I have been curious about the topic of female head coverings for quite some time. And the longer you consider a topic, the more complex it becomes. I will be the first to admit that I am addressing the issue with very little background knowledge- apart from an article I skimmed in Maclean’s a few months back, and random bits of information I’ve heard on the news and through the internet. This is a very complex issue.
My reason for writing about it now is because the topic recently came up- randomly and very briefly -in an English course that I am in. Female rights constantly come up in the writings of the renaissance, and we are often tying these issues to more current issues. Well it wasn’t directly in regards to female head coverings, but my professor made a very cut and dry statement with regards to one culture where this occurs, his statement went something like this: “Muslim society is slowly creeping in to Western society. And with it, the repressive attitude toward women. Watch out ladies. What you have fought for, could very soon be taken away from you.”
My thoughts immediately went to the issue of female head coverings- although there are many other issues he went on to refer to. In my opinion female head coverings are a very overt statement made by the woman wearing the covering. However what exactly that statement is is dependent on both the woman wearing the head covering, and the person perceiving how it is being worn.
In my experience, when cultural traditions enter an issue the debate becomes very complicated. Often the people on either side of the debate cannot fully comprehend each other because (assuming, in this case, that one is a non-Muslim, and one belongs to the Muslim/Islam community [or any other community that partakes in this practice]) they have not been raised in the same society or with the same ideals. When our beliefs cut to the core of our being, and when those beliefs are entangled with the beliefs prevalent in our society, it is almost impossible to understand our world from a different lens than from that in which we stand.
That being said, the issue I want to consider is that of female rights. When a woman in Western society puts a head scarf, hijab or burqa on, is she expressing her rights? Or is she demonstrating her deprivation of rights, is she submitting to the suppressive rule of men?
I have heard arguments on both sides. I have heard that for some women they feel it is their right to choose to wear a head covering, and they feel much more comfortable doing so. Because they are not forced to wear the head covering in Canada (and other western countries) when they choose to, that choice and the feeling of empowerment in making that choice, can portray a statement- having the freedom to choose and choosing to do what they feel is best. Their choice can be compared to how many people choose what they want to wear taking into consideration the statement they want to make through their fashion. However, the issue is when the person on the perceiving end of the situation does not properly interpret that statement. Of course this is where the other side of debate comes in, there are those who believe head coverings are depriving women of their rights and perhaps some Muslim/Islam women fall into this belief as well. Those who fall into this belief would interpret the ‘statement’ made by those women on the freedom end of the debate very differently from what how it was intended. With this second belief in mind, a woman who places the covering on her head is making a statement on behalf of the male population within her culture, a statement denoting male power, and female suppression.
It is from the latter system of beliefs that my professor falls into by him saying what he said. I am not entirely sure where I stand on the issue, because as I said I cannot grasp a full understanding of it having been brought up in a non-Muslim/Islamic society. I cannot deny, however, that what my professor said does sound alarming- if for no other reason that its sheer extremism.
I know that in some countries, it has become illegal for women to wear head coverings. Some governments feels that head coverings are a sign of women suppression and so by that logic, they should ban the coverings so that women can be free and equal. But I wonder, how is it any more freeing for a woman to be told she cannot wear something than for a woman to be told she must wear something? Is this not also taking away the woman’s right to choose?