Pecan Pie

Social Anxiety from the South

When in Rome?

Through one of the Muslim women in the religious debate group I moderate, I found this beautifully written article on about a journalist who decides to don the niqab in order to better understand and, let’s face it, infiltrate the culture on which she is attempting to report. It is an inspiring piece about meeting others where they are instead of always expecting people outside of Western culture to come to us.

But, that’s sort of where my positivity expires. As a Western woman, I get social “breaks” that women in Africa, the Middle East, Central and East Asia rarely get. And, pardon me, but that’s still not enough. I’ve been exchanging dialogue with Muslim women on a regular basis for four years now. They are intelligent, sincere, and compassionate women. They have theologically sound arguments that often make me stop and say, “Hmm.” But, I’m still coming back to the fact that, no matter how much I try to understand another culture, religion or basic way of life, I cannot with any honesty say that I think mandating a woman to cover anything so that she can be treated as if she is not standing right in front of you is liberating. At all.

As a matter of fact, I find it demeaning and what’s more, I find it disheartening that, just like conservative  Christian women feel they are showing strength by submission, these Muslim women feel empowered by giving up one of the most empowering thing we possess; our facial expression.

When I was 21, my mother took me on a trip to Spain. This was pre-9/11, by just a couple of months and part of our tour included a day trip to Morocco. No one went out of their way to get me to cover my hair, or cover my skin, or anything. I wore a long skirt because I was aware it is Muslim dominated kingdom, but I really didn’t think all that much about it. I got a few wayward glances, but nothing too out of the ordinary for an American girl in a foreign country. I didn’t cover my hair, hell, I didn’t cover my arms.

Now, I suppose, given that the amount of knowledge and culture I now posses, greatly exceeds that which I had 10 years ago, I’d probably try to be more aware of my surroundings. I may cover my hair and arms…if doing so didn’t raise my internal body temperature by about a billiondy degrees.

I understand that in order to find common ground, sometimes we need to adapt to others rather than expecting them to adapt to us. Though, I wonder if Gena Somra at CNN could have better shown solidarity with her host country by donning the niqab during the first part of her trip and then removing it several days later to show solidarity to the women of Yemen in a small act that may reveal to them that, yes, they too can take control of their lives and for a small moment, show the men who would interacted with her that she was the same, covered or not. As for those who systematically ignored her while she was covered, well, they’d have done the same either way.

I think people ought to be able to do what they want. Mostly. If a woman wants to cover from head to toe, in a free society (or at least as free as we’ve come to be in our history) then I suppose that’s on her. But, in societies where this is the norm, expected or part of the religious based culture, freedom seems to be an idea without much reality. I appreciate Ms. Somra’s act of decorum and humility, but I think it falls flat in the face of women’s rights.

Written by thelittlepecan

November 8, 2010 at 9:41 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Dress codes often give me a craw as well. Though, I’m not against school uniforms.


    November 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm

  2. I used to make the same justifications that other Muslim women do. but lately I feel as you do. I never felt liberated covered, I felt hot and “embarrassed” to be a women. Because I had it harder than men. I always hate the fact that I have to cover my chest ALL the damn time (and that is in the U.S. too, the head of our department had a talk with me about my exposed cleavage). I’m a 38H, what else am I really supposed to do? lol

    If a women does feel better covered–then fine. But I don’t. so no religion or god, and especially no man made country should force me to wear (or not wear) crap if it makes me feel less than content. If a women wants to wear a niqab on her own fine–but likewise if a women or man wants to walk around naked, fine by me also.

    PS- I don’t hate most social norms, but dress codes bother me personally. I get why they are there for work and businesses, and I follow them the best I can, but I still hate them.


    November 9, 2010 at 7:59 am

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