A bus shelter ad went up on 187 Street. A fresh-faced young women in pastels, a fanny pack at her waist, a skateboard flipped up in front of her feet. And a hajib. She looks like she’s having a ball.
The company behind the ad, Modanisa, touts itself as modern. It offers all sorts of outfits, from evening gowns to track suits. The on-line catalog offers muted tones, flat black, stark white. What they have in common: a head covering.
Occasionally Muslim women sway down the sidewalk of the Bronx, sometimes wearing light colors, sometimes black, some wearing the head scarfs called hijabs, others partly covering their faces with nigahs, others dressed head to toe in black (or blue) burqas with a mesh over the face so that some visibility is possible. What does the world look like through a mesh screen, I wonder.
The practice of covering women’s heads is so widespread and variable in many countries that it is almost difficult to describe the practice. Basically, head or body coverings are worn by Muslim women in many countries as a sign of modesty.
There have been fights over the right to wear burqas over recent years. Many countries, including, famously, France, banned the hajib around 5 years ago in public buildings and in schools. Syria and Egypt ban face veils in school. Remember the controversy over the “burgini”? Should women all wrapped up fit in on the beach? Nike has a version.
Others – Austria, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, just for a start– have banned the burqa, though not the hajib.
On the other hand, enlightened countries such as the U.S etc., turn a blind eye on the issue of covering up women, saying they are all for freedom of religion. But who created and runs and enforces the rules of the religious that requires women to cover up? Men.of course. Men invented “modesty”. Burqas cannot be found in the Kuran. The necessity of covering up seems to be a male construct.
The common denominator of all these types of covering is hair. Why is hair so threatening? Why does modesty absolutely require covering it? Because that’s what it seems to come down to. Men can’t be allowed to lay eyes on the hair of a women who “belongs” to another man. Hair is powerful, indeed. Hair is life.
Afghanistan and Iran are the worst offenders. Look at the history of Iran. Two slogans of the 1979 revolution: “Wear a veil, or we will punch your head,” and “Death to the unveiled.” In February 2018, Iranian Police released an official statement saying that any women found protesting Iran’s compulsory veiling code would be charged with “inciting corruption and prostitution,” which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
In Afghanistan, as is apparent whenever you watch the evening news, the Taliban are heavily invested in the burqa.
When the Taliban retreated a decade ago, women continued to wear it out of concern for their safety, actually afraid that if they dressed in street clothes physical harm would come to them. The burqa became a symbol of the conservative and totalitarian Taliban rule.
And, if a woman isn’t covered up enough, there is an even more startling version called the Gulf Burqa, a metallic-looking fashion mask mainly worn in the Persian Gulf, and said to indicate that the wearer is married.
Are we so different? America used to have unwritten dress codes for women. Until just about the Roaring Twenties, dresses brushed your slippers and any glimpse of an ankle was scandalous, verboten.
The ankle was seductive and had to be hidden.
In the nineteenth century, upward of the ground, bustles amplified the butt.
Crinoline hoops, the precurson to the bustle, had already made it difficult to sit down. It is said that doorways had to be widened to allow the voluminous bell-shaped skirts entry to a room.
In the days of chamber pots, I have often wondered, how did a woman wad up all that fabric to do her business?
Going to the beach was really raunchy. Bathing suits included boots.
Bicycles, in part, changed women’s dress. At the turn of the 20th century, everyone went bike-crazy. For men, it was easy-on, easy-off, and you were suddenly free with the wind in your hair. For women, not so fast. All that heavy cotton pique draped over the pedals, the wheels. And women really wanted to ride – they were’t going to be left behind. Bloomers, born in this era, offered a solution, although they were greeted with some scorn.
Women had a liberty of movement they hadn’t had before. They had ceased being covered up.
It took time for actual trousers to come around for most U.S. women. Even as late as the sixties, sixth grade marked the last year we were required to wear dresses in my local public school. Katherine Hepburn and a few other social icons put on pants before the rest of their gender, sounding the alarum that such a mode of fashion wouldn’t damn you to hell for being “immodest”.
Now the spectrum has swung the other way, with people like Britney Spears unfairly beaten up for her clothing choices – for her to reveal her bosom now is the equivalent of her great-great-grandmother showing an ankle. Rihanna has a lingerie line with some fetching numbers. She has the power to inspire other people to dress immodestly.
We are breaking out of our burqas.You can really go down the rabbit hole with Modanisa, which is based in Turkey – which doesn’t require head coverings – and reaches 16 million people a month on its web site. Their statement of purpose: “ to meet modest women’s desire to wear the clothes that fit the life and times they live in.”
First, as you click through the site, you freak out with their more traditional items, then you see the burkini.
Then you see that they actually have uncovered models’ heads to display their activewear.
I didn’t see a skateboard on the Modanisa site. You have to provide your own. Yet that, too, is a possibility, even in Afganistan, if countries like the United States stop coddling the men who repress women in the name of religion.