What ladies wear in their hair has always been of the utmost importance, not only to them, but to their friends and lovers.
In the good old days, a proper lady was never seen outside the home without her hat and gloves. Church women often wore – many still do — a small piece of lace or embroidered cloth pinned to their hair. The custom is apparently derived from the same theology that has Jewish men cover their heads before their Jehovah, sometimes only in synagogue, but often all through their daily routines.
Hairstyles have come and gone, from the frizzled “permanents” of the pre-World War II era, to the current middle part, straight falling, shoulder length style [authentic or out of th bottle blond] hair that no Fox Network female can seem to perform without.
But a new, troubling and contentious hair garment has now entered the Western debate. It is the hijab, an Arabic word that means “barrier” or “partition” but defined technically as a head covering worn by some Moslem women. But, in fact, it is more than that: it is the last remnant of what in more traditional and orthodox Islamic societies is the burkha, the head to foot, shroud-like veil, usually black. It is a garment which makes all women almost anonymous when in public. The most severe of these fullbodied wrappings has only a slit for the eyes. But whatever the other elaborate explanations, it is basically seen as an emblem of the subjugation and second-class citizenship of women in traditional Islamic societies.
While some Moslems would defend such garments and their innovations as protection for sanctity and purity of the female in the world jungle, that’s a second role at best, a potent symbol of the place that the female occupies in the Islamic patriarchal society. It is for that reason that France has had an archtypical French controversy over l’affaire du voile [the scandal of the veil] since 1989. After a debate that only Frenchmen could countenance, including on issues associated with the integration of France’s more than two million Moslems, it was resolved with forbidding the hijab in educational institutions.
In December 2003, President Jacques Chirac initiated a movement for a law, sometimes referred to as “the veil law”, which forbids wearing any “ostentatious” religious articles, including the hijab, any form of the Islamic veil, the Jewish kippa [skullcap], and large Christian crosses in publicly supported schools. It won the support of most Frenchmen who support a determined “secular” society, so often the source of French civil conflict in the past, that relegates any religious life to a separation from any state activities.
In the U.S., of course, individuals are free to wear whatever they choose. But recently there has developed an agitation to don the hajib on the part of well-meaning young non-Moslem women to express their solidarity with those of the Islamic faith. It is part of what appears to be an overwrought concern starting with President Barak Obama about the threat of “Islamaphobia”, an overly strong relction to Islamic terrorism which ostensibly subjects American Moslems to prejudice and attack because of their association with Islamic terrorists. The fact is that since the events of 9/11, such attitudes have been minimal and almost no physical violence has taken place against Moslems.
However well intended the action of the young women in this instance, it is misplaced.
Cynthia Eller, a professor of women and religion at Claremont Graduate University in California,told the Christian Science Monitor:.
“[The headscarf] is a very tormented issue for American feminists,” she says. “You want to support women who want to wear this as well as women who don’t. But the politics of the headscarf, especially in an American context … pushes the problem of male predatory sexuality back on women, [as though] women are supposed to dress in such way so as not to make themselves enticing to men.”
“We shouldn’t have to dress in a particular way,” she says.
We couldn’t agree more.