You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Monday, March 21, 2011

Modesty Stereotypes

So as a reward for myself, sometime last week I bought myself a hijab from It is beautiful! I wore it with this cute v-neck sweater I have that has pretty detail around the neckline. That way, I could tuck the hijab into my sweater neckline and still be covering my collarbones.

This was Friday, I think, and my Woman and I decided we wanted to go out to our local gay bar, the Aut. Well, so we walked there holding hands (which is the usual for us, but one of us is not typically wearing a hijab) and didn't seem to cause any traffic accidents. Yay! Better yet, when we got to the Aut, no one batted an eyelid. Mind you, we're there a lot. So perhaps they just know I'm weird and it doesn't cause any confusion any more? :)

The next day, we went out to breakfast. And yes, I was wearing the same outfit-- whoever knew I'd be doing the walk of shame in a hijab! Anyway, we go out to eat at Sava's, which has wonderful food, but we got the funniest stares the whole time! Clearly, we were astounding a few people-- what looked like a conservative Muslim woman kissing another woman! Quelle choque!

It seems people think that a hijab is much like the proverbial lesbian toaster. Guys, you can buys hijabs online for like $10... or just learn to fold a scarf like one if  you already have scarves. There's no secret handshake you have to learn, I promise.


Clara said...

This raises some interesting questions. When I dress tzniusly in a Jewish setting, I know that people perceive me as Orthodox and try to act Orthodoxly; if I were wearing a hijab I would probably feel the same obligation. Orthodox Jews don't have a monopoly on elbow-coverings any more than Muslims do on the hijab, but because these styles of dress are so associated with those religions in people's minds, I wonder if when we wear these things we become responsible for how other people end up perceiving the religions whose dress we have appropriated. (Of course, I'm comparing two slightly different things: the hijab reads as Muslim everywhere whereas tznius dress is only meaning-heavy in certain situations, but you get the idea.)

On the other hand, perhaps what you're doing is trying to make these different styles of dress more available for everyone; but taking someone's symbol is a dangerous act, and potentially very hurtful. I don't have an opinion about what you should or shouldn't be doing -- just something to think about.

Clara said...

p.s. In my mind this is a question of maris ayin:

"Maris ayin may be loosely defined as actions that strictly speaking are permitted according to halacha, but nevertheless give onlookers the impression that one is doing or has done something that is prohibited. In these instances, there is a rabbinic prohibition to engage in these sort of activities and there are many examples of maris ayin found in Chazal and halachic literature. One classic example is the prohibition of hanging wet clothes outside on Shabbos, since it gives the impression that laundry was done on Shabbos."

Clara said...

p.p.s. As a parallel in our world, you might imagine a lay person wearing clericals or vestments, or a non-celibate person wearing a monastic habit (like many of these folks: The former I'm only imagining, but the latter example is obviously live & well, and very painful for me.

Allie said...

Clara- true. I've been thinking about that a lot actually since I posted this. I think this didn't occur to me because in Senegal many people who are not Muslim wear the hijab and it's encouraged, whether or not you "act" Muslim in other ways. I guess it didn't occur to me that it would be different here! I'm still not sure how I feel about it...

Because seeing non-celibate people wearing a monastic habit was a beautiful thing for me! It changed my perceptions of monasticism for the better, I think, and it broadened my ideas about religious life.

I shall, however, think about it more and pray about it.

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