This is one of the most interesting threads of discussion I’ve come across here. Sad I don’t visit these pages often. At the outset, let me say that I think the hijab has transformed itself into a superb fashion statement. I’m amazed at the many ways that women in parts of Southeast Asia wear it to match their attire. Let me also say that I respect every woman’s choice to wear it or not wear it, for reasons that they believe are legitimate. It’s very personal really.
But the question arises only because most of us live in a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-ethnic society, and we have a natural tendency to wonder why women wear hijab.
Kudos to Thomas for raising this question - it takes a lot of courage to say, it bothers you and express all that you have said here. Whether I agree with everything you say is besides the point. I’m also fascinated by some of the reactions.
For Layali Eshqaidef, ‘This piece of fabric frees me from being subjected to the over-sexed attitudes of this very decadent and sexually oriented society.’ Renee wonders whether the catcalls would stop if she wore a hijab. If we believe that our societies suffer from repressed sexuality issues, then I don’t think women covering up or not, or women choosing a certain kind of attire over another, is going to solve the problem. If that were true, rapes and crimes against women in India would be a lot less – women in India are mostly dressed traditionally, in six-yard sarees or salwar kurta that pretty much cover their whole bodies. A popular adage amongst some of us Indian women is, drape a stick with a saree and a guy would still hit on it. So let’s not deceive ourselves by thinking that a mere costume change could cure a society. How we look at a woman, or man for that matter, is a result of years of social conditioning. Even some of the most progressive amongst us could be victims of traditional thought patterns because these still lurk in our subliminal minds.
As for the ‘choice’ question, I wonder if years of oppression make us accept a fact that we know we cannot change, or think we cannot fight to change anymore. We try to circumvent a negative aspect through positive affirmation. The hijab therefore becomes a symbol, period. Nothing religious, or social. A sort of a giving back to the society of men who invented it. Sometimes, you think there are bigger issues to fight for. And you choose your battles. This applies to those women who have the power to make that choice.
What about those for whom there is no choice but what is handed to them? So I think and hope that Thomas is referring to those women who want to break free but cannot because of fear of how their own society may treat them. What about them? How do we hear their voices?
Lastly, faith and religion, in my opinion, need not be used synonymously as Thomas has chosen to use. Faith is what you feel, what you experience, and does not have to originate from established religion. I believe that even if our experiences point to the depth of differences between us, we should be able to include truths that we may not believe in. Inclusion is the key, not ‘tolerance,’ as you mention.