Thoughts on the Head Scarf and Feminism
March 17, 2007

I have complained about it here within my blogs, because I personally hate it. I hate what it makes my hair look like for the rest of the day once I take it off. I hate getting ready to walk out the door with a bunch of male co-workers and then realizing, oh, wait, I have to put this stupid head scarf on, and standing there putting it on while the guys walk on without me to the car. I hate how the men don't have to wear anything like it.

BUT, I also want to say that I wear the head scarf willingly, to show the Afghan people that I respect them. There's no government law that says a woman has to wear it -- this isn't Saudi Arabia. Instead, when a Western woman wears a scarf, even loosely around her head, it's seen as a sign of respect for the country and its people. If you don't wear it out on the street or in someone's home, you are seen as insulting Afghan people, men AND women. I certainly wouldn't want someone insulting me in my home.

Recently at supper here at the guest house, a German woman told me defiantly, proudly, how she walked out of her office one day recently (she works for a for-profit company that's been hired by the government) to take pictures of something, with her head completely uncovered, ignoring the cars driving by and honking loudly, and drivers and others making the motion telling her to cover her head. She laughed about it, bragged about it. And, well... as much as I hate wearing the thing myself, as much as I hope this tradition goes away, I felt ashamed, and hoped none of the locals also in the dining room could overhear her. It didn't sound like feminist freedom -- it sounded like someone proud to insult.

Ya'll know me: I'm a RAGING feminist. I'm a jump-up-and-down-yelling-about-how-if-I-had-a-penis-I'd-be-the-CEO-of-a-major-company feminist. I don't believe any woman should be required to wear anything, any more than a man should be. I wear the head scarf in Afghanistan as a sign of respect for its people, but if I was asked to wear the chador, or, goddess forbid, the burka, I'd catch the first plane out -- I have my limits. We all do. And I freely admit that it does make me uncomfortable -- and, to a degree, annoyed -- to try to have a conversation with someone with her entire face covered except for her eyes. But even though I'm an atheist, when I go into a church, I don't wear something that I believe would be insulting to the believers. It's the same here -- culturally, this is where they are at, and I knew it when I came here, and so, I'll respect it and wrap my head.

Ofcourse, I also understand the German woman, and other Western women -- we have very strongly held beliefs, things that are ingrained into us, that make the idea of being required to wear something because of cultural or religious pressure, or the idea of not being allowed to treat men in as familiar a way as they treat each other, absolutely abhorrent. That Western cultural viewpoint has to be respected and understood as well, particularly on our "home" turf. And if I was in the USA -- MY country -- and anyone proposed that I had to wear a headscarf -- well, look out, because the butt kickin' will be fierce. But Afghanistan is no where near to understanding the concept of women not wearing something on their heads. Like I said earlier -- here, it's a jaw-dropping insult.

I guess what bothered me most was that the woman wants to "get back" at "these people" (Muslims), by disrespecting their culture in the way she believes they disrespect her culture by moving to the West and refusing to accept the West's own strongly-held cultural beliefs regarding the role of women, sanitation, daily life, etc. (by refusing to let their daughters attend swimming class with boys, by not wanting those who commit honor killings to be prosecuted, by refusing to adhere to German laws regarding the humane slaughter of animals, etc.). And so she channels this anger by saying that she wants to force women in Germany to NOT wear the headscarf anywhere outside their own home. But I think matching insults, perceived or otherwise, with more insults, just escalates hostilities and entrenches beliefs. And forcing women not to wear the headscarf -- isn't that just as bad as forcing women to do so? What's the difference?

She's NOT helping to liberate women in Afghanistan by marching out without a headscarf. She's just p*ssing people off, men AND women, and contributing to thier negative view of Westerners and further entrenching the cultural belief she abhors. I guess that's my point. The day Afghan women burn their burkas in the city square, believe me, I'll be right there taking photos and cheering them on.

There was another thing that bothered me -- she started making comments about how it was wrong for "these people" to live and work "separately from real German culture." And, well, that exact same thing was said about 70 years ago about another group living in Germany, and the result was not good.


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Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing --
without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.

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