Archive for the 'Reasons' Category

Ulterior Motives

March 4, 2012

My friend, a man from work*, told me recently that he has me all figured out. He tells me all the time that I remind him of him when he was younger, which usually wins me over.

He said he didn’t believe that I wore my headscarf for “all the normal reasons,” for religion or anything like that. (Me: what the?) I just like being an outlier, he said, and I delight in outlying in all the different identifiable categories. Surprisingly liberal hijabi, e.g., or surprisingly conservative feminist.

Not too far off, I guess. Rebel Without a Keffiyeh, how does that sound?

*New job and new city since the time I really wrote last. More to come (I hope).

Quote: as excerpted from “Self-Reliance”

August 6, 2011

“My life is not an apology, but a life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Return from Summer Vacation

August 2, 2011

I’ve been feeling guilty about neglecting this blog; since I don’t have too much else in the way of creativity going on, this would be one worthy project to keep going with.

The problem—and there always is one—is that originally the whole idea was “to lay out the reasons principally for myself,” and then I went and turned it into something for other people to validate. Audience in mind, I focused a lot more energy in coming up with light, interesting, relevant and varied posts (rather than what was actually on my mind). But truthfully, it was also that the hijab (as a concept) just wasn’t ON my mind as often as three to four times a week; I didn’t have to justify it to myself quite that often, and so I had nothing to say.

Finally, the actual goal—laying out an explanation to encapsulate all my feelings on the subject—proved to be MUCH MORE DIFFICULT than I ever imagined, if not totally impossible.

With that challenge presented, though, I guess I’m resigning myself to keep trying for it. I just have to keep developing my vocabulary and the means to explain myself.

Hijab and Sexism

May 27, 2011

The institution of hijab is undeniably gender-normative and discriminatory. I find this is true for most things, except maybe toothpaste (unquestionably unisex) and Crocs (universally ugly). The question I’ve been pondering, however, is this:

Is the world sexist because of practices like hijab, or are practices like hijab in place because the world is sexist?

(Either way, it’s unfair, and enough to get one fuming.)

Addendum to My Hijab Story

April 4, 2011

Part of the reason I’m uncomfortable posting my “hijab story” narrative from Friday is because of what it implies about my submission [i.e. to forces other than spirituality]. Certain lines (e.g. “I certainly would not have ended up at that particular destination all on my own”), while still being true, can be read as “I was brainwashed by my upbringing” or “I didn’t actually think for myself about the decision.”

I concede the validity of that reading; given my actual story, it isn’t hard to see how someone coming at it from a different perspective would reach those conclusions. I don’t agree with them, however, and what’s frustrating is that it’s not exactly a right/wrong scenario. That is, I can’t prove the other person wrong—I can speak only for my perspective.

Touching on larger philosophical questions, I guess. How are we ever to argue with a claim that we’ve been brainwashed?

Hijab and Submission vs. Subversion, part 2

February 19, 2011

The word “Islam,” translated from Arabic, literally means submission or surrender (to the will of God). Accordingly, the name for the submitter/surrenderer is a variation of the same word: “Muslim.”

Both words come from the same root as “salam,” which means peace, so that’s pretty cool (haha) and something to be proud of. It makes sense, too, for a religion to emphasize the importance of yielding [one’s individual self] to a greater good/deity/community.

Despite all that, and as was hinted at in the last post, I’m infinitely more interested in subversion, what we might consider to be a directly opposing idea. Not necessarily subversion of God, but more broadly of structures and society (conceivably, the ones God allows to exist).

It’s because I’m still young, probably.

The act of hijab itself can fall easily under both categories. The ritual veiling that’s been passed along for ages is certainly a form of submission—to cultural tradition, to religious convention, and (arguably) to a global legacy of patriarchy.

At the same time, hijab subverts another entire set of norms, especially where and when I am. Rarely in the United States is a hijab-wearer not in the minority, so if we take for granted that [at least in the U.S.] hijab is a choice (as opposed to skin color, for example, which isn’t), doesn’t that imply subversion?

In this context, the subversion would be directed at a specific set of assumptions in Western culture (dominant ideology, master narrative, whatever). It works against normal American expectations for a few different reasons, including:

  1. Islam isn’t the dominant religion. (Let’s pretend the link between hijab and Islam is obvious.)
  2. Religious expression is also rare, and faith is considered largely a private matter. (Hijab is a visible, near-blinding example of religious expression.)
  3. There is a standard of what basic items make up women’s attire, and hijab isn’t among them. (As far as head-covering is concerned, anyway.)
  4. There is some level of consensus about which female body parts are appropriate when bare in public, and which aren’t. (Hijab overshoots the mark here in designating hair, among other things, as inappropriate.)
    …and the list can go on.

The real point is trickier to articulate. If you believe that the dominant ideology objectifies women’s bodies—not exclusively, and not always, but in general—then you can see how one MIGHT imagine hijab to be an act of subversion (/rejection) of that culture. (By “dominant ideology” here I mostly mean pop culture media, past and present. For examples, refer to: anything. ever.)

Is the subversion effective? I think so, but it’s not enough to just say that. I’ll keep thinking about how to express the ways that it works.

Hijab and Trying to Define Modesty

February 2, 2011

Late last spring—two days before graduation, in fact—my four beloved roommates and I went to brunch to celebrate the end of our era.

This far north, there’s an abundance of charming little breakfast diners, and that day we hit a particularly endearing one. The food tasted great, the atmosphere was pleasant, etc.

As we were leaving, the cheerful older woman settling our checks complimented me on my headscarf, as sometimes happens. I thanked her and took my change as she whammed me unassumingly with The Question.

“Uh,” I distinctly remember saying, being caught off guard; unprepared, I mumbled off something about modesty.

“Modesty?” she said, surprisingly sassily. “Hon, that’s great and all, but believe me, you don’t have ANYTHING to be modest about.”

I grinned—she’d clearly meant for it to be a compliment—and thanked her again. She didn’t quite phrase it right, but I think she was trying to say I shouldn’t be hiding my looks (though the harder I think about even that, the funnier a remark it seems). She was very nice. We all walked out snickering.

Clearly, I’m having trouble finding an adequate answer to the question, even beyond the repertoire of stock responses to keep ready for more casual exchanges.

“Modesty” is such an interesting concept. In this case, the idea is that a woman’s hair contributes directly to her beauty, and so veiling it represents a deliberate concealment of that allure. There are several problematic implications of the fact that, though hijab as a concept still exists for Muslim men, it is carried out differently and (obviously) less conspicuously for the other gender. But those subjects (the blatant, heteronormative distinction between men and women; and the respective value placements in that system) are a discussion for another day.

What’s so funny about modesty is that by choosing to cover something up—to not be extravagant about your income, or to be humble about your achievements—you are at the same time admitting that you’re kind of awesome. I mean, the hijab can be straight-up presumptuous, in a sense, because wearing it for reasons of modesty implies the idea that the world can’t handle your stunning loveliness unfiltered.

It’s hardly the main reason, of course, that I or anybody else truly takes up hijab—nobody is that narcissistic. So I think it’s worth exploring other ways to define modesty that don’t assume that a woman’s beauty is simply a treasure so worth guarding.

The definition of modesty that I like better has more to do with discreetness. Most women don’t sail around topless, for example, not because their chests are so innately gorgeous, but because we’ve all decided that the female breast is more sexual than the male one. So, gem sweaters and other tops for women exist in part to avoid indecency and distraction. (The notion that sexual = indecent and distracting is also maybe for another day.)

Following that logic: woven into the practice of hijab is the assumption that female hair is inherently sexual. While the headscarf itself may be distracting for people forming first impressions—it definitely is sometimes—the point is that the distraction isn’t sexual by nature.

Up for debate: whether body parts, male or female, can be “inherently” sexual, or if it’s all a process of cultural socialization.

Reason #1: To please God.

January 25, 2011

I don’t know if I believe that or if I’m just saying it, hoping a) that God exists and b) that this particular act is worth it.

At this point, though, I imagine it doesn’t make too much of a difference.