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Veiling: My Own Xenophobic Reactions

As you may know, I study hair as identity and while I typically write about hair itself, there are may other elements that relate to hair, the head and identity. For example, veiling.  I am quite ignorant about this topic but I picked up the book “What is veiling” by Sahar Amer to learn more.  Veiling refers to wearing a length of cloth to cover the head and shoulders and, sometimes, the face (Amer, 2014).  Here are different types of veils:

veils-bbc-news-web-article

I’m going to reveal my own ignorance and say that many times when I see a veiled person (it’s usually a woman that I’ve seen), I immediately think she is either very religious or a very militant Muslim.  Yes, I admit it.  It is xenophobic, I’m not proud of it, but it is the truth.  I hope to always be authentic on this website and I encourage you to do the same.  Two caveats:  1) I’m working on it.  I’m not satisfied with thinking this way so I’m working to get better and have a broader, more inclusive mindset; 2) political correctness may enable us to “tolerate” each other but it will never lead to heart change and true understanding.  See “Rethinking political correctness” by Ely, Meyerson & Davidson (2006, Harvard Business Review).

Post 9/11, the pictures of women donning veils made me feel highly ambivalent.  On one hand, I recognize that many different peoples don veils.  In fact, the veil did not originate with Muslims, it originated in Ancient Mesopotamia in the 13th century BC (Amer, 2014).  Muslims, Jews and Christians alike don(ned) veils.  Apparently, the veil was used to distinguish married, chaste or concubined women from women who were prostitutes or considered morally loose.  It was considered dangerous for a women who should be wearing a veil to go without it or for a woman who shouldn’t be wearing a veil to dare wear it.  But, on the other hand, the media images of Muslim, women extremists, terrorists, donning veils and blowing themselves and others up had been seared into my mind.  It has become an implicit association, meaning a subconscious connection that I now draw between terrorism and the veil.

Can you relate?  Do you make this same implicit association?  Or, are you a Muslim woman who has been subjected to these ignorant associations?  Are you a Muslim woman who prefers not to veil because of the identity implications?  I would love to broach a measured conversation on this topic and explore how veiling impacts identity, especially in the workplace.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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