It’s always the same conversation, every time.  When someone wants to discuss hijab she is locked into a set of talking points.  She can’t not say them–certain words automatically lead into certain phrases that cannot be separated.  When I try to avoid it it feels like someone else is talking through me.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard an insightful conversation about hijab.

I like the hijab.  I like the niqab even better.  I think the munaqaba (niqabi) and the prostitute have more in common with each other than the everyday feminist whom most people consider to be in the middle of the two of them who has no consciousness about controlling her own sexual capital (whatever form she may choose that control to take).

But I think people have managed to make the conversation about hijab so confused and so simplified at the same time that they have ensured that no one will ever be able to say anything meaningful about it–the first sentence offers ten different ways for your female listener to derail you and your male listener to contradict you and the opportunities for people to give evidence about exactly what the rule is behind hijab (and different interpretations are welcome!) or about a real effect, negative or positive, that hijab has had on one’s life, are very rare.  They have made it so you look silly and the issue looks trivial, so that you talk forever without saying anything.

  1. What I don’t understand is this: why do women feel embarrassed about showing their face — the part of us that most critically defines who we are. Faces are not sexual, they are practical expressions of who we are. Anyone who considers a face to be sexual should consider a voice to also be sexual and any other part of a woman to be sexual. So what is a woman to do in this situation, hide in a corner and not make a sound? This is impractical.

    • Thank you for your thought-provoking comment! I’m never sure how people feel about my long responses so I have decided to put my response into a new post on my blog.

  2. The main purpose of the hijab is to conceal but the rationale is varied for donning it. I could see, if I were a woman, perhaps wishing to don such a garment. It forces a man to address you and not your body. Because within the context of any such conversation, the body becomes irrelevant. It is obscured. We men are visual creatures. I believe the intention was to detract this natural activity unless it is your wife. Which in an odd way would seem preferable. It’s a feeling of exclusivity to be able to see one’s wife in her natural form and yet a form no other man has her permission to see her in. It also means, should she get her doctorate in chemistry and be teaching a lecture at an institute, her colleagues and bosses must learn to address her knowledge and not her form.

    • Sir Fancypants. Some enlightening information, mostly. I just have two problems with what you said.

      First, you say that “We men are visual creatures.” So, when I see thousands of girls screaming at an ‘N Sync concert (I know, it’s an out of date reference — feel free to fit in whatever boy band is popular now), am I supposed to assume that women are not visual creatures? Of course not. Humans are visual creatures. Therefore, either men also wear the veil or women do not.

      Second, you mentioned seeing your wife without her hijab or niqab is a feeling of exclusivity. Well, personally, I don’t care for such nonsense as “exclusivity.” This is a form of pride that we need to outgrow as humans.

      • I like what Mr. England/Fancypants is saying, but I do think it can be observed that women are generally treated better in communities which also have less of an expectation that they cover themselves, so I can’t say I’d completely agree with him in a theoretical perfect world (but then I wouldn’t always apply my own ideas, either). Sometimes this philosophy is a way of dealing with things.

        I agree that humans in general are visual creatures, but I also know that the men I’m interested in would not pay any attention to me if they didn’t like the way I looked (some of them do like the way I look and they still blow me off), whereas the men I have dated (serial-fucked) have almost all been physically unattractive to me.

        I don’t necessarily care for the concept of exclusivity with one’s partner, either, but I think this and the other problems that you have presented here would disappear if, when considering this debate (whether to cover vs. whether to show your body; that is, whether to retain all of your sexuality and not give any away vs. whether to give it all away, or at least, as much as you want to), people would adopt my view that a woman should choose exactly how much of her sex she wants to give away (for money or otherwise) and that any point on the spectrum is acceptable, just as it is acceptable for people to choose how they will use and regulate their other abilities. Unfortunately most people will only choose one side and refuse the other; they forget that each end of that spectrum exists because the other one exists too. I guess someone really could accept one side and reject the other, but only if they believe women are inferior human beings.

      • Sorry for the long delay. I began following this lady’s blog back when I was in Afghanistan blogging about war whoring (defense contracting) and check back occasionally to read some interesting perspectives.

        Not married. I was merely recalling conversations with Muslim men (and a couple women) about the concept of the hijab as it relates between them and their wives (or husbands, respectively).

        How many members of N’Sync were raped by those women? How many women were killed in feudal disputes over members of N’Sync that they had staked out as personal property? I understand these statistics may be hard to find. The converse, however, is nearly a history of mankind and his sexuality.

    • You do think that the body becomes irrelevant? I always have to wonder whether it makes people concentrate even more on finding a glimpse of something sexual.

      I have witnessed a woman in niqab who still came off as attractive, although it was probably because I could make out her form–she was obviously slender and had her hair all pulled up on top of her head so that the veil fell over it. If she succeeded in hiding her bodily form entirely, including her eyes, and any other feature that might come through from under the veil, could she succeed in keeping the situation nonsexual? What if, in the event that covering fails (and considering the way men act in the majority-hair-covering countries I have visited, it may be failing), could women succeed by, say, talking through a computerized text-to-speech machine so that they can even hide their voice? Can technology allow women to completely harness their sexual capital? (I think it already has in a bunch of ways, from cheap and easy access to online sex work like webcamming which lowers safety hazards by allowing a woman to work from home, to the ability to carry around a photograph of oneself so that potential mates can see what you look like, if you live in a mandatory-covering community.)

  3. You’re right. I’ve seen women in full hijab whom I found to be extremely attractive. The nuances in the most minor of details become all the more beautiful and rewarding to behold.

    The totality of human sexuality can never be completely eliminated without complete absence of humans. Wives are kinda like whores but they predominantly serve single customers and must subsist off whatever the primary contract holder surrenders. On the whole, I’d say it’s a bad deal but I guess emotions count for something. The trade-off of the imagined secure salaried position or sporadic freelance work, I suppose.

    Women are predominantly property in the places where they wear hijabs. As the western world drops their jaws and gasps, they also forget how violent and horrible men are. I think the most ridiculous thing is when I read an American lecturing me on the horrors of a hijab. The hijab is a way of saying “I’m owned”. If you’re not seeing her in a hijab, it’s because she’s yours or she’s a prostitute or she’s much too young. If you think that’s bad or sick or depraved, move back two hundred years, pretend there’s no cops or soldiers that come running to your defense, and you’re doing your best to move through downtown Detroit. And, in a way, it is sick, depraved, and bad. I don’t think humans should work like that. But, all the same, when the rule of law is established by the biggest gang in the land, they come up with rules about dealing with each other’s property. And women, both hiistorically and argueably still today, are property.

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