08 February 2010

Head-covering, feminism, and religion

I have a sister who is a head-covering Christian. That is, she keeps her head covered when she leaves the house because the Bible tells her to.
4Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, 5but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 6For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. 7For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection* of God; but woman is the reflection* of man. 8Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of* authority on her head,* because of the angels. 11Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? 14Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.  - 1 corinthians 11:4-11:16
Okay... so clearly I have some pretty major issues with this. I guess what it boils down to is science. When the creation story is revealed as myth, important myth with lovely imagery, then 'woman is the reflection of man' kinda falls apart for me. Which is fine. It doesn't hurt my faith any. What it does is allow me a glimpse into the faith of my ancestors (even if they're not my blood ancestors, but my ancestors in faith), and understand how they believed, how they felt close to God, and what their cultural customs were.

My sister (with whom I was not raised - long story) chooses to believe this and follow it. Is she a tool of the patriarchy? Yeah, I'd say so. She believes that it brings her closer to God to do this, to follow these rules. It doesn't really matter that I disagree with her. But I do support her right to choose to do this.

See, that's the thing about the headcoverings, the hijab, the burqa even. If a woman decides (as opposed to being forced by someone else) to wear it, then she should, by all means, wear it. Yes, they're tools of the patriarchy, designed to "put women in their place" so to speak, but honestly, how are they any different from bras? Instead of an overt religious law requiring it, there's an unspoken cultural law requiring it. Most of us choose to wear them and would be seriously pissed off if some foreigner told us not to, that it was for our own good. There are certainly more comfortable options, but they're not as flattering. Patriarchy, again, right?

See, we might not be wearing bras or make-up or hijabs in order to obey the laws of the patriarchy; we might be doing it for our own reasons. The end result is that we hold up those laws anyway. But dammit, that's our choice to make.


Jenny said...

I love wearing lovely headscarves, peek-a-boo veils and clever hats. The Queen always wears headscarves when visiting one of her more rural castles...my grandmother never left the house without a hat.
If I lived in the desert like Arabia, I would want to wear an all-over cover to keep my hair clean. Also, it's kind of fun to be able to see out while no one can see in.
It's not what you do, ladies...it's how you do it! PAX

Suzanne said...

I essentially agree with you. The issue though is one of "neutralization" of religion in the public square.

In Quebec, there is a call for people working in the public sector not to wear headscarves and other ostensible religious garb. I think it is dehumanizing and makes the public sector worker a kind of "cog" in the statist machine. Who really believes that the girl in the hijab is proselytizing? I don't.

Your concerns about women's autonomy will be overlooked precisely because of this. It's not really a women's issue, because men are subject to it, too.

Mackenzie said...

I and another feminist I know cover our hair frequently. I, at least, am not a Christian (or Jew, or Muslim). I don't know about her. I also tend to stick to covering my legs to the knee, and she covers arms to wrist and legs to ankles. We view this as a rebellion against the patriarchal idea that women exist for men to ogle and must be on display at all times.