Monday, January 16, 2012

CULTURE : Unveiled

Muslim Woman by Sasha Martin, taken in Ghana, Africa

Sasha Martin

The veil worn by Islamic women, known as the hijab, is viewed as a sign of repression by outside cultures peering in. "Hijab" literally translates to "curtain" in Arabic-- so, what do the women behind the curtain think?

Though, one can be sure that many Islamic women feel disrespected and repressed as a gender, some look at the veil in a slightly more empowering light. Women are not allowed to 'date.' Instead, women are expected to befriend men and eventually find someone to marry, whether she is set up or chooses a man she had earlier befriended. And, men are only allowed to see below the hijab of their wife after marriage. Some see this as an opportunity to avoid being seen as a sexualized object for carnal pleasure. These women see the veil and dating tradition as an opportunity to get to know the men in their lives without the superficiality of looks, relying only on personality and conversation. As mentioned earlier, however, many women do not agree with this more positive approach, seeing the hijab as just another way for the men in their culture and religion to control the "weaker" female sex.

Though one can appreciate such reasons for praising the hijab, it's hard not to realize that the veil is a uniform. What do uniforms do? They make everyone look the same, figuratively speaking. In the military, everyone wears a uniform and shaves their head to create an even playing ground and dehumanize individuals into pons. In concentration camps during the Holocaust, men and women were forced to shave their heads and wear similar clothing. Eventually everyone blended in, no longer individuals, but a mass of bones and skin. Again, this dehumanizes a person. Does the hijab dehumanize its covered women? If your face is covered, others cannot distinguish you from a crowd-- your uniqueness is lost. Women seem to become dehumanized pons, just as soldiers do upon donning their uniform and shaving their scalp. Is this what the veil's purpose is? Or, is it truly a way to create blind love, free from superficiality?

In America and other Western countries, wearing the hijab is not easily accepted. In many European schools, the hijab is coupled with other 'banned' clothing in the dress code. This does not make assimilation into Western countries any easier for Islamic women, or any other cultures that require any kind of coverage of the face. An Islamic woman, studying at UC Berkeley, passionately spoke about the subject: "the media makes the religion sound horrible, and of course, there are crazy extremists, but it's hard when everyone is stereotyped because of those psychos, you know? I mean, I was born and raised here, so I see myself as an american. But, some people see me as different just because of my scarf."

Now, take a moment to imagine no one being able to see your facial expressions: lips curving to a smile, dripping to a frown, scrunching to the bitterness of a lemon. Imagine only your eyes visible, a veil covering the rest of your face. You're walking down the street, and no one can really see you. How would you feel then?  

    The Woman Behind Unleashed and the Words                       
   I am a Practice of Art Major and Creative Writing Minor at UC Berkeley. My passions are writing and the arts in general. I created Unleashed for the empowerment and enlightenment of women everywhere. I am the editor, designer and contributing writer. I truly hope this magazine speaks to each and every woman.  Sasha Martin                                            


paullesamartin said...

i enjoyed particularly your compassionate last paragraph that reflects a basic human desire to share deeply felt emotions.
i suppose it comes down to individual choice rather than cultural coercion. we have plenty of the same here w how the expression of gender identity is impressed on both sexes.

Unleashed said...

Also, if this interests you, continue to read:

The New York Times'
Lechery, Immodesty and the Talmud