Shakeela covers her face with her shawl in embarrassment, then brushes it aside to speak. “I am not such a special student,” she says. “But I was able to pass through school in Hushe with good marks.
My thoughts were, it would be nice to be able to cover my face when I'm embarrassed or when I need to pull back from the world. It would be nice to have a veil that allows me to separate myself from the world, but that I can open myself to the world when i want to or need to. Emotionally, I do that, but it isn't the same. In the world where this girl lived, in Shai Muslim Baltistan in Pakistan, it is acceptable. In our culture it isn't.
Many Westerners, and especially many feminists, see the veil in Islam as a symbol of oppression of women. Even some Muslims feel this way. But is it? Or, more accurately, is it always? Some Muslim women see it as freedom from the oppression of objectification in Western society. They see it as empowering rather than oppressive.
The quote from the book reminded me of one of the sessions I went to listen to at a Medieval Studies conference in Kalamazoo a few years back. A girl from Toronto spoke on the veil. It made an impression on me. Looking online, I found the introduction to her book about it.
The book is named Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical & Modern Stereotypes. I plan to buy it when I get a chance.
Many things can be used both to liberate, to empower, and to oppress. It's like the post I made about strong female characters the female warrior, the assassin, the le fem fatale, in scifi books and movies. The image, the character, the stereotype, can both objectify and empower. Anything can be used as a weapon to oppress. But anything can be used to liberate, to set free. There is a choice. But sometimes society makes the choice and sometimes we, each one of us makes the choice. When society makes the choice, there are victims. Sometimes the victims can do something about it, sometimes they can't. Sometimes the only thing to do is accept the suffering, and some times we need to rise up. But how we respond, for good or for bad, is our choice.
When we make the choice of whether we let something oppress us or liberate us, that is where there is power. Many things can take either form. It could be like the Muslim veil. In areas where it isn't required by law, presuming they aren't still forced, some women chose to wear it and some don't. It can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who you see it. Why do you wear it? What does it mean to you? How does it make you feel? These questions can make all the difference. And it could be like a label you or others apply to your life. The same things apply. That label can be the veil to you. Does it restrict you, keep you from the world? Or does it free you, allow you to grow, liberate you from how others define you? Why do you wear it? What does it mean to you? How does it make you feel? These questions make all the difference.
If you're going to wear the veil, wear it proudly, make it yours. The choice is yours. Choose this day.