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Veiled Comments


Tuesday, September 11, 2007



The banning of hijab in schools in France and the ban and debate in Turkey has got to be a political statement. And making a ban makes the wearing of the hijab even more of a political statement than it would be otherwise. Think about it -- if you are a teenager, how better to get up your parents' noses than to put on hijab when your family doesn't. If you are a 'fundamentalist' male, how better to make a statement than to make your female relatives wear it, even if it prevents them from going to school. (And maybe that is also a wanted result?) The authorities are doing a silly thing, I think, because banning something makes it both high profile and more desirable. To make a martyr, provide an opportunity for martyrdom.

In yet another category are the religious leaders in places like Iran who are sending out the clothing police to arrest women who don't meet the code and the menfolk who ( I read) beat their wives and daughters for leaving the burka at home. I gather that the concept behind this 'cover up, woman!' imperative is that women are distracting and take men's thoughts away from important things. Not unlike the mediaeval Christian teaching that women are inherently sinful and sex traps, to boot, and that they are property to be kept subjugated because they love sex and sex should be only for procreation for the glory of God. Some women affirm great pride in the testament to their faith that a distinctive dress or dress code provides. A lot of the nuns who went into modern dress at the call of Pope John Paul were sad to lose their distinctive habits. A lot of genuinely devout girls see their hijabs as a statement of their faith and identity. But it's a cause for weeping that women and girls are forced into these customs and the thought patterns behind them.

It's those thought patterns that have been occupying my mind to-day. Some of the women who wear various versions of Islamic modest clothing seem to enjoy the sexual aspect of it. They aver that their femininity and sexuality is hidden but there and that in their own space they can flaunt it and enjoy it. I have seen comments that imply that Western women just don't get it and that to be a 'hidden woman' is better for sex. Maybe. How would someone like me ever know?

What I think these women are saying is that they buy into the concept that they are just so sexy and desirable that they have to hide themselves so that men will not be distracted. This goes with the idea that men think about sex all the time, or every six minutes anyway, and can't be expected to control themselves about it. And isn't that silly. I can pass by a coffee shop oozing delectable odours from every crevice, even though I love the stuff. Ditto the bakery. Most people do the equivalent, unless they are, literally, starving. No one is shutting down coffee shops, here or in the Islamic world either. Alcoholics recover, brave souls, and manage to live productive lives in a world full of chances to drink. Sex can't be much more compelling, can it? So you're distracted? Refocus. I feel sorry for women, veiled or not, who are out to be distractions. And for men who play that game.

If you want to get a man's attention, I have found, it's easy enough for a woman to do. My technique always involved making eye contact. Worked like a charm. And you can do that in anything other than a full Burka with a peep hole. Even then, the flash of a painted nail, scent, the way you walk, all these could send a message. Veiled prostitutes in classical Greece wore sandals that printed 'Follow Me' in the dust of the street. If a man is primed to think that way, the sight of a black tent that has a woman under it is a signal. Ooh, hidden delights. It's probably just as much of a signal as a thong panty coming out of low rise trousers. If you have nothing else to occupy your mind.

I guess what I'm saying, if you've followed the train of thought around all these curves, is that the world is full of other things to do if you're following current events and trying to make the world a better place, or learning, or working to feed yourself or your family.
My value system says that public life should not be about sex. No flirting in the office. Public dress should not be an incitement to riot. (Including you, the guy over there in the jeans with the carefully constructed bulge in the front.) Advertisements should tell me something about the product. Beaches are for swimming. Life is for doing all kinds of things.
In Canada, you can wear your veil to vote. Unless all the guys hissing and spitting all over the place get the rules changed. You can wear it to school. You can be interviewed on the radio talking about how you love to wear it. Note that in Canada, this woman is voting, going to school and taking part in public life. And I really hope that both those things continue to be true.

Posted by Mary G at 6:22 PM

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