Monday, September 07, 2009

Why Do They Veil? From feminism to my own little corner of the world...

I read with interest on Kinzi's blog about the bruhaha over veiling that is brewing in the virtual world. Seems a couple of feminists with differing viewpoints are duking it out over whether the hijab is oppressive or not... The conversation is an interesting one, although it features typical lines drawn and positions defended with seemingly little conversing going on. Somehow, as Western society advances, we become more entrenched in taking positions than listening, which is sad.

The conversation, however, got me thinking about some of my dear friends (Yes, Umm F and Umm O, I'm talking about you). When I first moved to Jordan I was a bit surprised to find this vibrant community of Muslim American-Jordanian muhajibaat. These ladies look a bit different from what I'm used to. At first, I wondered if they veil because their husbands force them to (a common idea in the non-veiling community). But, as got to know these ladies, I began to realize that they veil because it is one way that they hold true to their beliefs. It is, perhaps, the most visible and marked way. But, it is only one way. These ladies veil because of their beliefs, not oppression from their husbands. Their daughters veil because of their beliefs, or maybe even some because of expectations. But then again, don't we teach our kids to believe those things that we know to be true? Is it oppressing them to make them say please and thank you because I believe that is polite and proper? Maybe so, after all, I'm not beyond a bit of parental oppression if that's how we define it.

But, here's what I have a bit of a harder time understanding. Why do the teenage girls veil who wear tight jeans and tight shirts? How, exactly, do those go together. It seems to me that this is when the hijab makes the transition from religious obedience to fashion statement. It almost appears to be a reaction against the West. Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for their right to wear this combination, I just don't get it.

The thing I find so very interesting about the feminist responses to this conversation is the idea that freedom should only be allowed if you want to be free to do what we want (that is, not veil). How, exactly, is that freedom? Freedom is the ability to do what YOU want. If my lovely friends want to veil, why shouldn't they? No one is being harmed by it, least of all them. I think that the original article that spurred this discussion was a bit rose-colored in its view. Somehow, Naomi Wolf sees the veil as liberating because men didn't harass her, but I know that harassment still happens. Some men see the veil as a challenge rather than protection. But the bottom line is, rose colored view of the veil or not, as long as the wearing of it is voluntary it's none of my business. If I argue for freedom, it seems to me that should include freedom whether you want to be free to do what I do or not.

Phyllis Chesler, in her response, takes the opposite extreme. She describes how "Most Muslim girls and women are impoverished and wear rags, not expensive Western clothing beneath their coverings." I wonder what statistics she has to support that statement. Her next is even more inflammatory. She goes on to say "Only the pampered, super-controlled, often isolated, and uber-materialistic daughters of wealth, mainly in the Gulf states, but also among the ruling classes in the Islamic world, match Wolf’s portrait of well kept courtesan-wives." I didn't hear Wolf talking about courtesan wives, but rather saw her talking about a woman who wants to please her husband. I guess maybe caring that your husband is pleased is anti-feminist (good to know what label to stick on myself, anti-feminist here I come). But I am certain that my friends aren't impoverished and don't wear rags. In fact, some of them dress much better under their jilbab that I do in my fully exposed clothing. I've never seen any of them in rags. And, as far as I know (correct me if I'm wrong here ladies), but they aren't part of the "pampered, super-controlled, uber-materialistic daughters of wealth". I've been to their homes. No gold-gilt dripping from the furniture. No Porsche in the driveway. Just simple, normal lifestyles with simple, normal lives. Pretty much, they live like me, only veiled.

As often seems to happen when we take a position to be defended at all costs, both sides miss objectivism and wind up on a soap box. Neither is accurate. And, sadly, both probably are aiming to prove whatever point they began the article with. I have to admit lately I'm noticing something of a trend in journalism where writers have an argument to make and use their article to make it. I find myself longing for journalists with curiosity and an interest in seeing a whole picture rather than supporting their own bias. It's one thing when I blog. My bias is out there for all to see, no question. But, if I write for an actual publication, maybe I should try to set aside my bias to get the whole story?

At any rate, it is an interesting conversation. Is it freeing women to ban the hijab? Or is that simply more oppression?

Happy Freedom!


At 4:16 AM , Blogger UmmFarouq said...

Great post. Great, great post. I have not read the original article but now will have to.

Some folks just don't get it. It's so so wonderful that you do. Funny, my husband never had anything to do with my decision to cover. Not a thing. And I can vouch for most of "us" the same statement.

The 'oppressed by the veil' song and dance has grown tiresome.

At 4:53 AM , Blogger Ali Dahmash said...

The veil issuehas always been controversal. I think if a woman decides to wear the veil then that is her choice, we shold nt consider it as opression, Nuns and Orthodox Jewsih women wear veils and no one seems to consider them as opressed women! But when someone forces a young girl, teenager or woman to do so then I agree 100% that this opression.
Most of the times it has to do with social and financial status and nothing to do with relegion, sometimes it cultural like in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan who wear the Burqua (even during Prophet Mohammad days ) women used to show their faces.

Anyways thanks for the post

At 3:22 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for a great post and good questions. I am so glad and proud that you came to the right conclusions about the Muslim American ladies you have met here. But maybe it is wise to say that the definition that fits us doesn't fit all Jordanian Muslim women. This is something I have learned since living here. And that will help you understand why young and not so young women wear hijab but pair it with tight clothing. Some of the population are wearing for cultural reasons and are not fully educated in the 'whys' of the religion. Hijab is not only a head covering, but a way of living that includes your dress, your way of speaking, and moving in public. The modesty you dress with should carry over into the way you act. That is the goal but we have a long way to go to make it a reality. God guide us all.

At 4:38 AM , Anonymous kinzi said...

Well said, MB. I haven't had energy to go back to it on my blog, but you, Natalia and a few others have made great points.

Maybe I'll post about the best of the round-up of opinion.

At 8:05 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Umm F and Nicole, thanks for the comments. Nicole, I agree that there is a mix currently that is more cultural than religious, but it does intrigue me, nonetheless. And I don't assume you ladies are representative, but I do think it shed some light into an area that people are comfortable making assumptions about motivations that are wholely wrong. Ali, I agree that forcing a woman to veil is wrong, but I also wonder how often it happens. That would be an interesting study. And, Kinz, thanks for alerting me to the conversation. I'd never know what's going on without you!


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