Veil_and_Women - ‘The Veil in Their Minds and on Our...

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Unformatted text preview: ‘The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 421 22 ern biases against non—Western cultures abound. In research, for example, social scientists often fail to compare like with like. The situation of poor illit— erate peasant women of the South is implicitly or explicitly compared with The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads: Veiling Practices and Muslim r Women Homa Hoodfar uslim women, and particularly Middle Eastern and North African women, for the past two centuries have been one 'of the most enduring subjects of discussion in the Western media. I can also assert without hesitation that the issue of the veil and the oppreSSion of Mus- lim women has been the most frequent topic of conversation and dlscussion I have been engaged in, often reluctantly, during some twenty years of my life in the Western world (mostly in the UK and Canada). Whenever I meet a person of white/ European descent, I regularly find that as soon ashe or she ascertalns that I am Muslim/ Middle Eastern/ Iranian, the veil very quickly emerges as the prominent topic of conversation. This scenario occurs everywhere: in trains, at the grocery store, at the launderette, on the university campus, at parties. The range of knowledge of these eager conversants varies: some honestly confess total ignorance of Islam and Islamic culture or Middle Eastern soc1et1-es; others base their claims and opinions on their experiences 1n colonlal armies 1n the Middle East, or on their travels through the Middle East to India during the 19605; still others cite as reference films or novels. What I find remarkable is that, despite their admitted ignorance on the subject, almost all people I have met are, with considerable confidence, adamant that women have a particularly . . . . N _r . en PWtough'etime'inerMuslimr cultures. Occa51onally Western non Mushm worn will tell me they are thankful that they were not born in a Muslim culture. Sometimes they go so far as to say that they are happy that I am livmg in 121161; society rather than my own, since obviously my ways are more hke theirs, a: since now, having been exposed to Western ways, I could never return to t e harem! ‘ . 7 - that For years I went through much pain and frustration, trying to convey ‘ many assumptions about Muslim women were false and based on the rac1sm and biases of the colonial powers, yet without defendlng or denying the patrl- archal barriers that Muslim-women (like women in many other countries, including Western societies) face. I took pains to give examples of how West the experiences of educated upper—middle—class women of Western societies1 Failing to adequately contextualize non—Western societies, many researchers simply assume that what is good for Western middle—class women should be good for all other women.2 It is frustrating that, in the majority of cases, while my conversants listen to me, they do not hear, and at the end of the conversa— tion they reiterate their earlier views as if our discussion were irrelevant. In more recent years, they treat me as an Islamic apologist, which silences me in new ways that often preclude argument. I had assumed that my experiences were unique and were the result of my moving in milieux that had little contact with or knowledge about Muslim communities and cultures. However, through my recent research on the inte— gration of Muslim women in educational institutions and the labor market in Canada, which has brought me into contact with many young Muslim women, I have come to realize that these reactions on the part of the domi— nant group are much more prevalent than I had thought. Moreover, the Mus— lim community, and in particular veiled women, suffer the psychological and socioeconomic consequences of these views. This situation has created a high level of anger and frustration in response to the deliberate racism toward Mus— lims in Canada and the unwillingness, despite ample examples, to let go of old colonial images of passive Muslim women. The assumption that veil equals ignorance and oppréssion means that young Muslim women have to invest a con— siderable amount of energy to establish themselves as thinking, rational, liter— ate students/ individuals, both in their classrooms and outside. In this essay, I draw on historical sources, my research data on young Mus— lim women in Canada, as well as my own experience as a non—veiled Muslim woman of Iranian descent. I argue that the veil, which since the nineteenth century has symbolized for the West the inferiority of Muslim cultures, remains a powerful symbol both for the West and for Muslim societies. While for Westerners its meaninghas been static and unchanging, in Muslim cultures the veil’s functions and social significance have varied tremendously, particu— larly during times of rapid social change. Veiling is a lived experience full of contradictions and multiple meanings. While it has clearly been a mechanism in the service of patriarchy, a means of regulating and controlling women’s lives, women have used the same social institution to free themselves from the bonds of patriarchy Muslim womeri, like all other women, are social actors, employing, reforming, and changing existing social institutions, often cre— atively, to their own ends. The static colonial image of the oppressed veiled Muslim woman thus often contrasts sharply with the lived experience of veil— ing. To deny this is also to deny Muslim women their agency. The continuation of misconceptions and misinterpretations about the veil and veiled women has several consequences, not just for Muslim women but also for occidental women. The mostly man—made images of oriental Muslim Women continue to be a mechanism by which Western dominant cultures re— 422 Home: Hoodfar The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 423 rationalized that since the behavior of the wives of the Prophet is to be emu— lated, then all women should adopt this form of dress.7 In any case, it was not until the reign of the Safavids (1501—1722) in Iran and the Ottoman Empire (1357—1924), which extended to most of the area that today is known as the Middle East and North Africa, that the veil emerged as a widespread symbol of status among the Muslim ruling class and urban elite. Significantly, it is only since the nineteenth century, after the veil was promoted by the colonials as a prominent symbol of Muslim societies, that Muslims have justified it in the name of Islam, and not by reference to cultural practices.8 Although the boundaries of veiling and seclusion have been blurred in many debates, and particularly in Western writing, the two phenomena are separate, and their consequences for Muslim women are vastly different. Seclu~ sion, or what is sometimes known as purdah, is the idea that women should be protected, especially from males who are not relatives; thus they are often kept at home where their contact with the public is minimized. Seclusion may or may not be combined with the veiling that covers the whole body. It has been argued that seclusion developed among Mediterranean and Middle Eastern societies because they prefer endogamous marriages; conse— quently they tend to develop social institutions that lend themselves to more control of young people, particularly women.9 The argument is made even more strongly for Muslim women because they inherit wealth and remain in control of their wealth after marriage.‘ Although a daughter’s inherited share is equal to half that of a son, it is also established, by religion, that a father does not have the power to disinherit his daughters. It is an irony of history that the more economic rights women have had, the more their sexuality has been subject to control through theL development of complex social institutions.10 Nonetheless, outside the well—to—do social elites, seclusion was rarely practiced to any considerable degree, since women’s economic as well as reproductive labor was essential for the survival of their households. In reality, the majority of social classes/particularly in rural settings, practiced segregation and sexual division of labor rather than seclusion. The exertion of these controls often created an obstacle but did not erase Muslim women’s control of their wealth (if they had any), which they managed.11 However, as the socioeconomic conditions changed and factory production and trade became the major sources of wealth and capital, elite women lost ground to their male counterparts. The ideology of seclusion prevented their easy access to the rapidly changing market and to information, thus limiting their economic possibilities. Consequently their socioeconomic position Vis—a— Vis their husbands deteriorated. Moreover, the informal social institutions, class alliances, and kin networks that had protected women to some extent were breaking down very rapidly In the contemporary context, this context is an important, though often neglected, reason for women of the upper classes in the Middle East to become more radically involved in the women’s move— ment. In Egypt, where the socioeconomic changes were most rapid, the women’s movement developed into an organized and effective political force that other political groups could not afford to ignore.12 As for women in other create and perpetuate beliefs about their superiority. The persistence of c010- nial and racist responses to their societies has meant that Muslim communities and societies must continually struggleeto protect their cultural and political identities, a situation that makes it harder for many Muslim women, who share the frustration of their community and society, to question the merits and uses of the veil within their own communities. Moreover, the negative images of Muslim women are continually presented as a reminder to European and North American women of their relative good fortune and as an implied warning to curb their “excessive” demands for social and legal equality. Yet all too often Western feminists uncritically participate in the dominant androcen- tric approaches to other cultures and fail to see how such participation is ulti- mately in the service of patriarchy.3 Significantly, Western feminists’ failure to critically interrogate colonial, racist, and androcentric constructs of women of non—Western cultures forces Muslim women to choose between fighting sex- ism or racism. As Muslim feminists have often asked, must racism be used to fight sexism? To illustrate the persistence of the social and ideological construction of the veil in colonial practices and discourses and its contrast to the lived expe— rience of veiling, I first briefly review a history of the veil and its representa— tion in the West. Then,«by examining some of the consequences of both compulsory de—veiling and re~veiling in Iran, I demonstrate the costs to Iran— ian women of generalized and unsubstantiated assumptions that the veil is inherently oppressive and hence that its removal is automatically liberating. I then discuss some of my findings on the representation of the veil and its usage in the context of Canadian society and its consequences for young Mus— lim women in their communities and in their interaction with other women, particularly feminists. I point out how the androcentric images and stereotypes of occidental and oriental women inhibit women’s learning about and from each other and weakens our challenge to both patriarchy and Western imperi— alism. The practice of veiling and seclusion of women is pre—Islamic and orig— inates in non—Arab Middle Eastern and Mediterranean societies.4 The first reference to veiling is in an Assyrian legal text that dates from the thirteenth century B.C., which restricted the practice to respectable women and forbade prostitutes from veiling.5 Historically, veiling, especially when accompanied by seclusion, was a sign of status and was practiced by the elite in the ancient ’Gre’coIRoma'n’,’ prel’Isl'amic Iranian,'and Byzantine empires. Muslims adopted the veil and seclusion from conquered peoples, and today it is widely recog- nized, by Muslims and non—Muslims, as an Islamic phenomenon that is pre— sumably sanctioned by the Qur’an. Contrary to this belief, veiling is nowhere specifically recommended or even discussed in the Qur’an.6 At the heart of the Qur’anic position on the question of the veil is the interpretation of two verses (Surah al—Nur, verses 30~31) that recommend women to cover their bosoms and jewelry; this has come to mean that women should cover them— selves. Another verse recommends to the wives of the Prophet to wrap their cloak tightly around their bodies, so as to be recognized and not be bothered or molested in public (Surah al—Ahzab, verse 59). Modern commentators have 424 Homa Hoodfar social groups, the “modern” and “traditional” ideologies of domesticity often excluded women from better—paying jobs in the public sector, particularly if this involved traveling outside their neighborhoods and being in contact with unrelated males. Moreover, the early modern governments that sponsored the training of many citizens in fields such as commercial and international law, engineering, and commerce, following the European model, closed these options to women until a much later date, thereby reproducing and occasion— ally intensifying the gap already existing between men’s and women’s eco— nomic opportunities.13 The veil refers to the clothing that covers and conceals the body from head to ankle, with the exception of the face, hands, and feet. Incidentally, this is also a very accurate description of the traditional male clothing of much of the Arab world, although in different historical periods authorities have tried, with varying degrees of success, to make the clothing more gender specific.14 The most drastic difference between male and female clothing worn among the Arab urban elite was created with the Westerniza— tion and colonization of Muslim societies in the Middle East and North Africa. Men, particularly, began to emulate European ways of dress much sooner and on a larger scale than women did. 3 Although in Western literature the veil and veiling are often presented as a unified and static practice that has not changed for more than a thousand years, the veil has been varied and subject to changing fashion throughout past and present history. Moreover, like other articles of clothing, the veil may be worn for multiple reasons. It may be worn to beautify the wearer,15 much as Western women wear makeup; to demonstrate respect for conventional val— ues;16 or to hide the wearer’s identity.17 In recent times, the most frequent type of veiling in most cities is a long, loosely fitted dress of any color combination, worn with a scarf wrapped (in various fashions) on the head so as to cover all the hair. Nonetheless, the imaginary veil that comes to the minds of most Westerners is an awkward black cloak that covers the whole body, including the face, and is designed to prevent women’s mobility.18 Throughout history, however, apart from the elite, women’s labor was necessary to the functioning of the household and the economy, and so they wore clothing that would not hamper their movement. Even a casual survey of clothing among most rural and urban areas in the Middle East and other Muslim cultures would indicate that these women’s costumes, though all are considered Islamic, cover the body tordiiferent degrees}9 The tendency of Western scholars and the colonial powers to present a unidimensional Islam and a seamless society of Muslims has prevented them from exploring the socioeconomic significance of the existing variations that were readily available, sometimes in their own drawings and paintings. Similarly, scholarly study of Islamic beliefs and culture focused on Islamic texts and use of Islamic dialogues, while overlooking the variations in the way Islam was practiced in different Islamic cultures and by different classes. Although clothing fulfills a basic need of human beings in most climates, it is also a significant social institution through which important ideological and nonverbal communication takes place. Clothing, in most aspects, is designed to The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 425 indicate not only gender and stage of life cycle, but also to identify social group and geographic area.20 Moreover, in the lVIiddle East, veiling has been intertwined with Islamic ethics, making it an even more complex institution. According to Muslims, women should cover their hair and body when they are in the presence of adult men who are not close relatives; thus when women put on or take off their veil, they are defining who may or may not be considered kin.21 Fcirthermore, since veiling defines sexuality, by observing or neglecting the veil, women may define who is a man and who is not.22 For instance, high—status women may not observe the veil in the presence of low— status men. ‘ In the popular urban culture of Iran, in situations of conflict between men and women who are outside the family group, a very efiective threat that women have is to drop their veil and thus indicate that they do not consider the contester to be a man.23 This is an irrevocable insult and causes men to be wary of getting into arguments with women. Similarly, by threatening to drop the veil and put on male clothing, women have at times manipulated men to comply with their wishes. One such example can be drawn fiom the Tobacco Movement of the late nineteenth century in Iran. In a meeting on devising resistance strategies against the tobacco monopoly and concessions given to Britain by the Iranian government, men expressed reluctance to engage in rad— ical political action. Observing the men’s hesitation, women nationalists who were participating in the meeting (from the women’s section of the mosque) raised their voices and threatened that if the men failed to protect their coun— try for the women and children, then the women had no alternative but to drop their veil and go to war themselves.24 Thus, the men were obliged to consider more radical forms of action. The Making of the Veil in Their Minds ' It was in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that the West’s overwhelming preoccupation with the veil in Muslim cultures emerged. Travel accounts and observations fiom commentators prior to this time show little interest in Muslim women or the veil. The sexual segregation among all sects (Muslims, Christians, and Jews) in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures was established knowledge and prior to the nineteenth century rarely attracted much attention fitom European travelers. Some pre—nineteenth—century accounts did report on oriental and Muslim women’s lack of morality and shamelessness based on their revealing clothes and their free mobility.25 Others observed and commented on the extent of women’s power within the domes— tic domain, an aspect totally overlooked in the latter part of.,the nineteenth century.26 ' The representation of the Muslim orient by the Christian occident went through. a fundamental change as the Ottoman Empire’s power diminished and the Muslim orient fell deeper and deeper under European domination. The appearance and circulation of the earliest version of A Thousand and One Nights27 in the West coincided with the Turkish defeat.28 By the nineteenth H ill The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 427 l, 426 Homa Hoodfizr l ‘ m‘ _ century the focus of representation of the Muslim orient had c . w . . . i W the male barbarian, constructed over centuries durin ‘h w; u “uncivilized” ignorant male whose masculini “1‘ H . . M ' a lied equally to their own society. Both Muslim orientaland Christialn Clsn'ls p121 women were thought to be in need of male protection and inte OCCIdaellnt nd biologically destined for the domestic domain. Moreover, in both liming; and occident women were expected to obey and honor their hus— t e hanged from g the Crusades, to the ty relies on the mistreatment of Ill 3‘ tators of the nineteenth century came acr where Muslim men imprisoned their w beautify themselves and cater to their h ironic that the word harem, which etymo notes sacred and shrine, has come to re Western world.34 Women are invariably depi , With little hope phers have found access to these pres is a question that has been raised only recently.36 Western representations of the harem were inspired not only by the fan— tasies of A Thousand and One Nights, but also by the colonizers’ mission of sub— jugation of the colonized, to the exclusion of the reality of the harems and the way women experienced them. Of little interest to Western readers was the fact that during the nineteenth century in 85 percent of the population lived in rural land and in the homes, with lives very elites (who, in any case, were a very small areas, where women worked on the different from the well—to—do urban minority). When Western, commen— oss a situation that contradicted their stereotype of the power structure in Muslim households, they simply dis— missed it as exceptional.37 It is important to bear in mind that the transformation in the representation of Muslim women during the nineteenth century did not occur'in isolation from other changes taking place in the imperial land, as Mabro has pointed out.38 During the same period, the ideology of femininity and what later came to be known as the Victorian morality was developing in Britain, and varia— tions on this theme were coming into existence in other areas of the Western world.39 Yet Western writers zealously and Muslim women, with little regard , as the world of women, emerged as a source of fascination, ives, who had nothing to do except usbands’ huge sexual appetite.33 It is logically derives from a root that con— present such a negative notion in the 'cted as prisoners, fi'equently half— bands. In his book Sketches of Persia,4°.Sir John Malcolm reporttsha gigglgéf between himself and Meerza Aboo 1n WElllchPEZISO‘EIOifI: Aeboo Tam) ‘ ' ' re ative to uro . able Pohltlogiriftliir‘fhg 3:123:21: that loving and obeying their husbands, giv— lnakes t e p t' to their children, and their domestic duties, are the best mg prOPer agcenfeorhales”41 Malcolm then replies that this made the women occupatlihl:ircllusbands’pleasure and housework. That is, of course, quite cor— 5121vesbtot as Mabro has pointed out, Aboo Talib’s comment on Persran women :E;:acst’arll equally correct description of women’s duty in most European soc1— . . . . . . 6'42 etl‘lildiihldlrddili 1\3XI/'let:tle:’riacw:(fritelhntraveler—writers draw parallels-between. the oppression of women in their own society and that of women in ii; orifietp; For instance, European women of the nineteenth centgry wire a Sitylation than their oriental counterparts in terms of mobility an travp 'ng:143 MObfle of which many European female expatriates repeatedly comp aine n.0t able to Shaman, in her book Through Algeria, lamented that women yvere {ten WtOte travel unless accompanied by men.44 Western women trave e35 E that in about the boredom of oriental women’s hves. It often escapef :1 an;tic life many cases it was precisely the boredom and the hmitétaon o Domain,S trav— that had been the major motivagingbforce behfijtréialréyy f:::i§nsyyrfilarly While els to the orient, an option no ou t open 0 h . bled Siguation Western writers of the nineteenth century wrote about tdevtéou lied to men of women in polygamous marriages and the double stan ,ya'r app .— e totall i ored the phght of mistresses in. their own soCi :fiisjiidlflli: is: numbing)? illegitimate children, who not onldy had nro riglhet to economic support but as “bastards” were also condpmrlie to 51:8? the stigma of the sin of their father for the rest of their life. 3 ea; y, schretandard as Muslim orient and the Christian occ1dent both practice a ou C: s 1 ed to it applied to men and women. goth systims :f ipfifgizclgyuxir: 502:1 (Estim— ’s whims and to efpetuate t e1r r . ~ 29:51: 2131:3105 of the orienI: and occident that have developpgl in Eight: ensure male prerogatives were/ are different. The Westfirn wor e3; women monogamous ideology, overlooliinghthe bleak litfet 1;): zospgpf g1::1i1§mizati0n of ‘ ‘ e itimate children. n t e or1en,a :Idlygyhlcradil rigiarriages and institutionalizing the double standarcil, \ZZirielr; their children received at least a limited degree of protectiopi1 an is ml img es macy. Although the occident demonstrated little interest indt e one:S indicgate of the European world, numerous nineteenth—century bocume the resen— that oriental writers were conscious of the contradiction etweefn h Vp/estem tation of a civilized facade and the hideous and cruel reahty o t e hildren.46 world for many women and c _ - Women in Qajar Iran were astonished by the clothing of Western women arm 428 Homa Hoodfar and the discomfort that women must feel in the heavy, tight garments- the f 1 that Western societies were unkind to their women by attempting tb ch: St the shape of their bodies, forcing them into horrendous corSets.47 A scenange quoted in Mabro has aptly captured the way oriental and occidental womr 10 viewed each other: “When Lady Mary Montague was pressed by the women in a Turkish bath to take off her clothes and join them, she undid her blouen to show them her corset. This led them to believe that she Was imprisoned e a machine which could only be opened by her husband. Both groups 01:“ women could see each other as prisoners and of course they were right”48 As the domination by Europe over the orient increased, it shattered Islamic societies’ self—confidence as peoples and civilizations. Many, in their attempt to restore their nations’ lost glory and independence, sought to Westernize their society by emulating Western ways and customs, including the clothing. The modernizers’ call for women’s formal education was often linked With unveil- mg, as though the veil per se would prevent women from studying or intellec- tual activities. The reformers proposed a combination of unveiling and education in one package, which at least partly stemmed from their belief that the veil had become in the West a symbol of their society’s “backwardness.” In many Muslim societies, particularly among urban elites, patriarchal rulers had often enforced (and in some cases still do) the veil to curtail women’s mobility and independence. The reformers’ criticisms were mostly directed at the seclu— sion in the name of the veil, for clearly, seclusion and public education were incompatible. Nonetheless, given the connections between the veil and Islamic ethics in Muslim cultures, the reformers and modernizers made a strategic mistake in combining unveiling with formal education. Conservative forces particularly some of the religious authorities, seized the opportunity to legit: 1mize their opposition to the proposed changes in the name of religion and galvanized public resistance. Though education is recommended by Islam equilly for males and females, in fact the public is largely opposed to unveil— mg. Despite much opposition from religious and conservative forces, many elite reformists in the Middle East (both males and females) pressed for de—veiling. In Egypt, where feminist and women’s organizations had emerged as impor— tant political forces vocally criticizing colonial power, it was the women activists who initiated and publicly removed the veil during a demonstration in _,-...Cairo,in,1923.5.O Egyptthus became the first Islamic country to de—veil with— out state intervention, a situation that provoked heated debates in Egypt and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. Recent assessment of de—veiling has dismissed the importance of this historical event on the grounds that veiling only affected upper—class women. But, as I have argued elsewhere, “although Egyptian women of low—income classes never veiled their faces and wore more dresses which did not prevent movement, they nevertheless regarded the upper—class veil as an ideal. It was not ideology which prevented them from taking ‘the veil,’ rather it was the lack of economic possibilities.”51 The de—Veiling movement among upper—class Egyptian women questioned not only the ide— The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 429 010g}; of the veil but also the seclusion of women in the name of the veil and Islam In other countries, such as Iran and Turkey, it was left to the state to outlaw the veil. Although the rhetoric of de—veiling was to liberate women so they Could contribute to builda new modern nation, in reality women and their interests counted little. Rather, they had become the battlefield and the booty of the harsh and sometimes bloody struggle between the secularists and mod— erniStS on one side, and the religious authorities on the other. The modernist states, eager to alienate and defeat the religious authorities, who historically had shared the state’s power and who generally opposed the trend toward sec— ularization,52 outlawed the veil and enlisted the police forces to compel de— veiling without considering the consequences of this action for women, particularly those outside the elite and middle classes of large urban centers. Ataturk (1923—38), who represented the secularist, nationalist movement in Turkey, outlawed the veil and in fact all traditional clothing including the fez; the Turks were to wear European—style clothing in a march toward modernity. Iran followed suit and introduced clothing reform, albeit a milder version, but the stress was put on de—veiling. Feminists and women activists in Iran were less organized than their counterparts in Egypt and Turkey. Debates on women’s issues and the necessity of education were primarily championed by men and placed in the context of the modernization of Iran to regain its lost glory.53 In these discussions, women were primarily viewed as the mothers of the nation, who had to be educated in order to bring up educated and intelli— gent children, particularly sons. The veil was often singled out as the primary obstacle to women’s education. The Veil on Our Heads: Iran, a Case Study De—veiling, particularly without any other legal and socioeconomic adjust— ments, can at best be a dubious measure of women’s “liberation” and freedom of movement, and it can have many short— and long—term consequences. To illustrate this point, here I review the experiences of my own grandmother and her friends during the de—veiling movement in the 19305, and then com— pare this with some of the trends that have developed with the introduction and strict enforcement of compulsory veiling under the current Islamic Republic of Iran. In 1936, the Shah’s father, as part of his plan to modernize Iran, decided to outlaw the veil. The government passed a law that made it illegal for women to be in the street wearing the veil (or, as Iranians refer to it, the chador, which literally means tent and consists of a long cape—type clothing that covers from head to ankle but normally does not cover the face) or any other kind of head covering except a European hat.54 The police had strict orders to pull off and tear up any scarf or chador worn in public. This had grievous consequences for the majority of women, who were socialized to see the veil and veiling as legitimate and the only acceptable way of dressing. Nonetheless, it is impor— .4.- ans-43 - 430 Homa Hoodfar tant to note the impact of the compulsory de—veiling for rural and urban women, younger and older women, as well as women of different classes. As the state had little presence in the countryside and since most rural women dressed in their traditional clothing, the law had only a limited impact in the countryside. The women who were urban modern elites welcomed the change and took advantage of some of the educational and employment opportunities that the modern state offered them. Women of the more con_ servative and religious social groups experienced some inconvenience in the early years of compulsory de—veiling, but they had the means to employ oth— ers to run their outdoor errands. However, it was the urban lower—middle classes and low—income social groups who bore the brunt of the problem. It is an example of these social groups that I present here. Contrary to the assumptions and images prevalent in the West, women gen- erally were not kept in the harems. Most women of modest means who lived in urban households often did the shopping and established neighborly and community networks, which, in the absence of any economic and social sup— port by the state, were a vital means of support during hard times. Many young unmarried women, including some of my aunts, went to carpet weav— ing workshops, an equivalent activity in many ways to attending school. Attending these workshops gave the young women legitimate reason to move about the city and socialize with women outside their circle of kin and imme— diate neighbors. Learning to weave carpets in this traditional urban culture was however, fundamentally different from the crocheting and embroidery engaged in by Victorian ladies: carpet weaving was a readily marketable skill that enabled them to earn some independent income, however small, should they have need. ' The introduction of the de—veiling law came at a time of rapid social change created by a national economy in turmoil. In search of employment, thousands of men, especially those with no assets or capital, had migrated to Tehran and other large cities, often leaving their families behind in the care of their wives or mothers, since among the poor, nuclear families were the preva— lent form of household. Those men who did not migrate had to spend longer hours at their jobs, usually away from home, while leaving more household responsibilities to their wife. My grandmother, a mother of seven children, lived in Hamedan, an ancient city in the central part of Iran. By the time of : rde—veilingfher husband, whosermodest income wasrinsufficient to cover the day—to—day expenses of his family, had migrated to Tehran in the hope of find— ing a better job, and she carried sole responsibility for the public and private affairs of her household. According to her, this was by no means an excep— tional situation but was in fact common for manywomen. Evidently this com— monality encouraged closer ties between the women, who went about their affairs together and spent much time in each other’s company. Because the women would not go out in public without a head covering, the de—veiling law and its harsh enforcement compelled them to stay home and beg favors from their male relatives and friends’ husbands and sons for the performance of the public tasks they normally carried out themselves. My r\ The Veil in Tgteir Minds and on Our Heads 431 r . grandmother bitterly recounted her first memory of the day a policeman chased her to take off her scarf, which she had put on as a compromise to the [hadox55 She ran as the policeman ordered her to stop; he followed her, and as she approached the gate of her house he pulled off her scarf. She thought the policeman had deliberately allowed her to reach her home decently, because policean had mothers and sisters who faced the same problem: neither they nor their male kin wanted them to go out “naked.” For many women it was such an embarrassing situation that they just stayed home. Many independent women became dependent on men, while those who did not have a male present in the household suffered most because they had to beg favors from their neighbors. “How could we go out with nothing on?” my grandmother asked us every time she talked about her experiences. Young women of mod— est income stopped going to the carpet weaving workshops. Households with sufficient means would sometimes set up a carpet frame at home if their daughters were skilled enough to weave without supervision. Gradually, how— ever, the carpet traders started to provide the wool, the loom, and other neces— sary raw materials to the households with lesser means and, knowing that women had no other option, paid them even smaller wages than when they went to the workshops. Moreover, this meant that women lost the option of socializing with those outside their immediate kin and neighbors, thus young women were subject to stricter control by their family.56 Worse yet, male rela— tives began to assume the role of selling completed carpets or dealing with the male carpet traders, which meant women lost control over their wages, how— ever small they were. Apart from the economic impact, de—veiling had a very negative impact on the public, social, and leisure activities of urban women of modest means. For instance, historically, among urban Shi’ites, women frequently attended the mosque for prayer, other religious ceremonies, or simply for some peace and quiet or socializing with other women. They would periodically organize and pay a collective visit to the various shrines across town. The legitimacy of this social institution was so strong that even the strictest husbands and fathers would not oppose women’s participation in these visits, although they might ask an older woman to accOmpany the younger ones. My grandmother, and women of her milieu, regretfully talked about how they missed being able to organize these visits for a long time, almost until World War II broke out. She often asserted that men raised few objections to these limitations, and said, “Why would they, since men always want to keep their women at home?” One of the most pleasant and widespread female social institutions was the weekly visit to the public bath, of which there were only a few in the town. Consequently, the public bath was a vehicle for socialization outside the kin and neighbor network. Women would go at sunrise and return at noon, spending much time sharing news, complaining about misfortune, asking advice for dealing with business, family, and health problems, as well as finding suitors for their marriageable sons, daughters, kin, and neighbors. At midday, they would often have drinks and sweets. Such a ritualized bath was especially sanctioned within Muslim religious practices, which require men and women 432 Homa Hoodfar to bathe after sexual intercourse; bathing is also essential for women after men~ struation before they resume the daily prayers. A long absence from the pubhc bath would alarm the neighbors of a possible lapse in the religious practices of the absentee. Therefore they had to develop a strategy that would allow them to attend to their weekly ablutions without offending modesty by “going naked” in the street, as the de—veiling law would require them to do. The strategies they developed varied from bribing the police officers to dis- appear from their route, to the less favored option of warming up enough water to bathe and rinse at home. Due to the cold climate in Hamedan, and the limited heating facilities available, this option was not practical during the many cold winter months.57 One neighbor had heard of women getting into big bags and then being carried to the public bath.58 So, women of the neigh- borhood organized to make some bags out of canvas. The women who were visiting the public bath would get into the bags, and their husbands, sons, or brothers would carry them in the bags over their shoulder, or in a donkey— or horse—driven cart to the public bath, where the attendant, advised in advance, would come and collect them. At lunch time the women would climb back in the bags and the men would return to carry them home.59 Although this strategy demonstrates how far people will go to defy imposed and senseless worldviews and gender roles envisaged by the state, it is also clear that in the process women have lost much of their traditional inde— pendence for the extremely dubious goal of wearing European outfits. One can effectively argue that such outfits, in the existing social context, con— tributed to the exclusion of women of popular classes and pushed them toward seclusion, rather than laying the ground for their liberation. The de— veiling law caused many moderate families to resist allowing their daughters to attend school because of the social implication of not wearing a scarf in pub— lic. Furthermore, as illustrated above, women became even more dependent on men since they now had to ask for men’s collaboration in order to perform activities they had previously performed independently. This gave men a degree of control over women they had never before possessed. It also rein— forced the idea that households without adult men were odd and abnormal. Moreover, not all men collaborated. As my grandmother observed, many men used this opportunity to deny their wives the weekly money with which women would pay their public bath fare and the occasional treat to consume 7 with women’friends. Yet" other men used the opportunity to gain complete control over their household shopping, denying women any say in financial matters. Wearing the chador remained illegal, although the government eventually relaxed the enforcement of the de—veiling law. In the official state ideology, the veil remained a symbol of backwardness, despite the fact that the majority 0f women, particularly those from low and moderate income groups and the women of the traditional middle classes60 in the urban centers, continued .tO observe various degrees of hijab (covering). The government, through its dis- criminatory policies, effectively denied veiled women access to employment In The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 433 the government sector, which is the single most important national employer, particularly of women. The practice of excluding veiled women hit them par— ticularly hard as they had few other options for employment. Historically, the traditional bazaar sector rarely employed female workers, and while the mod— ern private sector employed some blue—collar workers who wore the tradi— tional chador, rarely did they extend thispolicy to white—collar jobs.61 A blunt indication of this discrimination was clear in the policies covering the use of social facilities such as clubs for civil servants provided by most government agencies or even private hotels and some restaurants, which denied service to Women who observed the hijab. This undemocratic exclusion was a major source of veiled women’s frus— tration. To demonstrate but a small aspect of the problem for women who observed the hijab, I give two examples from among my own acquaintances. In 1975 my father was paid a visit by an old family friend and her daughter to seek his advice. The family was deeply religious but very open—minded, and the mother was determined that her daughters should finish their schooling and seek employment before they marry. She argued that there is no contra— diction between being a good Muslim and being educated and employed with an independent income of one’s own. After much argument, the father agreed that if the oldest daughter, who had graduated from high school, could find a job in the government sector, he would not object to her working. Since, as a veiled woman, she had little chance of even obtaining an applica— tion, she asked an unveiled fiiend to go the Ministry of Finance and fill out the application form. With the help of neighbors, the mother managed to arrange an interview for her. The dilemma was that, should she appear at the interview with chador or scarf on her head, she would never get the job and all their efforts would be wasted. It was finally agreed that she would wear a wig and a very modest dress and leave for the interview from a relative’s house so that the neighbors would not see her. After a great deal of trouble, she finally was offered a position and convinced her father not to object to her wearing a scarf while at work. Thus she would leave her house wearing the chador and remove it, leaving just a scarf on her hair, before she arrived at work. To her colleagues, she explained that because she lived in a very tradi— tional neighborhood, it would shame her family if she left the house without a chador. A similar example can be drawn from the experience of a veiled woman I met at university in Iran. She came fiom a religious family with very modest means. She had struggled against a marriage arranged by her family, and man— aged to come to university always wearing her chador. She graduated with out— standing results from the Department of Economics and taught herself a good functional knowledge of English. She hoped, with her qualifications, to find a good job and help her family, who had accommodated her nontraditional Viest. To satisfy the modesty required by her own and her family’s Islamic bellefs, and the need to be mobile and work, she designed for herself some loosely cut, but very smart, long dresses that included a hood or a scarf. But her 434 Home: Hoodfar attempt to find a job was fruitless, though she was often congratulated on her abilities. Knowing that she was losing her optimism, I asked her to come and apply for an opening at the Irano—Swedish company where I worked terns porarily as assistant to the personnel manager. When she vis1ted the office, the secretary refused to give her an application form until I intervened. Later, my boss inquired about her and called me to his office. To my amazement, he said that it did not matter what her qualifications were, the company would never employ a veiled woman. I asked why, since the company had ArmeniansJews, Baha’is, and Muslims, including some very observant male Muslims, we could not also employ a practicing female Muslim, especially since we needed her skills. He dismissed this point, saying it was not the same thing; he then told the secretary not to give application forms to veiled women, as it would be a waste of paper. My friend, who had become quite disappointed, found a pfi- mary teaching job at an Islamic school at only an eighth of my salary, though we had similar credentials. _ . A few years prior to the Iranian revolution, a tendency toward questioning the relevance of Eurocentric gender roles as the model for Iranian society gained much ground among university students. During the early stages of the revolution this was manifested in street demonstrations, where many women, a considerable number of whom belonged to the non—veiled middle classes, put on the veil and symbolically rejected the state—sponsored gender ideology. Then, in 1980, after the downfall of the shah and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the Islamic regime introduced compulsory veiling, using police and paramilitary police to enforce the new rule. Despite the popularity of the regime, it faced stiff resistance from women (including some yelled women) on the grounds that such a law compromised their democratic rights.62 The resistance led to some modification and a delay in the imposmon of compulsory veiling. After more than a decade of compulsory veiling, how— ever, the regime still is facing resistance and defiance on the part of women, despite its liberal use of public flogging, imprisonment, and monetary fines as measures of enforcement of the veil. The fact is that both rejection of the shah’s Eurocentric vision and the resistance to the compulsory veil represents women’s active resistance to the imposed gender role envisaged for women by the state. The Islamic regime has no more interest in the fate of women per se than ’ did the shah’s modernist statesWomen paid heavily; and their democratic rights and individual freedom once again were challenged. The Islamic regime, partly in celebration of its victory over the modernist state of the shah and partlyias a means for realizing its vision of “Islamic” Iran, not only introduced a strict dress code for women but also revoked many half—hearted reforms in the Iran— ian Personal Law, which had provided women with a limited measure of pro— tection in their marriage.63 The annulment meant wider legal recognition of temporary marriage, polygyny, and men’s right to divorce at will. Return. to the shariah (Muslim law) also meant women were prevented from becoming judges. The new gender vision was also used to exclude women from some The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 435 fields of study in the universities. These new, unexpected changes created such hardship, insecurity, and disillusionment for many women, regardless of whether they had religious or secular tendencies, that they became politically active to try to improve their lot. However, strategies that women with reli— gious and Islamic tendencies have adopted are very different from those of secular women’s groups. The impact of compulsory veiling has been varied. There is no doubt that many educated middle—class women, who were actually or potentially active in the labor market, either left their jobs (and a considerable number left the country) voluntarily or were excluded by the regime’s policies. However, these women were replaced by women of other social groups and not by men. Labor market statistics indicate that, contrary to the general expectation of scholars, the general public, and the Islamic state itself, the rate of female employment in the formal sector has continued to increase in the 1980s even during the economic slump and increased general unemployment.64 Similarly, the participation of women in all levels of education, from adult literacy to university level, has continued to increase.65 Significantly, whether women believe and adhere to the veiling ideology or not, they have remained active in the political arena, working fisom within and outside the state to improve the socioeconomic position of women. Iranian women’s achievements in changing and redefining the state vision of women’s rights in “Islam” in just over one and a half decades have been considerable. For instance, the present family protection law, which Muslim women activists lobbied for and Ayatollah Khomeini signed in 1987, oEers women more actual protection than had been afforded by the shah’s Family Code, introduced in 1969, since it entitles the wife to half the wealth accumulated during the mar— riage.“ More recently, the Iranian parliament approved a law that entitles women to wages for housework, forcing the husbands to pay the entire sum in the event of divorce.67 ' ' Although, as in most other societies, the situation of Iranian women is far from ideal or even reasonable, nonetheless the lack of interest in or acknowl— edgment of Muslim women activists’ achievements on the part of scholars and feminist activists from EurOpe and North America is remarkable. Such disre— gard, in a context where the “excesses” of the Islamic regime toward women continue to make headlines and Muslim women and religious revivalism in the Muslim world Continue to be matters of wide interest, is an indicator of the persistence of orientalist and colonial attitudes toward Muslim cultures.68 Whenever unfolding events confirm Western stereotypes about Muslim women, researchers and journalists rush to spread the news of Muslim women’s oppression. For instance, upon the announcement of compulsory veiling, Kate Millett, whose celebrated work Sexual Politics indicates her lack of commitment to and understanding of issues of race, ethnicity, and class (although she made use of Marxist writings on development of gender hier— archy), went to Iran supposedly in support of her Iranian sisters. In 1982 she published a book, Going to Iran, about her experiences there.69 Given the 436 Homa Hood]sz atmosphere of anti—imperialism and anger toward the American government’s covert and overt policies in Iran and the Middle East, her widely publicized trip to Iran was effectively used to associate those who were organizing resist- ance to the compulsory veil with imperialist and pro—colonial elements. In this way her unwise and unwanted support and presence helped to weaken Iranian women’s resistance. According to her book, Millett’s intention in going to Iran, which is presented as a moment of great personal sacrifice, was not to understand why Iranian women for the first time had participated in such massive numbers in a revolution whose scale was unprecendented, nor was it to listen and find out what the majority of Iranian women wanted as women fiom this revolution. Rather, according to her own account, it was to lecture to her Iranian sisters on feminism and women’s rights, as though her political ideas, life expectations, and experiences were universally applicable. This is symptomatic of ethnocentrism (if we don’t call it racism) and the lingering, implicit or explicit assumption that the only way to “liberation” is to follow Western women’s models and strategies for change; consequently, the views of third world women, and particularly Muslim women, are entirely ignored.7O Veiled Women in the Western Context The veiling and re—veiling movement in European and North American soci— eties has to be understood in the context not only of continuing colonial images but also of thriving new forms of overt and covert chauvinism and racism against Islam and Muslims, particularly in these post—cold war times. Often, uncritical participation of feminists/ activists from the core cultures of Western Europe and North America in these oppressive practices has created a particularly awkward relationship between them and feminists/ activists from Muslim minorities both in the West and elsewhere.71 This context has impor— tant implications for Muslim women, who, like all other women of visible minorities, experience racism in all areas of their public life and interaction with the wider society, including with feminists and feminist institutions. Mus— lim women, faced with this unpleasant reality, feel they have to choose between fighting racism and fighting sexism. Their strategies have to take account of at least three interdependent and important dimensions: first, racism; second, how to accommodate and adapt their own cultural values and social institutionsrrtorthose of the core Iandrrdominantwcrultures that are them— selves changing very rapidly; and finally, how to devise ways of (formally and informally) resisting and challenging patriarchy within both their own com- munity and that of the wider society without weakening their struggle against racism. In my ongoing research on young Muslim women in Montreal, I was impressed‘by how the persistence of the images of oppressed and victimized Muslim women, particularly veiled women, creates barriers for them, the majority of whom were brought up in Canada and feel a part of Canadian society.72 Consequently, many now do not even try to establish rapport with non—Muslim Québecoise and Anglo women. A college student, angered by my comment that “when all is said and done, women in Canada share many The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 437 obstacles and must learn to share experiences and develop, if not common, at least complementary strategies,” explained to me: it is a waste of time and emotion. They [white Canadian women] neither want to understand nor can feel like a friend towards a Muslim. Whenever I try to point out their mistaken ideas, for instance by saying that Islam has given women the right to control their wealth, they act as if I am making these up just to make Islam look good, but if I complain about some of the practices of Muslim cul- tures in the name of Islam they are more than ready to jump on the bandwagon and lecture about the treatment of women in Islam. I wouldn’t mind if at least they would bother to read about it and support their claims with some docu— mentation or references. They are so sure of themselves and the superiority of their God that they don’t think they need to be sure of their information! I can— not stand them any more. Another veiled woman explained the reasons for‘her frustration in the follow— ing manner: I wouldn’t mind if only the young students who know nothing except what they watch on television demonstrated negative attitudes to Islam, but some— times our teachers are worse. For instance, I have always been a very good stu— dent, but always when I have a new teacher and I talk or participate in the class discussion the teachers invariably make comments about how they did not expect me to be intelligent and articulate. That I am unlike Muslim women. . . . What they really mean is that I do not fit their stereotype of a veiled woman, since they could hardly know more Muslim women than I do and I cannot say there is a distinctive model that Muslim women all fit into. Muslim women come from varieties of cultures, races, and historical backgrounds. They would consider me unsophisticated and criticize me if I told them that they did not act like a Canadian woman, because Canada, though small in terms of population, is socially and culturally very diverse. ' Some Western feminists have such strong opinions about the veil that they are often incapable of seeing the women who wear them, much less their rea— sons for doing so. Writing in the student newspaper, one McGill student said that she could not decide whether it is harder to cope with the sexism and patriarchy of the Muslim community, or to tolerate the patronizing and often unkind behavior of white feminists. She then reported that her feminist housemate had asked her to leave the house and look for other accommoda- tions because she couldn’t stand the sight of the veil and because she was con— cerned about what her feminist friends would think of her living with a veiled woman, totally disregarding the fact that, though veiled, she was nonetheless an activist and a feminist.73 . The stereotypes of Muslim women are so deep—rooted and strong that even those who are very conscious and critical of not only blatant racism but of its more subtle manifestations in everyday life do not successfully avoid them. To the Western feminist eye, the image of the veiled woman obscures all else. One of my colleagues and I were discussing a veiled student who is a very active 438 Homo: Hoodch and articulate feminist. I made a comment about how intelligent and imagina_ tive she was. While he admiringly agreed with me, he added (and I quote from my notes): “She is a bundle of contradictions. She first came to see me with her scarf tightly wrapped around her head . . . and appeared to me so lost that I wondered whether she would be capable of tackling the heavy course she had taken with me. . . . She, with her feminist ideas, and critical views on ori_ entalism, and love of learning, never failed to amaze me every time she expressed her views. She does not at all act like a veiled woman.” As a “bundle of contradictions” only because she wears the veil, consisting of a neat scarf, while otherwise dressed like most other students, she has to overcome signifi_ cant credibility barriers. The fact that, at the age of nineteen, without language proficiency or contacts in Montreal, she came to Canada to start her university studies at McGill has not encouraged her associates to question their own assumption about “veiled women.” Neither has anyone wondered why Mus- lim women, if by virtue of their religion they are so oppressed and deprived of basic rights, are permitted by their religious parents to travel and live alone in the Western world. I had thought that part of the problem was that the veil has become such an important symbol of women’s oppression that most people have difficulty The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 439 hair and for a couple of weeks I wore a scarf loosely on my head. While lec— turing in my classes I observed much fidgeting and whispered discussions but could not determine the reason. Finally, after two /weeks, a student approached me to ask if I had taken up the veil. Quite surprised, I said no and asked what caused her to ask such a question. She said it was because I was wearing a scarf; since I was always saying positive things about Islam75 they thought I had joined “them.” “Them?” I asked. She said, “Yes, the veiled women.” Perplexed, I realized that what I discuss in lectures is not evaluated on the merits of my argument and evidence alone, but also on the basis of the listener’s assumption about my culture and background.76 My colorful scarf, however loosely and decoratively worn, appears to my students as the veil, while the more complete veil of a practicing but culturally and biologically “white” Muslim who had worn the veil every day to work is seen as fashion! The main conclusion that I draw from these incidents is that the veil by itself is not so significant after all; rather, it is who wears the veil that matters. The veil of the visible minorities is used to confirm the outsider and marginal status of the wearer. Such incidents have made me realize why many young Muslim women are so angry and have decided against intermingling with Anglo/Québecoise women. After all, if I, as a professor in a position of authority in the classroom, cannot escape the reminder of being the “other,” how could the young Muslim students escape it? Many Muslim women who are outraged by the continuous construction of Islam as a lesser religion and the portrait of Muslims as “less developed” and “uncivilized” feel a strong need for the Muslim community to assert its pres— ence as part of the fabric of Canadian society. Since the veil, in Canadian soci— ety, is the most significant visible symbol of Muslim identity, many Muslim women have taken up the veil not only from personal conviction but to assert the identity and existence of a confident Muslim community and to demand fuller social and political recognition. . reducing it to simply an article of clothing. However, I discovered that the I ‘ “l reality is much more complicated than the veil’s being simply a visible marker. ‘ . ‘ ll 3‘; For instance, a Québecoise who had converted to Islam and observed the veil “l for the past four years said she had no evidence that wearing the veil was a bin— drance to a woman’s professional and educational achievements in Canada.74 In support of her claim she told me of her recent experience at work: When I was interviewed for my last job, in passing I said that I was a Muslim and ill since I wear the veil I thought they made note of it. . . . I was offered the job _ and I was working for almost nine months before I realized nobody seemed to In the context of Western societies, the veil can also play a very important 1 be aware that 1W” a MUShm one (133’: When I was complaining ébout the heat» role of mediation and adaptation, an aspect that, at least partly due to colonial l one 0f 313’ 0011633165 suggeswd that I take 0E my Scarf To Wthh I answered l images of the veil, has been totally overlooked by Western feminists. The veil hi that as a practicing Muslim I did not want to do that. At first he did not believe allows Muslim women to participate in public life and the Wider community without compromising their own cultural and religious values.77 Young Canadian Muslim women, particularly those who are first—generation immi— grants to Canada, have sometimes seen the wearing of the veil as affording them an opportunity to separate Islam from some of their own culture’s patriarchal values and cultural practices that have been enforced and legiti— mated in the name of religion. Aware of the social and economic conse— quences of wearing the veil in the Western world, taking it up is viewed by i . l, me, and when I insisted and asked him and others who had joined our conver— , ill ‘ .1 sation if they had seen me at all without the scarf, they replied, no, but that they i had thought I was following a fashion! ‘ She then added that while she is very religious and believes that religion 1‘ should be an important and central aspect of any society, the reality is that l 5 Canada is a secular society and that for the most part people care little about : l] 1‘ l1” what religious beliefs one has. While her claim was confirmed to varying degrees by a number of other white Canadian veiled women, converts to Islam, my own experience, and that of other nonwhite, non—Anglo/ French Canadian veiled women is markedly different. Here is a recent experience. Last year, my Visit to a hair- dresser ended in disastrously short hair. I was not accustomed to such short many Muslims as an important symbol of signifying a woman’s commitment to her faith. Thus many veiled women are allowed far more liberty in ques— tioning the Islamic foundation of many patriarchal customs perpetuated in the name of Islam. For instance, several veiled women in my sample had suc— cessfully resisted arranged marriages by establishing that Islam had given Mus— hm women the right to choose their own partners. In the process, not only ‘ 440 Homa Hoodfar did they secure their parents’ and their communities’ respect, but they also Cm~ ated an awareness and a model of resistance for other young women of their community. Wearing the veil has helped many Muslim women in their effort to defilse their parents’ and communities’ resistance against young women going away to university, particularly when they had to leave home and live on their own in a different town. Some of the veiled women had argued suCCessfully that Islam requires parents not to discriminate against their children and educate bOth male and female children equally; hence, if their brothers could go and live on their own to go to university, they should be given the same opportunities,78 The women in the study attributed much of their success to their Wearing of the veil, since it indicated to the parents that these young women were not about to lose their cultural values and become “white Canadian”;79 rather, they were adopting essential and positive aspects of their Canadian and host society to blend with their own cultural values of origin.80 Many Muslim women have become conscious of carrying a much larger burden of establishing their community’s identity and moral values than their male counterparts, the great majority of whom wear Western clothes entirely and do not stand out as members of their community. Yet frequently, when Muslim women criticize some of the cultural practices of their own commu— nity and the double standards often legitimized in the name of Islam, they are accused by other elements in their community of behaving like Canadians and not like Muslims. Many women eager to challenge their family’s and commu— nity’s attitude toward women have found that wearing the veil often means they are given a voice to articulate their views and be heard in a way that non— veiled Muslims are not. Their critics cannot easily dismiss them as lost to the faith. However, in wearing the veil they often find that they are silenced and disarmed by the equally negative images of Muslim and Middle Eastern women held by white Anglo/Québecoise women, images that restrict the lives of both groups of Women.81 Conclusion In this essay I have tried to demonstrate how the persistence of colonial images of Muslim women, with their ethnocentric and racist biases, has ' *'forme'd a' major' obstacle to'unders'tanding the social Significance of the veil from the point of view of the women who live it. By reviewing the state— sponsored de—veiling movement in the 19305 in Iran and its consequences for women of low—income urban strata and the reemergence of veiling during the anti—shah movement as an indication of rejection of state Eurocentric gender ideology, I argued that veiling is a complex, dynamic, and changing cultural practice, invested with different and contradictory meanings for veiled and non—veiled women as well as men. Moreover, by looking at the reintro— duction of compulsory veiling in the Islamic Republic of Iran under Khome— ini and the voluntary veiling of Muslim women in Canada, I argued that while veiling has been used and enforced by the state and by men as means of regu— The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 441 lacing and Controlling women’s lives, women have used the same institution to sen the bonds of patriarchy imposed on them. I . t ' looBoth de—veiling, as organized by the Egyptian feminist movement in the 19205, and the current resistance to compulsory veiling in Iran are indications of defiance of patriarchy. But veiling, Viewedas a lived experience, can also be a site of resistance, as in the case of the anti—shah movement in Iran. Sim— flafly’ many Muslim women in Canada used the veil and reference to. Islam to resist cultural practices such as arranged marriages or to continue their educa— tion away from home without alienating their parents and communities. Many veiled Muslim women employ the veil as an instrument. of mediation between Muslim minority cultures and host cultures, Paradox1cally, Wes-tern responses to Muslim women, filtered through an.or1entalist and coloniahst frame, effectively limit Muslim women’s creative re51stance to the regulation of their bodies and their lives. ‘ ' The assumption that veiling is solely a static practice symbolizingithe oppressive nature of patriarchy in Muslim societies has prevented soc1al seien— tists and Western feminists from examining Muslim women 5 Own accounts of their lives, hence perpetuating the racist stereotypes that are ultimately in the service of patriarchy in both societies. On the one hand, these mostly man— made images of the oriental Muslim women are used to tame women’s demand for equality in the Western world by subtly reminding them how much better off they are than their Muslim counterparts. On the other hand, these oriental and negative stereotypes are mechanisms by which Western— dominant culture re—creates and perpetuates beliefs about its superiority and dominance. White North American feminists, by adopting a racist construc— tion of the veil and taking part in daily racist incidents, force Muslim women to choose between fighting racism and fighting sexism. The question is, why should we be forced to choose? Notes. An early version of this paper was published in Feminist Research Resource 22, nos. 3— 4 (1993), and I benefited greatly from Melani Randall’s skillful editorial efi'ort. I wish also to thank Sherene Razack for incisive comments, as well as the participants in the Other Circuits Seminar (University of California at Irvine, 14—17July 1994), organized by Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd. I would also like to acknowledge Patricia Lynn Kelly for her careful reading and our numerous discussions on the subject. 1. See M. Lazreg, “Feminism and Difference: The Perils of Writing as a Woman on Women in Algeria,” Feminist Studies 14, no. 1 (1988): 81—107. 2. Judy Mabro, Veiled Hay-Truths: I/Vestern Travellers’ Perceptions of Middle Eastern Women (London: I. B. Tauris, 1991); Rana Kabbani, Europe’s Myths of the Ori- ent (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); Malek Alloula, The Colo- nial Harem (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986). 3. Sherene Razack, “What Is to Be Gained by Looking White People in the Eye? Culture, Race, and Gender in Cases of Sexual Violence,” Signs 19, no. 4 (1994): 894—923. 442 Homa Hoodfizr 4. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. Guity Nashat, “Women in the Ancient Middle East,” in Restoring Women to History (Bloomington, IN: Organization of American History, 1988); Nikki R. Keddie and Lois Beck, Wbmen in the Muslim World (Cambridge, MA: Har- vard University Press, 1978). Nikki R. Keddie and Beth Baron, Women in Middle Eastern History: Shynng Boundaries in Sex and Gender (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 3~ Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elite:A Feminist Interpretation cy‘T/Vomm’s Rights in Islam (New York: Addison—Wesley, 1991). Jamal A. Bedawi, The Muslim Wbman’s Dress According to the Qur’an and the Sunnah (London: Ta—Ha Publishers, n.d.). John Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path (New York: Oxford University PreSS, 1988). Of course, this is not to say that there have not been other historical attempts to control women’s dress and Clothing, rather that these attempts have not been in the name'of Islam. See, for example, Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots qf a Modern Debate (New Haven: Yale Uni- versity Press, 1992). Germaine Tillon, The Republic of Cousin: VVomen’s Oppression in Mediterranean Society (London: Al Saqi Books, 1983). The French edition was published in 1966. The situation of Nambudiri Brahmin women, through whom the family property passes from one generation to the next and who are carefully secluded, provides a good example. See the discussion in Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), 140—158. Much of the property that women held, such as gold and agricultural land, could be managed from Within the household. This was a widespread practice among both males and females of the elites during the Ottoman period. Soha Abdel Kader, Egyptian Women in Changing Society 1899-1987 (Boulder, CO: Lynn Reinner Publishers, 1988); Kumari Jayawardena, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third I/I/brld (London: Zed Press, 1986); Homa Hoodfar, “A Background to the Feminist Movement in Egypt,” Bulletin of Simone de Beau- voir Institute 9, no. 2 (1989): 18—23. For more discussion see Judith E. Tucker, Women in Nineteenth- Century Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). For instance, a law in 1293 forbade women to wear imams, a style of head covering, and other masculine clothing. See Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam. Unni Wikan, Behind the Veil in Arabia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 7771982).” ~ 7 Homa Hoodfar, “Return to the Veil: Personal Strategy and Public Participa— tion in Egypt,” in l/Vorking l/Vomen: International Perspectives on Labour and Gen- der Ideology, ed. Nanneke Redclift and M. Thea Sinclair (London: Routledge, 1991); Leila Abu—Lughod, Veiled Sentiments: Honour and Poetry in a Bedouin Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, Guests of the Sheileh (New York: Doubleday, 1965). In 1991 I conducted an informal survey among my Western acquaintances and students; they invariably described the veil as an all-enveloping black robe; some added that it is designed to prevent or hamper women’s mobility. See Andrea Rugh, Reveal and Conceal: Dress in Contemporary Egypt (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1986). 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. The Vizil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 443 Ibid., and Abu—Lughod, Veiled Sentiments. Arlene Elowe MacLeod, Accommodating Protest: Wbrleing Women and the New Mailing in Cairo (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991). C. M. Pastner, “Englishmen in Arabia: Encounters with Middle Eastern Women,” Signs 4, no. 2 (1978): 309—323. Hoodfar, “Return to the Veil.” Nikki R. Keddie, Religion and Rebellion in Iranflbbacco Protest of1891-92 (Lon— don: Frank Cass, 1966). Mohammed Tavakoli—Targhi, “The Exotic Europeans and the Reconstruc— tion of Femininity in Iran,” paper presented at Middle East Studies Associa— tion of America, 25th annual meeting, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, 23—26 November 1991. James Atkinson, Customs and Manners of Women of Persia and Their Domestic Superstitions (New York: Burt Franklin, 1832); Tucker, Women in Nineteenth- Century Egypt. Also known as The Arabian Nights, this work is a collection of folk fairy tales orally narrated as entertainment, usually for children, at family gatherings and sometimes in coffee/ tea houses; it has come to represent the Middle Eastern worldview in the West. ‘ Kabbanni, Europe’s Myths Qf the Orient, 138. Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978); Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993); Kabbani, Europe’s Myths of the Orient; Alloula, The Colonial Harem. Kabbani, Europe’s Myths of the Orient; Alloula, The Colonial Harem; Mabro, Veiled Half-Truths; Leila Ahmed, “Feminism and Feminist Movement in the Middle East,” VVomen’s Studies International Forum 5, no. 2 (1982): 153—168. Kabbani, Europe’s Myths of the Orient; Mabro, Veiled Habf- Truths. By no means is this process limited to Muslim and‘Middle Eastern societies; rather, the ' process of making the lesser others exotic or primitive is a common thread in the history of all colonized societies. Laura Nader, “Orientalism, Occidentalism and the Control of Women,” Cul— tural Dynamics 2, no. 3 (1989): 323—355. This figure is conservative; it does not include articles and other shorter references to the Arab world, nor does it take into account works on the non—Arab orient. Recent research indicates that the harem is imagined to be not a brothel, but a private sex house for the husband or master Where women are kept to per— form sexual services. Often when it happens that I go somewhere with my husband accompanied by a number of women friends this image is evoked, and people comment that my husband is traveling with his harem. Kabbani, Europe’s Myths 9‘ the Orient. Alloula, The Colonial Harem. Kabbani, Europe’s Myths of the Orient; Mabro, Veiled Half—Truths. For instance, when M. Michaud in 1830 entered a peasant home and heard the wife shouting at her husband in rage, he was very surprised and consid— ered the woman an exception to the rule because the Qur’an says women should be obedient (Mabro, Veiled Half- Truths, 14). See also Tucker, Wbmen in Nineteenth- Century Egypt. Mabro, Veiled Half- Truths. Mary Poovey, Uneven Developments: The Ideological I/I/brle of Gender in Mid- Victorian England (London: Virago Press, 1989); I. Pinchbeck, Women Wbrleers and 444 Homa Hoodfar 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. ' 57'." 58. 59. 60. the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850 (1930; reprint, London: Virago Press, 1981). I John Malcolm, Sketches of Persia from the journals of a Traveler in the East (Lon- don:_l. Murray, 1949). Quoted in Mabro, Veiled Half— Fuths, 26. Ibid. . See, for example, Isabelle Eberhardt, The Passionate Nomad: The Diary of Isabelle Eberhardt, ed. and introduction by Rana Kabbani (London: Virago, 1987). Mabro, Veiled Half-Truths, 11. . The nineteenth—century literature on European women contains ample examples of women’s frustration at being limited to domestic activities (see Poovey, Uneven Developments). Those who desired to do otherw15e were treated as deviant and often suffered severe depression, as was the case with Charlotte Bronte and Florence Nightingale. . Here I paraphrase a comment by the oriental rajah, a character in the novel One Qf Our Conquerors (1891) by George Meredith, on a Visit to London (quoted in Mabro, Veiled Half-Truths, 17). Tavakoli—Targhi, “The Exotic Europeans.” Mabro, Veiled Half—Truths, 23. I ' For instance, the walls of all adult literacy classes in Iran after the Islamic rev— olution are decorated by posters reiterating the Prophet’s comments such as that Muslim men and women are to go to China (which was then the furthest center of intellectual activities) in search of knowledge. Ahmed, “Feminism and Feminist Movement in the Middle East.” Hoodfar, “A Background to the Feminist Movement in Egypt,” 21. I A major reason for the religious authorities’ resistance was that it would deprive them of their centuries—long uncontested monopoly over education. For a summary of the debate, see Eliz Sanasarian, The I/Vomen’s Rights Move— ment in Iran (New York: Praeger, 1982). . I Until the fall of the shah in 1979, the anniversary of the day of introduction of this law was celebrated as Women’s Liberation Day in Iran. . Suratgar, who, had been traveling in Iran at the time, also writes'that she observed policemen shredding headgear that women wore. See Olive Hep— burn Suratgar, I Sing in the Wilderness:An Intimate Account (y‘Persia and Persians (London: Edward Stanford, 1951). 4 Moreover, this new form of organization created an expectation that all women in the household had to work on the carpet, making their workload much greater. "Most'traditional houses in‘Iran did not include a bathtub in those days. In fact, they had heard of this strategy from a woman whose husband was a policeman, who had learned about it at work. The rank—and—file police offi- cers, who were primarily fiom the popular classes, opposed the practice, but failing to impose the law would mean the loss of a lucrative Job in hard eco- nomic times. I L. ht, For some similar stories see Badr ol—Moluk Bamdad, From Darkness into 1g 4 Women’s Emancipation in Iran, trans. and ed. F. R. C. Bagley (Smithtown, NYZ \ Exposition Press, 1977). . te- The middle classes in Iran are divided into two broad categories. One C3 t - , . C gory includes those who are ‘ modern” in outlook, until 1979 they We:f mostly associated with the government sector, but With the change 61. 62. 63. ;’ 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. , 71. 72. The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads 445 regime they are now primarily in professional occupations; sometimes this group is referred to as “Westernized.” The second category includes social groups such as bazaar traders and producers and religious leaders who adhere to the traditional Islamic/ Iranian worldview and value system and primarily support the cultural worldview of the Islamic Republic. Moreover, the situation was aggravated by the fact that many traditional fam— ilies, including those who disapproved of the state, would only accept employment in the government sector for their daughters/ wives because it was thought that there was less sexual harassment in this milieu. In 1981 I interviewed Muslim women activists; some of them argued that the compulsory veiling law was un—Islamic because only God should judge Mus— lims, and that there was no precedent of officially punishing women if they did not adhere to the Islamic dress code. This position was especially sup— ported by the Mujahedin—khalq, a major Islamic opposition political organi— zation. The advantage of these reforms was mostly in their message, which indicated that ideologically the state did not approve of polygamy and divorce at the whim of the husband, rather than in their utilitarian benefits, since they had so many social and legal loopholes that almost any husband could ignore them. Val Moghadam, “Women, Work, and Ideology in the Islamic Republic,” Inter- national journal of Middle Eastern Studies 20 (1988): 221—243; Val Moghadam, Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1993). Golnar Mehran, “The Creation of the New Muslim Woman: Female Educa— tion in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Convergence 24, no. 4 (1991): 42—53; Golnar Mehran, “Ideology and Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Compare 20 (1990): 53—65. Very shortly after the success of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini canceled the shah’s Family Code on the grounds that it was judged to be un—Islamic. See Azar Tabari and Nahid Yeganeh, In the Shadows of Islam: The Wbmen’s Movement in Iran (London: Zed Press, 1982); Ziba Mir—Hosseini, Marriage on Trial'A Study of Islamic Law (London: I. B. Tauris, 1992). See “Iran Panel Backs Divorce Payments,” NewYork Times 14 December 1992. Said, Orientalism; Said, Culture and Imperialism. Kate Millett, Going to Iran (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1982). Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” in Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, ed. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 51—80; Lazreg, “Feminism and Difference.” Awkwardness and strained relationships exist between Western feminists/ activists and all minorities, see bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman? (Boston: South End Press, 1981); bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South End Press, 1989); Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes.” However, here I confine myself to the example of Muslim minorities in Canada. Based on participant observation and in—depth interviews, my current research examines young Muslim women’s methods of and responses to inte— gration in Canadian society. To date, ninety—two interviews have been com— pleted. 446 Homa Hooclfizr 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. Afra Jalabi, “Veiled Oppression and Pointed Fingers,” MtGill Daily 28 Sep_ tember 1992, 3 (special issue on “Culture Fest”). However, she did say that she had problems with her family, who, as Catholics, were very upset that she had become a Muslim and a veiled woman. For example, I had pointed out in class that Islam had given women the right to control their own property. On another occasion, in a discussion of post- modern anthropology, I remarked (referring to Kabbani’s Europe’s Myths g‘the Orient and Alloula’s The Colonial Harem) that the representation of the Mus- lim “harem” says at least as much about the gender relations of the colonizers as it does of the colonized nations. For more discussion of teaching as a minority woman, see Homa Hoodfar, “Feminist Anthropology and Critical Pedagogy: The Anthropology of Class- rooms’ Excluded Voices,” Canadian Journal of Education 17, no. 3 (1992): 303- 320. Homa Hoodfar,“More than a Piece of Clothing: Veiling as an Adaptive Strat— egy,” in Veiling in CanadatAnArtz'cle of Faith or a Symbol (y‘Self-AssertionP, ed, A_ Alvi, H. Hoodfar and S. McDonough, forthcoming. Several of these women had come up with this understanding from their own reading and interpretations of Islamic texts. They were aware that their inter— pretations were somewhat novel, but they believed they had remained true to the spirit of Islam, something that in their View some of the traditional reli— gious leaders had overlooked by not distinguishing between tradition and Islam. Many minority parents, while they value accommodation and adaptation of their culture to that of the host, are preoccupied with the possible prospect of their children’s denying their own culture in favor of the dominant culture. This is not to say that they do not have to compromise in the process, but rather to point out that the process of adaptation can be less stressful and more harmonious through strategies that stem from within a community. Nader, “Orientalism, Occidentalism and the Control of Women.” Women Who Walk on Water: Working across “Race” in Women Against Fundamentalism Clara Connolly and Pragna Patel omen Against Fundamentalism (WAF) is a feminist Organization set up by women active in the South Asian,]ewish, Irish, and Iranian communities in Britain. Its founding moment was the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, but it has gone on to raise issues relating to the oppressive aspects of religiopolitical movements in all the major religions rep— resented in Britain. By fundamentalism, WAF does not mean religious obser— vance, which we see as a matter of individual choice, but rather modern political movements that use religion as a basis for their attempt to win or con~ solidate power and extend social control. Fundamentalism appears in different and changing forms in religions throughout the world, sometimes as a state project, sometimes in opposition to the state. But at the heart of all funda— mentalist agendas is the control of women’s minds and bodies. All religious fundamentalists support the patriarchal family as a central agent of control. They view women as embodying the morals and traditional values of the fam— ily and the whole community. Resisting fundamentalism means taking up issues such as reproductive rights, safeguarding and extending abortion rights, resisting enforced sterilization, and fighting violence against women. WAF does not confine the term fundamentalism to one religion, and certainly not to only British minority religions. In fact, our main political target is the privileged connection between Christianity and the state in Britain, and the divisive effects of this on all communities living here. At the same time, we challenge the assumption that minorities in Britain exist as unified, internally homoge— neous groups. This View assumes that women’s voices are represented by the community and denies them an independent voice. WAF rejects the politics of what has come to be known in Britain as “multiculturalism” that delivers ‘ women’s futures into the hands of fundamentalist “community leaders” by seeing these as representatives of the community as a whole.1 The present essay is a weaving of two very different voices represented in WAF. It is a celebration of our difference and of our ability to collaborate ...
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