even if that is not inherent in the symbols themselves. Even in this very thread we had examples of people fleeing from repressive Islamic societies being offended by women here adopting the hijab or burka.

Is this what people object to though? They are concerned that someone freely choosing to wear a headscarf in the USA or Europe might offend someone else for whom a headscarf represents something different? A vicarious concern for a vaguely defined set of people with a specific experience regarding headscarves? I'd suggest you compare the headscarf to people wearing a keffiyeh or army fatigues or camouflage rather than the swastika.

And yes, for what it's worth I do generally make the assumption about people when I see the swastika. In Canada, the swastika is a universally recognized symbol for the Nazis. It gets displayed by racists and spray-painted in the night on synagogues by anti-semites and neo-Nazis to intimidate and offend through a direct reference to the Nazis and the holocaust. Whatever political point someone might think they are making by wearing a death metal t-shirt, it is lost on me because they are making it by wearing a death metal t-shirt.
posted by Kirk Grim at 1:50 PM on May 30, 2010


And rtha, who put it much more succinctly than I could.
posted by skoosh at 1:52 PM on May 30, 2010


I'm actually kind of surprised nobody has brought up the muhajababe phenomenon in this thread yet.
posted by NoMich at 2:02 PM on May 30, 2010


And yet, MaiaMadness, you don't speculate that this girl might be giving in to peer pressure too? The article is disappointing in that it doesn't give us the girl's perspective, OR her father's.

I can't see the hijab as anything but a symbol of oppression for women.


Well, who are you to decide?

From the mother's description, it sounded very much like the girl made that choice rather uninfluenced by anything but her own wishes, though of course, as you say, we didn't hear from the girl or her dad.

That said, I'd be pretty daft if I based my entire opinion on a subject on one article online. I went to a school as a child with a high Muslim population, grew up with Muslim neighbours and have known countless Muslim families growing up. My opinions are based on experience.

I was impressed when I marched on the International Women's Day this year and a group of Muslim women waved banners saying, "Why should I not have the choice to wear my hijab if I like?" (Or something like that; don't remember the exact phrase they used.)
posted by MaiaMadness at 3:05 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm probably the only person in the world who thinks that the hijab is sexy.

Chalk up another one here. Iranian women, in particular, know how to rock it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:26 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


For the record, I'm quite well acquainted with the metal scene, and using a swastika there means pretty much the same thing that it does everywhere else in the Western world. Someone who's wearing a band shirt with a swastika is either a neo-Nazi, or for whatever reason doesn't care that they're wearing the shirt of a neo-Nazi band. It's not the case that swastikas in general have some different meaning in the metal scene- one isn't likely to see them used there outside of NSBM, where they mean exactly what they are generally associated with. But NSBM is, fortunately, a fringe.

I'm in agreement with most everyone else that the swastika/hijab analogy is a very bad one, anyway- even leaving aside the obviously problematic nature of comparing Islam and Nazism, the association of the hijab and Islamic fundamentalism is nowhere close to being as strong as the association of the swastika and Nazism. The analogy might work better, though it's still problematic, if it were compared to Nordic runes, which are often a part of far-right symbolism but which are far less tainted by it than the swastika, and which are commonly used- particularly in the metal world, in fact- without implying far-right politics. Even then, there's a considerable difference between a subculture and a major world religion.

In any case, I feel that if a symbol has potentially negative associations, the best way to combat those associations is to not to eschew the symbol and treat it as something wicked and forbidden, but to use it in a way that rejects those associations. (Up to a point, anyway- swastikas in the West are too far gone, in terms of negative baggage, but really there's very little else that carries that degree of negative association.) Being neither Muslim nor a woman, I don't know that my opinion means much here, but it seems to me that to wear the hijab in the West without being an Islamic fundamentalist is something that in a small way strikes a blow against both Islamic fundamentalism (how happy do you think the average Taliban type would be about what these pictures imply, for example?) and Western bigotry, as well as the particular form much Western sexism takes. (We don't tend to take our form of it to the same extremes as it often is in the Muslim world, which may make the ideas behind it seem more benign, but "women should be on display for men" is not any better than "women should cover themselves so they don't tempt men.") Does the hijab carry patriarchal cultural baggage? Yes, but so do bikinis, miniskirts and makeup, and to reduce these things to nothing but that negative cultural baggage, and then to be judgmental of women wearing them on those grounds, is something that doesn't fix the problem- rather, it perpetuates it.
posted by a louis wain cat at 4:48 PM on May 30, 2010


krinklyfig: "The only problem is it does nothing to address that particular issue in practice, because it's not a choice women as a whole made to deal with the issue. [...] Moreover, it does nothing to encourage men to behave like fellow human beings to women. If it did, I think we would at least see different outcomes for women in some of the societies which utilize it."

Sorry, I missed the memo explaining that I had to do that when getting dressed in the morning. Because, honestly? I find it hard enough organising breakfast at that time of day. If I have to liaise with every woman on the planet and come up with an outfit that can positively influence the behaviour of every man on the planet... Well, I'm not saying it's impossible, but my phone bill will be huge and I'm definitely going to be late for work.

All of which is to say that while I appreciate the many guys who drop into threads like these to rail against misogyny, it would be so much cooler if they directed their energies towards the original perpetrators of that misogyny rather than trying to persuade women to stop wearing hijabs.
posted by the latin mouse at 4:49 PM on May 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm probably the only person in the world who thinks that the hijab is sexy.

The other day, here in New York, I saw a girl wearing a hijab and a bulky, jockish looking white guy holding hands and getting all moony-eyed at eachother. FWIW. And I see young women in hijabs hanging with non-hijab-wearing friends all the time.

This means..well, that people get used to things, that after awhile, a hijab becomes no more exotic than a rosary or a yarmulke.
posted by jonmc at 4:50 PM on May 30, 2010


It may somewhat archaic to save one's hair for one's true love, but it's a long-standing cultural expression of modesty in many Islamic lands which bears comparisons with religious tradition in Judaism and even with those Baptist church ladies I see in restaurants at Sunday brunch in their big colorful hats.

The very same cultural expression of modesty applies in India, as well. Although you will see Indian women's hair reasonably commonly, around strangers or in public they will often modestly cover it up with the end of their sari, or with the shawl that's an intrinsic part of a shalwar kameez outfit.

And you will absolutely never see it worn loose in public; always in a plait. Loose hair is a private thing, for washing and presumably for the bedroom.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:01 PM on May 30, 2010


Wearing a hijab (or burka) is quite controversial for many people here in the West (not all people obviously). That's a fact. An undeniable fact. As is the swastika. Why? In the case of the swastika it's - Naziism. In the case of the hijab it's the fact that it's origin is religious and for many in the West, an abomination as it is seen as proscribing "modesty" to a woman as a way of enforcing oppressive patriarchy. And it is undeniably true, that there are strains of Islam where the hijab is a tool of oppression and not a choice at all - in countries where the oppression of women is on a scale that causes outrage here in the West. That's undeniable. It's undeniable that the part of the meaning of the hijab in the West is "oppression of women", just as part of the meaning of a swastika is "Nazis used it". Yes, we know that Native Americans used the swastika as a design element and you can wear it as a way of claiming that, or reclaiming the meaning of it from political radicals, or a fashion statement or whatever. Just as yes, we know, you can wear a hijab as "as a design element and you can wear it as a way of claiming that, or reclaiming the meaning of it from religious/political radicals, or a fashion statement or whatever". But don't be surprised if it is controversial. If you wear a swastika or a hijab, you necessarily take on the meaning of the symbol in all its complexity. That's rather different than wearing a Hello Kitty design. It doesn't mean that you don't have a right to do so, or that you may not have all sorts of benign (or not) reasons, but it's disingenuous to say: gee, a hijab (swastika) is just a fashion statement, or design element, or x, y, z. It's not - and that's a historical fact and current day reality. Now, symbols are not static, they occur in context and are subject to change, can be re-defined etc., but that's something of a process. For now, wearing either is going to be controversial in some places and for some people (and countries - see France, where both are under legal pressure). Personally as I stressed, I'm for freedom for anyone to wear anything they want (and neither do I leap to any conclusions just because someone wears a hijab). But I think that it is actually a very good analogy and quite illuminating to see the hijab and swastika as symbols that may mean different things to different people, cause outrage or be seen as a way of reclaiming a symbol, a political statement or personal preference asserted etc.
posted by VikingSword at 5:46 PM on May 30, 2010


A swastika is too pre-loaded with negative meaning to be a good analogy.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:18 PM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


A swastika is too pre-loaded with negative meaning to be a good analogy.

I think quite the opposite - it's extremely useful. It's a great way of seeing how something that in many parts of the world is seen as utterly benign, can be seen as a symbol of terrible oppression.

Wikipedia: " Archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates from the Neolithic period in Ancient India. It occurs mainly in the modern day culture of India, sometimes as a geometrical motif and sometimes as a religious symbol. It remains widely used in Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Though once commonly used all over much of the world without stigma, because of its iconic usage as Hakenkreuz in Nazi Germany the symbol has become stigmatized in the Western world, notably even outlawed in Germany."

Note, how the swastika is "widely used in Indian religions" still today. Yet here, in the West, "though once commonly used all over much of the world without stigma, because of its iconic usage as Hakenkreuz in Nazi Germany the symbol has become stigmatized in the Western world, notably even outlawed in Germany."

Now the hijab - though widely used in many parts of the world without stigma, because of its iconic usage as a tool of oppression in countries such as Saudi Arabia the hijab has become stigmatized in the Western world, notably even on the verge of being outlawed in France.

I think it very illuminating indeed. The parallels are uncanny.
posted by VikingSword at 6:30 PM on May 30, 2010


So to clear up any confusion - when you see a woman wearing a hijab on the streets of Los Angeles, do you truly believe it is reasonable to assume that this indicates that she supports murderous anti-Semitism, misogyny, and/or homophobia? I'd like to find out where you really stand here, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

Sorry, didn't see that. If I see someone in a hijab, I think to myself: this person might wear this for any number of reasons. End of story. As to what reasons? The gamut. Religious (and the spectrum is from utterly benign to deeply oppressive), cultural, identity, political, practical, fashion and on and on.
posted by VikingSword at 6:39 PM on May 30, 2010


It's a little disturbing to me how quickly people jump to the conclusion that any woman choosing to wear hijab -- which could mean a lot of different things under the category "modest dress", not just the burqa or niqab -- must be brainwashed or an oppressed victim. It seems to fit into a wider narrative in which Islam is somehow a problematic religion -- if not inherently violent or dangerous -- which must be carefully moderated if its adherents are to be "assimilated" into western countries.

As some of the comments in this thread have shown, wearing hijab is not a static practice and in different contexts it has meant different things. I don't want to idealise wearing hijab and don't think anyone should be forced to wear it, but slamming it entirely, and denying Islamic women the agency to choose for themselves whether to wear it, seems a little odd.

This could be a handwavey generalisation, but it's perhaps also a little hard for people from individualistic countries in the West to understand why someone would want to express publicly their connection with a shared identity and community (I mean, I guess you're expressing a shared identity if you're wearing an xkcd t shirt, but I don't think it's quite the same thing.)

tl;dr: having spoken to smart, independent girls who wear headscarfs I would feel like the most ignorant jerk in the world if I explained to them how oppressed they were because of wearing it. They know more about it than I do, imho.

This is one of the most thought-provoking articles I have read about feminism and Muslim women recently. Frome the abstract: "In the post-9/11 United States, there has been a great deal of anxiety surrounding Muslims and their assimilability in Liberal democracies. Part of the debate has focused on the identity of Muslim men and women both locally and globally. This Article examines the production of Muslim masculinity as dangerous and violently patriarchal, the co-production of Muslim women as victims of Muslim men and Islam, and the use of law to contain the former while rescuing the latter and to legitimate these actions." [via feminist law professors]
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 7:11 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Note, how the swastika is "widely used in Indian religions" still today. Yet here, in the West, "though once commonly used all over much of the world without stigma, because of its iconic usage as Hakenkreuz in Nazi Germany the symbol has become stigmatized in the Western world, notably even outlawed in Germany.

Yes, and something resembling a reverse image of the swastika is used in Japan as well for Shinto shrines or something. But when I saw it on a sign in a very old country with a history and culture quite different than my own, I assumed it could have a different meaning than it did back home and wasn't a sign to tell me where the nearest chapter of the Japanese Nazi Society was.

A headscarf, to my knowledge, has no specific symbolic value as representing a tool of repression against women in history of the Western world. It does not have the symbolic meaning you attribute to it unless you're predisposed to assuming those things about Muslims already.
posted by Kirk Grim at 7:14 PM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Obviously, the hijab (and its brethren, the niqab and burqa) is not worn in a perfect world of free will and choice.

I don't think that, in a multicultural society, you can equate a hijab with more obscuring garments like the niqab and burqa; covering one's head and obscuring the entire body are quite different in effect. But as for free will and choice and what gendered clothing means, I legally cannot go without a shirt on a summer day, but men can. Is the United States an oppressive society without free will and choice?

I don't particularly agree with the Muslim philosophy of propriety being the woman's burden through modesty, but I don't think it's fundamentally very different from how my mother and grandmother were raised. Hell, it's not a foreign concept to me, either.
posted by desuetude at 8:18 PM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


A headscarf, to my knowledge, has no specific symbolic value as representing a tool of repression against women in history of the Western world.

This is why I think it's so germane. Look at France. Clearly a lot of people feel very strongly about both, or there would be no laws or no laws proposed to ban or restrict its expression. It's not a question of just what a given nation experienced historically, but also about the knowledge or association of some symbols with certain practices. It's unquestionable that certain strains of Islam are in the minds of many in France with the oppression of women - regardless of where it actually occurs. Those people see it as anti-women, as forced upon women, in f.ex. Saudi Arabia - the hijab is a symbol and part of the cultural and identity discourse in the country. And they apparently find it so deeply inimical that they propose to ban girls from wearing a hijab at public schools. Conversely, Sweden (or Mexico) has had no direct experience of the Nazis like the French, but a swastika still evokes a visceral reaction (as does the hijab for some).

Obviously, I disagree - I don't believe the hijab poses any kind of threat, and the law is stupid, discriminatory and counterproductive. But it's not a small or minor issue! If it were, you wouldn't have anyone try to pass laws about it... equally, regarding Nazi symbols - these are not minor issues, or laws would not be passed - even though, in truth, there is zero danger that actually Nazis will come to power in France (or Germany for that matter). This therefore, is highly illustrative to me.
posted by VikingSword at 8:45 PM on May 30, 2010


(That said, I am, despite all my desire to respect other cultures, really quite uncomfortable with niqab and the other various more-obscuring modes of dress.)
posted by desuetude at 8:47 PM on May 30, 2010


VikingSword, its still a tremendously false equivalency.

France is trying to judge how oppressive the customs of a not-fully-assimilated culture are to Official French Identity. This is a pretty hugely complicated and delicate issue, especially given the mixed messages regarding Algerian/French identity.

Banning the swastika is an effort to suppress hate speech from within the native culture of certain European countries.

A fairer comparison to the hijab controversy in France would be the outrage touchstone of the "Press 1 for English" option when dialing customer service.
posted by desuetude at 8:55 PM on May 30, 2010


(That said, I am, despite all my desire to respect other cultures, really quite uncomfortable with niqab and the other various more-obscuring modes of dress.)

That is understandable, albeit problematic. And I'm not really sure where I come down on that front. (e.g., do we require women wearing the niqab to uncover for driver's license photos?)

But on-topic, it's a bit of a leap from the hijab to the niqab.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:00 PM on May 30, 2010


I disagree desuetude. It's not just integration - otherwise like "speak only english" it would be "wear only Catholic symbols like us". It's quite clearly, "this is not what we are about - Nazis 'certain races are inferior' and radical Islam "women are inferior" - they don't want either. It's deep discrimination based on unalterable characteristics (race and gender respectively). This is not at all like "press 1 for english".
posted by VikingSword at 9:07 PM on May 30, 2010


I don't particularly agree with the Muslim philosophy of propriety being the woman's burden through modesty, but I don't think it's fundamentally very different from how my mother and grandmother were raised. Hell, it's not a foreign concept to me, either.

I want to say (yet again) that this so-called "Muslim philosophy" has - and has always had - much more to do with local customs than anything else. The Koran says that women should dress modestly and not much more, and this same sort of thing can be interpreted from holy books in many other religions as well. In my Muslim country, religious women would (and frequently do) scoff at any assertion that women bear some special burden in this regard, at least no more than women do anywhere else.

Unlike many other faiths, one central idea behind Islam is that it's you and Allah, period. Mohammed was the nice guy who introduced you, metaphorically speaking. The idea that there's a central hierarchy or someone you can't simply ignore if you want and still be happily Muslim doesn't exist. Imams exist, but their role isn't to preach as much as it is to lead mass prayer and perform certain functions (like circumcision and funeral rites) and thus their role, generally speaking, is more benign than that of a Luthern minister. People - especially the poor, uneducated and those from more isolated or closed societies - do sometimes give a lot of power to ayatollahs and teachers and whatnot, but that's cultural and not really enshrined in "gospel."

I'd be the first to say that Arab cultures tend (though there's variance) to be pretty oppressive of women. Again, that's cultural. I could also make the argument that in other, non-Arab but still Muslim cultures, women are better off in many ways than they are even in America in ways that even Americans can appreciate. I'd fully support very harsh criticism against "typical" Arab culture, or Afghani culture or something . . . but it's rarely put this way. It's always "Muslim" culture.

VikingSword's rather hamfisted and pointless "analogy" provides other reasons for dismay. When he writes . . .

In the case of the hijab it's the fact that it's origin is religious and for many in the West, an abomination as it is seen as proscribing "modesty" to a woman as a way of enforcing oppressive patriarchy.

. . . I tend to wilt. For one, his wild inaccuracy here (excusing his self-proclaimed "fact" status of the same) is that the hijab has a religious origin. That's simply not true; it existed long before the birth of Islam. So already, he is perpetuating a false stereotype that furthers the idea of Islam as an originator of this form of oppression. (I'd argue that this was his goal all along, to equate Nazism with Islam, because frankly I don't think that anyone is really so naive as to really believe that is anything but a fairly bigoted and alarmist equation.)

But more importantly, most women who cover themselves are comfortable doing so - especially in the West. Oppression exists, surely. But if Westerners see it as a sign of oppression, then they're often wrong and presumably ignorant of the feelings of the women involved. This is a far cry from swastikas in the West - seeing a fellow bounding down the street with a Nazi armband will cause people to make a pretty accurate assumption about his beliefs.

I have one great Indian friend, Shikha. She and her husband have lived in America for six years. I called them to ask about swastikas - they're both Hindu. What do you think when you see a swastika, I asked them. "Nazis!" screamed Shikha. What about its use as a religious symbol in Eastern religions? "We think like you. That's a different thing," said her husband, "do you think of Jesus every time you order catfish? We have war novels with swastikas on them and German spies in our films too. The swastika is scary for us, too!"
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:07 PM on May 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's quite clearly, "this is not what we are about - Nazis 'certain races are inferior' and radical Islam "women are inferior" - they don't want either.

If I recall correctly, the stated reason for the French ban on the veil within schools was not to make a stand for the downtrodden women. It was to reduce highly visible markers of difference, that could otherwise create schisms & conflict within the school community - and especially schisms that make people appear to be defiantly "non-French", whatever that might mean.

Like a lot of old Europe, France is trying to cope with the tensions that arise when there is a large influx of migrants from culturally dissimilar lands, and history shows that such rapid changes in the fabric of society typically come with a level of dischord, if not outright violence.

The French response in this case is to at least try to make the differences less visible, less of an identifier that might polarise people into different camps. Personally, I think it has a large element of sticking their collective heads in the sand & hoping that ethnic tensions will go away, but it has little to do with any kind of government judgement that hijab is generically anti-female & needs to be suppressed for human rights reasons.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:43 PM on May 30, 2010


I personally know at least a dozen women who have chosen to wear a hijab after growing up just wearing it for prayers and the Eid holidays. One of them, my wife, makes $150k a year and has far more choice in life than most of the people who spout OMG OPPRESSION. You don't understand it, fine. Move on and work on yourself instead of projecting your own sideways conclusions on matters.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:01 PM on May 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I want to say (yet again) that this so-called "Muslim philosophy" has - and has always had - much more to do with local customs than anything else.

Yeah, sorry, my words there were a little needlessly simplistic for this thread.

I disagree desuetude. It's not just integration - otherwise like "speak only english" it would be "wear only Catholic symbols like us". It's quite clearly, "this is not what we are about - Nazis 'certain races are inferior' and radical Islam "women are inferior" - they don't want either. It's deep discrimination based on unalterable characteristics (race and gender respectively). This is not at all like "press 1 for english".

I don't know how much interest you have concerning the specific cultural situation in France, but you're way off base here. France is not interested in making everyone Catholic -- quite the opposite. Religious expression is considered highly personal, and the laws favor an official policy of secularism.

The opposition to swastikas is because they are considered a form of hate speech. They don't "do" anything except broadcast an agenda. Nations which ban the swastika are not dignifying the specific beliefs of the Nazis regarding the inferiority of Jews (and gays and Catholics and the disabled) with a response. Use of the swastika is not a nuanced cultural issue.

The reaction against the hijab in Western countries IS a nuanced cultural issue. As I stated above, this level of modesty is not extreme or shocking or even particularly foreign. My elder Catholic relatives were expected to cover their heads and shoulders before walking into a church, I believe this is still the practice in Italy, yes? But because hijab seems superficially "foreign," it elicits a gut reaction disproportionate to logic. It is not the political statement that it is made out to be.

So much so that wearing a sort of mobius-strip design of neckscarf/headscarf against the winter chill made one of my relatives wonder aloud if I was concerned that someone would think I was a Muslim. C'mon, people. Calm down.
posted by desuetude at 10:33 PM on May 30, 2010


UbuRoivas: "The French response in this case is to at least try to make the differences less visible"

Oh, it definitely made the differences less visible.

As a result of the ban, four in five girls removed their headscarf in schools and one in five girls was removed from school. Some of them now study at home, some were sent to foreign boarding schools and some vanished from the system entirely. (And it's hard to get "less visible" than that! Mission accomplished!)

The French parliament has since then recommended a ban on women being allowed to access services outside the home (public transport, hospitals, etc) unless they comply with the government's rulings on Islamic dress.

The National Assembly apparently sees nothing ironic in this.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:09 PM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Am I the only one who read that France has a partial ban on the burka and not the hijab?

Compare and contrast. burka, hijab. One covers the entire face, the other does not.
posted by dabitch at 11:26 PM on May 30, 2010


When I was googling for a nice hijab photo, I found this page. "Hijab in islam, Why Hijab is necessary?"
Speechless
posted by dabitch at 11:33 PM on May 30, 2010


Two different laws, dabitch.

The first part of my comment referenced the law banning hijabs in French schools, which dates from 2004. The second part referenced the resolution on adult women wearing burqas and niqabs, which dates from January 2010. That's the one where it was recommended adult women be banned from public services unless they unveiled.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:37 PM on May 30, 2010


Oh. I guess I misunderstood then. The first law bans religious symbols in schools (including turbans, etc), and the second one outlaws covering your face where you need to show it to be identified (public transport has photo passes for example).
posted by dabitch at 11:55 PM on May 30, 2010


I don't know how much interest you have concerning the specific cultural situation in France, but you're way off base here. France is not interested in making everyone Catholic -- quite the opposite. Religious expression is considered highly personal, and the laws favor an official policy of secularism.

As a huge Francophile and someone who has many contacts with France, I'm well aware of the fact that France is not interested in making everyone Catholic... that was my point. What I said was that IF they were interested in simply forcing everyone to be like the equivalent of "english only" it would be "become Catholic like us" - since they clearly say no such thing, it's NOT equivalent to "press 1 for english".

Speaking of hamfisted, apologetics along the lines of "no true Scotsman" are particularly unconvincing. The always handy "it's not true Islam/Christianity/X, it's cultural" pops up, as if one could ever really separate culture from religion anyway. By that definition, "real" religion X never exists, because it's always practiced within a cultural context anyhow - there's no such thing as "the one pure abstract religion X". So the hijab and burka get to NOT be Islam, because that's "culture" - a load of bollocks. That's the reason why it's better to acknowledge (as I did) that no religion is monolithic and there are many strains. Just because one strain has a certain practice (which may have had specific cultural origins) absent in others doesn't make it not-Islam (or not-X) - it makes it Islam (or X) in that particular version. This applies particularly to cases like the hijab, or headcovering which appears across many different cultures - from Iran, through the Arab world and into Afghanistan and beyond. When something is that prevalent, and that promoted by various local religious authorities who all claim religious grounds for it - guess what... it IS a given strain of that religion. As in saying "the hijab is a feature of SOME strains of Islam", and can be anywhere from compulsory oppressive to completely benign and voluntary.

Ultimately, it's not about what originated how, as being the "authentic" part of a given religion. All religions borrowed from somewhere else. If we disallowed that, one can throw the bible right away because many stories from it can be traced to earlier stories from Mesopotamia. So it matters less if the hijab came about through religion originally from ancient times as claimed by people tasked with presenting women and Islam for the American audience (Voices From The American Muslim Community): "The origin of hijab, women’s head and body covering, dates back to ancient times and the teachings of the Qur'an", what matters is how it is perceived and practiced today. If a woman is savagely beaten in Iran (or elsewhere) for not wearing a hijab, and the justification is given as punishing unIslamic behavior, an explanation accepted by a big part of a given population, then that's the reality of that particular strain of that religion - at that point nattering on about how the hijab back way back when was something else etc., is of no relevance to the situation - it becomes a de-facto practice.

And the fact is, that the hijab can be many things - as enumerated countless times (even purely fashion) - which also includes a strain of repressive Islam that uses it as a tool of monstrous oppression. As a symbol then, it is complex, and depends on the context. It can be controversial - like other controversial symbols. Denying that reality is as distorting as claiming that it can only be a symbol of repression.
posted by VikingSword at 12:08 AM on May 31, 2010


A swastika is too pre-loaded with negative meaning to be a good analogy.

Tell that to the Master of the Flying Guillotine.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:17 AM on May 31, 2010


Ultimately, it's not about what originated how, as being the "authentic" part of a given religion. All religions borrowed from somewhere else.

I think it's pretty obvious at this point that your knowledge of Islam and (lack of) logic is entirely based on little bits and pieces of what you scrape up from Wikipedia or other websites. Holistically, you just don't seem to get it, which is why your "argument" wobbles all over the place (you're the one who brought up the "fact" about the origin of hijab only to now claim "it's not about what originated how"), relies on really quite a lot of very, very undeniable qualifiers and essentially ignores any evidence which might contradict weak conclusions. I know it's tough to adequately defend a crap argument, but gee whiz. I notice in your last post you're reduced simply to saying that the hijab "can be controversial." No one's denied that, and frankly, we all read the papers, so it's hardly news. Was your point that both the swastika and hijab are "controversial?" If so, your work is worthy of an "A" as a sixth-grade theme. Beyond that, it's weak, obvious and still pretty wonky. But I wish you good luck in middle school! ;)

Anyhow, you have it quite backwards. In the case of Islam and the hijab, it wasn't religion which "borrowed" from somewhere else. Women wore the hijab (or things which were basically the same, and also even more restrictive clothing) long before Islam. That was the way it was in certain areas. When Islam came along, these cultures continued these practices, but over time, Islam was simply used as the justification for doing so. What really happened is that societies in which women had always worn this sort of clothing "borrowed" Islam, not the other way around. That's why it's a cultural thing - the culture practice predated the religious rationale. This also explains why, in many places where Islam has been the dominant religion for centuries, these practices are pretty unknown.

To be a Muslim, one need only follow five basic beliefs:

1) To believe and declare that "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet."
2) To pray five times daily.
3) To give to charity / help those in need.
4) To fast at certain times.
5) To make a pilgrimage to Mecca, if one is physically and financially able to do so.

This is "pure" Islam. That's all you have to do. Nothing more. Many do only these things and are "good" Muslims. Notice you don't have to answer to anyone (except Allah!) Notice there is no human above you with "superior" knowledge or with a more direct contact to God. Notice, most importantly, that these five things can be easily done without much doctrinal confusion, and so yes - contrary to what you believe - it's pretty much a "pure abstract religion" until one starts adding on various cultural elements. In Saudi Arabia, they pile them on - cultural relics from pre-Islamic times. In Bosnia, not so much. What we've added to the five pillars and consider "religious" in nature are primarily food and wedding traditions - fun and free from dogma. (Though most Bosnians would agree, if pressed, that these aren't religious practices, but cultural ones.) Most of what you claim is "part" of Islam is totally alien to the Islam where I am from. In other religions, such as Catholicism, require not only a similar simple set of beliefs (faith in God, acceptance of Jesus as the saviour, etc), but add on - as doctrine, obedience to which is a requirement to be a member of the Church - quite a lot of other things beyond them which are not cultural, at least not in the beginning. There are divisions within Islam, of course, which complicate things via added specific (and complicated) beliefs, but most Muslims (outside certain areas) don't get too nit-picky about these. Except, ironically, in some of the more repressive areas - like Iran and Saudi Arabia. I'd argue that the reason these places tend to create "altered" and more rigidly dogmatic forms of Islam is simply to allow for the inclusion of pre-Islamic traditions into the "popular" religion. Generally, this is bad news.

So why not refer to those "SOME strains of Islam" by their actual names? I've bothered to learn the fundamental differences between Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christianity, and many smaller divisions too - Baptists, Lutherans, Jews For Jesus, etc. And because I don't want to sound like a moron, I don't discuss how "Christians handle snakes," because like the Muslim practices of dress addressed here, I realize that snake-handling is an activity of a minority of the religion's adherents. Consequently, I say that snake-handling is done by (some) members of Pentecostal churches. It's true and accurate and offends no one, because it's true and accurate. That you refer simply (and often inaccurately) to certain practices as being part of "Islam" shows either laziness on your part, or that your real concern here is furthering the notion that these local practices are part and parcel of all of Islam, rather than just part of (say) Wahhabism. I'm sure you could look these specific terms up on Wikipedia; it would certainly help a little bit in making you sound like you have some idea of what you're talking about. I wouldn't dream of discussing Christianity without an understanding of these parallel sorts of terms, but I'm also a little shy about coming across as ignorant.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:18 AM on May 31, 2010 [12 favorites]


Wow, ok.

The reason I included the other links was because I thought they exemplified the generally low to mediocre caliber of discussion about the Hijab on the web, not because I felt like I HAD to include other links. And that Bremer's article was refreshing. That she didn't get into an exposition of how her husband and his family play into all of this was something that I noticed, but didn't think much of, given her early statement in the article that they had agreed together to let the daughter make her choices.

I, too, would like to see an update later.

It is not terribly unusual for nine-year-old girls to wear the hijab, although it always makes me uncomfortable when I see it (whether in Pakistan, the Arab world, the US, or indeed, anywhere else.)

As many commenters have pointed out, the reasons for a woman wearing the hijab are many and varied. In fact, the original link was pointed out to me by a cousin (in her 30s) who was born and raised in the US, and didn't start wearing the hijab until a few years ago.

There's a tremendous debate in the Muslim community about the hijab. In terms of whether it's actually required, under what circumstances it might be required, and why.

Most of the women I know in both Pakistan and the US wear the hijab by choice, not because they are required to. In many many cases, one sister does, another doesn't. But that doesn't change the fact that most of the Muslim women in most of the Muslim world wear it as a matter of social expectation, whether they want to or not.

For what it's worth, I didn't read VikingSword's original comment as in anyway equating Islam with Nazism, or Muslims with Nazis. I read it, even in the initial comment, as what he explained himself to mean, i.e. that symbols can have fraught histories, that the viewers' reactions are not necessarily a response to the wearer's actual intentions at all. Moreover, I read it as "look at this much more extreme example that we tolerate. Why should we therefore be less tolerant of something that is much less offensive?" I respect that this might be just my reading, and not his intention, or how it came across to other readers.

That said, I've always taught my debaters, even in Pakistan, not to use Hitler or the Nazis as an example, because it just short circuits everyone's brains and the audience is not liable to listen to anything else in the argument thereafter.

Other comments in this thread make me wonder whether the hijab has actually taken on that kind of character as well. i.e. for many people, is their visceral reaction to the hijab enough for them to be unable to have rational discourse thereafter?
posted by bardophile at 3:43 AM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


desuetude: Is it appropriate for a nine-year-old girl to wear a garment that is intended for adult women?

When I volunteered in a first-grade classroom in high school, there were a few little girls (children from the local Eastern African community, I think) who wore a kid-friendly version that basically dropped right onto their head (like a face-revealing balaclava), with no pinning or wrapping to get messed up. So there's at least some amount of cultural variation in when girls start to wear a hijab.
posted by heyforfour at 8:33 AM on May 31, 2010


[...]This is "pure" Islam. That's all you have to do. Nothing more. Many do only these things and are "good" Muslims.[...]

And for others, you must do a great deal more. Contrary to your assertion, there is no such thing as "pure" Islam (or Christianity). Simply because many practicing Muslims (or Christians etc.) don't agree on their interpretation of their holy texts, and their religious scholars differ in their interpretation of their own religion. I'm glad you articulated what it means to be a "good" Muslim in your understanding (which I'm sure is shared by many), but the fact is that interpretations will differ, as they do for Christians. I doubt anyone here would buy that there is one "pure" Christianity, so I don't know why you think anyone would be stupid enough to buy that there is only one "pure" Islam. That's because there isn't. No true Scotsman all over again.

The hijab is interpreted by many in the West as a symbol of oppression. That's because there are strains of Islam (and yes, I've discussed Wahhabism in the blue before) where that reflects reality. And obviously that's not true for all strains. Just because there exist Muslim communities that don't see the hijab as having any part of Islam, does not therefore mean the hijab cannot be seen as a symbol of oppression since that's the reality of how Islam is practiced in other communities. It can be seen as many things, from oppressive to benign - just as the swastika, but quite unlike a Hello Kitty outfit.

For what it's worth, I didn't read VikingSword's original comment as in anyway equating Islam with Nazism, or Muslims with Nazis. I read it, even in the initial comment, as what he explained himself to mean, i.e. that symbols can have fraught histories, that the viewers' reactions are not necessarily a response to the wearer's actual intentions at all. Moreover, I read it as "look at this much more extreme example that we tolerate. Why should we therefore be less tolerant of something that is much less offensive?"

That is exactly correct.
posted by VikingSword at 10:10 AM on May 31, 2010


dabitch: "Oh. I guess I misunderstood then. The first law bans religious symbols in schools (including turbans, etc), and the second one outlaws covering your face where you need to show it to be identified (public transport has photo passes for example)."

As far as I'm aware, being able to identify people was never a reason for the recommended ban. The only justifictions that have been given are a.) the veil oppresses women and b.) the veil erodes the difference between church and state.

I consider this to be bullshit because a.) further restrictions on what women can and can't do is not actually helping with the oppression thing and b.) making people remove visual indicators of their religion before they can ride a train or collect their pension is pushing laïcité to a ridiculous and oppressive extreme.

And the ban on Sikh turbans is actually way douchier that the ban on hijabs, since it's part of a much more central tenet of their religion. It just got less press because France has so many more Muslims than Sikhs.
posted by the latin mouse at 10:12 AM on May 31, 2010


To be a Muslim, one need only follow five basic beliefs:

1) To believe and declare that "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet."
2) To pray five times daily.
3) To give to charity / help those in need.
4) To fast at certain times.
5) To make a pilgrimage to Mecca, if one is physically and financially able to do so.

This is "pure" Islam. That's all you have to do. Nothing more.


I actually think it would be more accurate to say that these are the five beliefs that all Muslims, regardless of ethnic background, geographical location, or sect, agree upon. I have no desire to get into a debate about what other things might be included in being a Muslim, let alone a "good Muslim," but it's certainly true that various groups of Muslims would add significantly to that list. e.g. for many, marrying a non-believer would automatically make you a non-Muslim.

It is frustrating to me, also, that people talk about Islam as a monolithic entity, or with only the vaguest of references to "different groups," "different sects," etc.

It is clear to me as a Muslim, and a feminist, that many Muslim women find the hijab empowering. It is very difficult for me to treat the hijab as something other than an example of how women's clothing always seems to be more carefully dictated than men's, at least in all the societies I've lived in and visited. I do think, though, that Muslim men dress more "modestly" than your average American male does, too. You're really unlikely to see them shirtless in public, for example. And in Pakistan, it's not considered polite for men to go around in shorts. It's not something you see very often. So on the one hand, there's the stricter dress code for women than for men. But on the other hand, there is, in fact, a stricter dress code for Muslim men than the "average Western man."
posted by bardophile at 11:03 AM on May 31, 2010


It is frustrating to me, also, that people talk about Islam as a monolithic entity, or with only the vaguest of references to "different groups," "different sects," etc.

This cannot be repeated enough.

I'm nearing the end of Michael Muhammad Knight's latest book and it's not only about him and how he practices his faith, but also how it's practiced in its many varying forms around the world. It's an excellent read. My favorite part of the book is finding out that Hussein has more than one head. One is in a shrine in Damascus and another is in a shrine in Cairo. Well, not really, his account of his hajj is pretty moving, I just like the fact that more than one shrine claims the head of Hussein.
posted by NoMich at 12:05 PM on May 31, 2010


Seems to me that this is difficult because some people are treating hijab as simply an article of personal clothing -- wear whatever you want, duh! -- but it clearly has a social meaning, actually at least four social meanings that are mixed together in different ways for different people that are impossible to untangle:

1) I'm proud to be Muslim
2) Fuck you Western haterz
3) I adhere to strict modesty and reject decadent sensuality
4) Look at all of us wearing hijab, you're in a (pocket of) Islamic culture

#3 can of course be sincere or an accommodation to social pressure. And it has the additional problem of being a signal to men, especially men who share the pro-hijab culture, about which women may be sexually harassed or not. This is where it gets very coercive, especially as the proportion of women wearing hijab increases.
posted by msalt at 2:45 PM on May 31, 2010


I'm a bit late to this particular party, but I thought it was worth mentioning that Iran's women's soccer team was recently told that its players would have to remove their hijab in order to participate in the Summer Youth Olympic Games. To me this brings up all sorts of fascinating questions. Are you really encouraging freedom or taking a stand against oppression when you refuse people permission to participate based on their clothing? From A Left Wing has an interesting article on this topic (along with plenty of turbulence in the comments).
posted by nickmark at 2:09 PM on June 1, 2010


>> Are you really encouraging freedom or taking a stand against oppression when you refuse people permission to participate based on their clothing?

You're proposing an absolute, that it's never OK to take a stand against oppression by banning clothing. What about Klan robes? The question is, does the clothing itself constitute a form of hate speech, or an oppressive act in itself? And if the answer to that question depends on context, how does one judge the context?
posted by msalt at 11:26 PM on June 1, 2010


msalt: I think there's a fundamental difference between the hijab and Klan robes. Wearing Klan robes connects you, by definition, to a group that stands for principles that are considered morally reprehensible by the VAST majority of people. Wearing the hijab connects you, by definition, with a variety of beliefs within the gamut of Islam, most of which are not considered inherently morally acceptable by the VAST majority of people.

When you exclude a team of Muslim women from participating in an international sporting event whose main purpose is to be inclusive based on the fact that they wear head scarves, and claim it's because “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements” then you're effectively telling them that they have to choose between religious practice(as opposed to a religious statement) and participation in the international community.

Can Sikh men not take part in international football? Genuine question, I have no idea. If a footballer's hairdo is Rastafarian dreadlocks, is he going to be banned?
posted by bardophile at 12:18 AM on June 2, 2010


Who invented the hijab and all related coverings for Muslim women? Was it a woman? Was it a man? Who decided that Muslim women must wear them? Was it a woman? Was it a man? How many of these coverings are, in fact, specifically related to various cultures and/or ethnic groups and were hijacked for a religion? What happens when a woman decides to stop wearing hijab? How does her family react? Her friends? Her neighbors? What happens to her social opportunities?

Why are female guests/travelers required to wear hijab in certain countries? Is that also about modesty? To what extent is this choice?

To what extent does real freedom to choose come into any of this for a Muslim woman?
posted by gsh at 12:27 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good question, but the man/woman split doesn't necesssarily prove whether it's misogynist or not.

In Russia, it's the babushkas who (at least, 20 years ago) slapped the legs of women who wore short skirts with rulers (according to my sister, who lived there for a while).

And I saw a one woman show by a San Francisco comedienne who emigrated from Liberia, about her female circumcision, and one of the most horrifying and fascinating aspects was that she admitted that she agreed to go through with it, at age 13 or so, because of all of the peer group pressure which was almost entirely from older women. It was all about how this will make you a real woman, free you from sexual pressure, etc. and she said they made it sound wonderful.
posted by msalt at 11:13 PM on June 2, 2010


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