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Is the veil liberating?

Polly's picture

When I read Persepolis, the idea that some women might want to be veiled didn't even cross my mind. I'm glad someone in class brought up the idea of what women wear in different cultures being liberating. I found some interesting quotes when I looked up why Muslim women wear the veil and if they like to or not.

"Arab-American Diba Rab says she chooses to wear a veil because it acts as an equalizer. 'I want people to see who I am — for who I am — and not for how I look and not for my physical features, but rather my intellectual capabilities," she said.'"

"I really liked the purpose behind the hijab -- a woman covering herself so that a man should know her for her mind, not her body."

On one hand, covering the physical body so that the mind is most important does sound liberating. But it shows that there is a problem where the physical body of women is the first thing to be looked at, and her mind may be ignored. Women should not have to cover their bodies in order to feel liberated, but that doesn't mean that being covered cannot be liberating. (This is similar to the idea that people should not be put into gender boxes, but that doesn't mean that we can't be in a gender box we like.) I don't think that they should be required by law to adhere to extremely strict guidelines, but I don't know how strict the regulation of clothing actually is. I only got one perspective from Persepolis.


Ann Lemieux's picture

two perspectives

The discussion about why women would choose to wear a veil, and why they could feel that wearing one is liberating, reminds me of a comic I saw a few years ago:

burka vs bikini

This image made me realize that some women may want to cover themselves so that their bodies are not the first thing that people notice, but it also made me realize that our culture, which doesn't force women to wear certain garments or cover their hair, can also be oppressive to women. The focus on women as sexual objects in advertising, and the pressure that women feel to look a certain way and maintain a certain standard of beauty can be just as oppressive, or more, than a culture that makes women cover themselves up. A woman can choose to wear clothing that exposes her skin, because she feels more liberated and comfortable when she is not hiding herself under layers of clothing, but she may also choose to wear modest clothing because she feels more liberated and comfortable taking the attention off of her body and appearance. Both ways of dressing can be liberating, but cultures that put pressure on women to dress either way are oppressive. I believe that feminism is about choice, and a woman should be able to choose how she dresses without being judged by society for either following the rules of an oppressive culture, or rebelling against it.

ccassidy's picture

feminism as a part of identity

I also found the different purposes of the hijab to be very interesting.  While I was reading Persepolis, I felt like cheering when Marjane fought against the new restriction that required the veils women wore to be longer as not to distract their fellow male classmates.  When I spoke with my group on Tuesday about how this was the strongest piece of evidence I could find that Marjane's story had a strong feminist element, one of my group members also presented the idea that the hijab could be seen as a different form of liberation and personal expression.

I think this all ties back to our discussion of what the definition of feminism is.  It sounds cliché to say that feminism is whatever you want it to be but that seems to be the only way we can define so that everyone is included in the 'definition.'  Maybe the term 'feminism' should just be considered a starting point, a structural base on which a person can build their own identity.  Because feminism really does become inherent to your identity. And if feminism is a part of an individual's identity, then it is up to the person to go outside of the umbrella term to discover just how they want to fit feminism to their life and how they want to express that identity to the world. 

Fdaniel's picture

It's complicated

It was interesting to read the comments women said about wearing the veil. I always thought it was insidious for men to tell women what to wear and to cover up because they are making men "horny." I dont think it's a women's responsibility to worry weather men will harm or be arosed. I hate that women have to be restricted from what they want to wear because of a man's perverted mind. Is it really liberating to wear more clothing for protection? Why should we have to cover up because of protection? Clothing should be a form of expression not protection! Do you ever look at a women's clothing and wonder if shes going to be raped? or harrssed? I do and it sucks but i've never thought to myself that i would have to cover up as a form of empowerment in fact i think i'm just oppressing myself. On one hand i understand the idea of covering up so that a "man will know her for her mind, not her body" but i also understand the idea of being who you want and if that means showing your body then so be it. I agreed with the perspective in persepolis that wearing the veil might be horrific but i respect the other view. I think thats what feminism is about. Allowing a woman to find her way and never restrict her from her choices. Feminism is complex we may never know the definiton.