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Hijab makes woman a human being

Kathy Chin


I EXPERIMENTED wearing the hijab when I was a senior at UCLA majoring in Psychobiology and Women's Studies. My story originally appeared in the October 1994 issue of Al-Talib. I recently found that "Unveiling Oppression" has proliferated the Internet. Here is the original version:

"I walked down the street in my long white dress and inch-long, black hair one afternoon, and truck drivers whistled obscenities at me. I felt defeated. I had just stepped out of a hair salon. I had my hair cut short, telling the hairdresser to trim it as she would a guy's. I was trying to appear androgynous by cutting my hair. I wanted to obliterate my femininity. Yet that did not prevent some men from treating me as a sex object.

It matters to me how they see me. I believe that men who see women as only sexual beings often commit violence against them, such as rape and battery. Sexual abuse and assault are not only my fears, but my reality. I was molested and raped. My experiences with men who violated me have made me angry and frustrated.

How do I stop the violence? How do I prevent men from seeing me as an object rather than a female? How do I stop them from equating the two?

The experiences have left me with questions about my identity. Am I just another Chinese-American female? I now realise that my identity is constantly evolving.

One experience that was particularly educational was when I "dressed up" as a Muslim woman for a drive along Crenshaw Boulevard with three Muslim men as part of a news magazine project. I wore a white, long-sleeved cotton shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and a flowery silk scarf that covered my head, which I borrowed from a Muslim woman.

Not only did I look the part, I believed I felt the part. Of course, I wouldn't really know what it feels like to be hijabed _ I coined this word for the lack of a better term _ everyday, because I was not raised with Islamic teachings.

However, people perceived me as a Muslim woman and did not treat me as a sexual being by making cruel remarks. I noticed that men's eyes did not glide over my body as has happened when I wasn't hijabed. I was fully clothed, exposing only my face.

I remembered walking into an Islamic centre and an African-American gentleman addressed me as "sister", and asked where I came from. I told him I was originally from China. That didn't seem to matter. There was a sense of closeness between us because he assumed I was Muslim. I didn't know how to break the news to him because I wasn't sure if I was or not. I asked one of the Muslim men I was with, "am I Muslim?" He explained that everything that breathes and submits is.

I have concluded that I may be and just don't know it. How I am inside does not directly change whether I am hijabed or not. It is others' perception of me that has changed.

Repeated experiences with others in turn create a self-image. I consciously chose to be hijabed because I was searching for respect from men. Initially, as Women's Studies major and thinking female, I bought into the Western view that the wearing of a scarf is oppressive. (Now) I have arrived at the conclusion that such a view is superficial and misguided: It is not, if the act is motivated by conviction and understanding."

The Brunei Times

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