Covered life gives new perspective
Published: Friday, June 5, 2009
Updated: Friday, June 5, 2009
Mary Kang/The Daily Texan
I first noticed Spencer Wall in my religion and society class toward the end of last semester. She wasn’t particularly outspoken, but the shawl that covered her hair, neck and shoulders made her stand out in the large class.
I usually gave her nothing more than a completely unconscious glance. But when she revealed to the class the decision that she made on April 27, I suddenly became aware of the attention I gave her.
Wall, a 20-year-old sociology and English senior, decided to assume the characteristics and attire of a “typical” Muslim woman for a year starting in late April.
She wears the traditional veil, or “hijab,” and loose-fitting clothing everywhere she goes and does not consume pork or alcohol in public. She avoids eye and physical contact with men and has adopted modest habits like walking with her arms glued to her sides or crossed in front of her to hide her chest.
I witnessed the looks Wall gets on a daily basis when we met at Kerbey Lane on the Drag recently.
She’s wearing a hijab splashed with vibrant shades of green and blue. A long-sleeved, black shirt and floor-length aqua skirt reveals only a few inches of skin.
Some who pass us try to be inconspicuous with their intrigue, limiting themselves to quick side glances. But most don’t even try to be candid with their exaggerated double-takes or blatant stares.
She passes by a group waiting to be seated, and all of them stare at the back of her head as she walks away. One guy even rolls his eyes.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” she says when I tell her about the group. “But look around. They’re not the only ones.”
She insists her decision is not a social experiment but more of a personal learning experience. As a white female from a small, West Texas town, Wall says she wanted to know what it would be like to be part of a “noticeable minority.”
“I’m not representing Muslim women or the Muslim community,” she says. “I just want to know what it’s like to walk in their shoes for a while.”
Initially, Wall elaborates on her “learning experience” when people would ask her questions, the most common being “So, where are you from?” She has abandoned these efforts. Now, when people ask about her attire, she simply says she is not Muslim but wears the hijab because she chooses to do so.
This explanation is not entirely untrue, as Wall admits to not being able to leave her home without the clothing.
“I decided a while ago that I was going to try and not wear the hijab for 24 hours,” she says. “I couldn’t even make it for half that.”
Wall says she receives different reactions when she wears the hijab. A man once fell into a display at Wal-Mart because he was staring at her. One day a group of male patrons at the restaurant where she works refused to be served by her. The same group called her derogatory names. But most of the time she said she is just respectfully avoided.
“I wouldn’t say guys don’t hit on me, but they do so in a very different way now,” she says. “It’s more respectful, less forward.”
The experience has taught Wall to pay attention to smaller details that would make a traditional Muslim lifestyle difficult to follow in the United States.
One day at a clothing store, Wall had to ask for a sheet to cover a gap between the floor and dressing room door so she could hide her bare legs as she changed. Her job as a waitress presents one of the most awkward situations as it naturally entails a lot of physical contact with strangers, which is not allowed for Muslim women, she said.
Wall has grown to appreciate this sort of privacy and, in some ways, respect it. Perhaps the most unexpected outcome of the experience is a newfound devotion to her Christian faith. The Islamic faith requires followers to pray five times a day, the first prayer being at 5 a.m. Though Wall has not yet assumed this tradition, she admits she may in the future, and finds herself praying more often.
“You know we live in a society that is very unconscious of daily religious activities,” she said. “Throughout this experience, I have noticed myself becoming much more aware of God.”
Throughout our conversation, I find myself wanting to discuss the most obvious topic, but can’t bring it up without having to continually justify myself. Doesn’t she feel constricted and even oppressed by the practices she is assuming?
Wall’s candidness to discuss such issues validates my impression of her. She constantly reassures me to ask even the most probing questions and to present any debate, illustrating a maturity and intelligence uncommon for a 20-year-old.
“This experience has taught me to respect a woman’s decision to stay home with her children or wear a hijab or go out and become CEOs,” Wall said.
She finishes her sentence, as I notice a young woman staring at the back of Wall’s head.
Her eyes momentarily follow the outline of the brightly colored veil and then quickly move away. Instead of feeling sorry for Wall and assuming that the attention is warranted by feelings of resentment or fear, I soon wonder if the girl is instead intrigued by the hijab.
Wall admits to only showing her hair in the most intimate of settings, and I realize that I’m slightly jealous of someone who respects something I easily take for granted.
I think Hijab is very empowering because it puts in the woman's hands the ability to dictate the terms on which she wants to be looked at, judged or have any interactions with the world. I'm sorry Annette...If the western women had really got it right there would not be hundreds of popular magazines (every one of them literally) and even columns in regular newspapers, nowadays, devoted to how 'to please him in bed' ....'how to appear sexy'..... 'how to get a man' ...'what men want' - I find it amuzing that the women in the west don't see that they are playing right into their hands (men's) - And if some of you women reading this say 'Well, we know that' ....well then ...aren't you are doing that on purpose i.e. Selling yourself as a commodity. So then why all the defensive reactions (from women mostly) when that's pointed out. I'd like to see one actual / real-life (vs. cyber) male (non-muslim or muslim) reading this, say truthfully, the last time they looked at a woman less clad (a little cleavage, skirt a little higher, shirt a little tighter) and said to themselves 'I think this woman is sending me a strong signal - to stay away - to keep my hands off - to keep my mouth shut'
To Annette....You say "Many women in the US and Europe are women who respect themselves and dress properly and have the respect of men and people around them" - I'm sorry but that's just false. If you had said, there are a "few women in the West who dress properly", I would agree but the vast majority, I'm sorry to say, do not - Or do so only when it suits them....but come that time to attract the attention of a man (not their husband) they may be interested in, and everything starts coming off, bit by bit, one dipping tease at a time. Please don't delude yourself and others. Muslim men who marry women outside their faith do so for very specific reasons - (Ahem/ Cough) - I won't mention them here because you might get even more hurt. And if women in the West really respect womanhood they would do something about not letting the image of a woman commercialized and sexualized to sell products or to feed men's fancies. Whether you realize it or not, or live in denial, the women in the West contribute heavily and directly towards the degradation of women in this world. It is the Muslim Women that will gradually but surely restore the dignity and respect that womanhood deserves but lost when women replaced God with men to worship. I see the so-called modern, western, woman still a slave to men. Throwing off the clothes won't take the shakles off the mind.
'Hera' from June 11 00:22 please state your facts and don't just regurgitate stories from the media.
Greetings from Indonesia,
We may all be informed about how President Obama mentioned how Indonesia as the world most populous muslim country is a secular country. The religion is not protected by the law, the law protects the right of every person to practice their religion accordingly.
Perhaps some wonder how Indonesian government act on ahmadiya, Should there be is a different story, it's a case of a different religion than Islam claiming to be Islam. Should ahmadiya says that they are not Islam, then that's it, it will be classified as a belief other than Islam. The same thing will happen should there be a person forming a community claiming a christian church and the person claiming to be the next Jesus Christ, Indonesian must act and clarify whether the naming of christian is appropriate or not.
About hijab, I would prefer to say that the law apply depends on it's country for secular country is that any laws made by God is for God to punish and not men. Hijab is a requirement made by God for muslim women. Whilst for country based on Islamic law, the principal of laws must follow and obey the foundation of Islamic laws, whilst for the affiliates the law may evolve or amended as long as is not contrary to the principal laws. The principal law should be described as what ever stipulated by God in the holy Qur'an (Koran) and through prophet Muhammad, is principal. Any other things that are not stipulated yet, are the affiliates of law.
I personally wonder how each country's constitution protect the people to practice it's religion. I wonder what is correlation between "Muslim" thugs with hijab. I believe every person are equal in front of law, should there be a "Muslim" thugs harassing other people, that thugs which coincidentally having Islam as the religion should be prosecuted by the law. Every other thugs harming other people regardless of their religion or belief must be prosecuted by the law. Hijab by men should be viewed as an act of free will based on the belief, should God be angry, let God do the punishment, either directly, instantly or postponed. That is my belief. I believe that there is a God, and Islam is the religion God's most favor, other people may debate my choice, but cannot do me any harm. I may debate other people's choice, yet I cannot do any harm to them, so as long as I do not harm other people's right based on any laws either profane or secular or Islamic law, then every other people acting harmfully with my act of belief should be prosecuted by the law.
Spencer Wall's action are by intention. With such intention, and action, she means no harm to other people, and she did not harm any one right? Then I believe she is freely protected to do so. I wish her a pleasant trial, whether or not she choose to be a Muslim, I believe it is the combination of her free will and God's will which every men should pay respect.
What most people don't understand about "The Hijab" is that Hijab does not only mean to cover the hair but Hijab means to dress modestly and in the Muslim Religion Hijab is prescribed on both Men and Women.
Secondly secular or non secular society a persons right to live is that persons right and not upon a government to ban an activity of covering the head. I mean... what if it rains in France and some women decide to cover their heads with whatever they have...? Is that a part of breaking the law of wearing a hijab? Where should someone draw the line of oppression? Just cuz some women are oppressed to wear the hijab a government goes on to oppress a whole gang of women openly to make a point. Dumb as hell :)
I am also an American, and I am also Muslim. I cover, and I am so proud of this woman, who wanted to see what it is like, with no reason other than to KNOW, what it is like to be a Muslim in this society. No compulsion to drive her, no threats, not even having to do this, makes it all the more special. If it had been a "class project" or someone was forcing her or had talked her into this action, it would not have the same significance. Others in this country should walk a mile in ANYONE'S shoes, with no reason to do so, other than to learn from that experience. I thank you, Ms. Wall, for such an open heart, and for putting your actions into play and not just saying you understand what we are going through.
The hijab was banned because women both Muslim and non-Muslim were being threatened, coerced and harassed for NOT wearing it. Even elderly non-Muslim women were harassed and verbally abused by Muslim thugs.That is why the government of France stepped in.As President Sarkozy explained to clueless President Obama no one should be coerced to wear the hijab. If the issue is head covering and "modesty" Muslim women can wear wigs like Orthodox Jewish women do or they can leave France and Germany and relocate elsewhere. BTW- People are rioting in Iran with some women removing their headscraves to protest the religious police.
What about for women's rights who choose to wear it? A lot of them wear it for modesty by their own choice instead of being coerced. France and Germany did not ban the hijab mainly because of the efforts of some Muslims to force it on both Muslim and non-Muslim women. They did it because they are Islamophobes. I do not see any nuns removing their headscarves by choice. Why don't you talk to Muslim women wearing hijabs in your local area and ask them why they wear it? Maybe, you can get a better perspective.
I have seen pictures of Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Laura Bush wearing headscarves in accord with the local custom in Islamic countries. Personally I think they should refuse to wear the headscarf while in Islamic countries to show solidarity for womens rights and womens equality. In France the hijab has been banned because of the efforts of some Muslims to force it on both Muslim and non-Muslim women. The hijab has been banned in some parts of Germany for the same reason. Just as Clinton, Pelosi and Bush adjusted their dress in accord with local custom. Muslim women in France will need to adjust their manner of dress in accord with the wishes of the secular government of France (some Muslim women have taken to wearing wigs to cover their hair), they can also emigrate to majority Muslim countries where the hijab is allowed in schools and government. It should be stressed that the hijab would not have been banned in France if not for the refusal of some Muslims to accept a woman's right to choose NOT to wear it.
to Hera if it's a matter of women's rights, doesn't it follow that a woman should have the right to cover her own body or hair as she sees fit? the law is forcing & coercing a woman to do something she wishes not to do. your argument sounds a bit hypocritical to me.
I agree with Sabah's comment on this one. Many women in many cultures cover their hair and choose to dress modestly. EVEN IN AMERICA. It is something that many women choose to do for themselves, for so many different reasons. I cover and wear modest dress and I'm Jewish. I get stared at, commented on and mocked for wearing ankle length skirts and a head scarf and I live in a major American city with a large Jewish community. People just can't handle anything that is different. I think it is threatening to them. Why should I have to deal with stares and anger and rude sentiments because I don't want to show off my hair and body? Why should my neighbor who is Muslim? I don't think the article ever states that this young woman is trying to learn what it's like to be Muslim or using Islam as an experiment. She's simply trying to understand ONE facet of the experience of what it is like to be a woman in America who covers. I appreciate what she's doing and the very positive tone of this article. We could all benefit from a little more mutual understanding and acceptance.
The French government determined that at least some women including non-Muslim women were being coerced, threatened and harassed for NOT wearing the hijab that's why they moved to ban it. It was an issue of women's rights and equality. It's one thing to choose to wear the hijab, it's quite another to have the hijab forced upon you.The French also wanted to preserve the secular nature of their society by banning religious symbols including the hijab in government.President Sarkozy had to explain these issues to the clueless President of the United States Obama at a joint press conference.French Muslim women have a choice they can adapt to the reality of living in a secular society or they can emigrate to one of the many Muslim majority countries on the planet.
To Hera: I'm a 38 yrs old Muslim man and I never in my life witnessed what you say is the case (men forcing women to wear Hijab). Does it ever happen? maybe it does. But if so, it must be very extremely rare. We could simply impose a legislation that punishes men who do such thing instead of forbidding the overwhelming majority of women who freely and willingly want to wear it which constitutes violation of personal freedom. I hope you got my point.
I am really sorry to say that the western society is totally ignorant when it comes to RELIGION and CULTURES of the East, particularly more so when it comes to ISLAM after the massive ISLAMOPHOBIA masterminded by the last BUSH administration. The World needs peace. President OBAMA'S efforts should be supported by the entire world to create peace and universal Brotherhood amongst ALL peoples of the world. After all, life is too short for us to think about prejudices and hatred for each other. Let us make the best out of our life and LOVE EACH OTHER.