The Politics of the Veil

The word hijab comes from the Arabic language meaning “veil” and is used to describe the headscarves that cover parts of the faces of Muslim women. These scarves come in a variety of styles and colors and symbolize both religion and womanhood.

In the 2001 documentary, Beneath the Veil, a British journalist traveled across Afghanistan and highlighted many private salons in which women would beautify themselves by curling their hair or applying make-up. Woman would leave these homes with eyeliner and lipstick on beneath their covering. Even beauty magazines and mirrors had to be hidden or buried in fear that they would be caught. Should this be seen as oppressive? In the readings “The Discourse of the Veil” and “The Veil in Their Minds and On Our Heads” the authors explain how Western society isn’t accepting of the veil and finds it oppressive to women simply because its different from our culture. They also say racism and ignorance play a large role. Would a good example of this be Western civilization’s complete indifference to nuns, who are primarily white, dressing modestly?

Thinking further into this topic of veiling among women in Muslim societies, one can begin to think about other contexts in which veiling of women are prevalent. Veiling is really everywhere such as its use on brides, nuns, during church or praying, among Latin American cultures during funerals and other religious events, and many other contexts. Why is veiling then so harshly stigmatized with regards to Muslim women? We already went through some examples in class, but perhaps the real issue is the segregation of men and women. In all of the previous examples, women are not necessarily being oppressed, but they are donning different attire than the men. Do you think the veil would be such a big deal if say both men and women had to wear it? It’s important to keep in mind that regardless of the type of clothing worn, men will oppress women if they want to. Women are much more free to wear what they wish in America, for example, but face ongoing discrimination and violence because of their gender. For women who choose to wear the veil in the U.S., could the veil really be a form of resistance against Western cultural norms then?

If beauty is a quality of the highest aesthetic and moral feeling and for some entail “aliveness” as the Ngyuen reading of last week suggested, then what ideas about beauty does the Burqa entail and how important is a school focused on beauty in Afghanistan? We discussed these questions in class as well but to further expatiate on these ideas, it is important to view the Burqa not solely as an item of clothing that is independently fashioned for religious purposes but in addition, an item that bears a political charge . The authors of these readings collectively argue that the Burqa represents deprivation, deindividuation, and deficiency, yet numerous women have voiced a clear disagreement with this interpretation. In this piece that is centered on beauty, we see that the women have established themselves as full participants in society even with their Burqa and express their “aliveness” by putting efforts into the production of their beauty. Various examples are given in the article of this situation, which makes one wonder how important beauty is in geopolitics and what political statements does it infer in a society that limits the participation and self expression of females. Is it humane to limit such expression of beauty? And how is beauty translated in this transnational context?

If interested, click here to watch the Beneath the Veil Documentary:


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