Hijab and Submission vs. Subversion, part 1

February 17, 2011

When I was in New York a few months ago—not that New York had anything to do with it—I flirted with the idea of getting an eyebrow piercing. The impulse sprang from a conversation about first impressions and expectations based on appearance, and what impressions/expectations people have of me.

Disillusioned by the stereotypes associated with hijab (meek, quiet, submissive), I felt the urge to rebel, to appropriate a form (piercings/tattoos) that’s often used for that reason.

My nose is already pierced, but that’s different. My perceived (and real) ethnicity makes it NOT weird and not rebellious that I have a nose piercing; it would be different if I were white. I don’t remember where I heard this, but clothes and accessories are not worn on a blank canvas!

My already pigmented “canvas” is complicated further, of course, by the head covering. And so, I need (or I feel like I need) to offset or negate some of the messages it involuntarily sends.

While I didn’t end up getting pierced—too chicken—the idea of nonconformity still appeals. (Should I pin this on the American individualist values I was instilled with? Maybe.) The appeal is dangerous, though. It has everything to do with context and conditions, and is that not the slipperiest slope you’ve ever seen?

Is it worth it to try subverting blanket stereotypes, or does making the effort to do that let them win?

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