In response to yesterday’s post, thegreatantagonizer left me a question which said:
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 the response! My response is long and I felt that it warranted its own post.
Firstly, I am not sure who it is that you mean is embarrassed to show their face–women who wear niqab or women in general? I’m unclear because embarrassment is not one of the reasons I come up with when I think of the reasons for covering/wearing niqab or some other head-covering garment. I can definitely understand how someone might feel embarrassed for men to see her face when those men automatically sexualize it, and for anyone who sexualizes her to see her likeness at all, but I think that’s more embarrassment of the situation than of one’s face itself. Maybe you meant that some women think being female is inherently embarrassing; I’m sure there are some people who think that, honestly I cannot say how prominent that is among the population of women who cover their faces or why they feel that way if they do, although I sometimes think a small part of me can relate.
I think there can be many reasons for covering one’s face, which I can elaborate on if you want, but one of my favorites is the desire to protect your skin (and hair) from the sun and the elements so that it will remain beautiful for your partner.
I think it’s empowering to be able to hide your likeness in general, but especially (as mentioned above) from people who would put unwanted advances on you, not just because they are then cut off from the sexual part of the interaction but because then you have near-complete control (that is, as much control as possible) over how much of an interaction they are able to force with you. It would be nice if no one ever said that being female is automatically provocative, but when they do say that I think it is better to have a way of working within the situation. I don’t think faces are sexual, either, but I gather that there are some people who do. You’re right that if a face is sexual then everything is sexual and I suspect that people who impose clothing standards on women would have no problem with forcing them to “hide in a corner and not make a sound” if they could.
I know that deciding to cover your face anyway in response to those kinds of people doesn’t solve the problem, and I guess in a way it’s because I think that attitude will never be solved, but I like that the niqab can be in response to both embarrassment and self-confidence, and can also be used to feign embarrassment and/or self-confidence depending on who is pushing you at that moment, and can also be used to hide your facial expression while feigning that embarrassment and/or confidence, etc. etc. A covering garment can be a vehicle for nearly all things and I think it is the right of women to take those advantages in the exact amount that covering has been forced onto them in the first place.