Chibi Tudung is cute!

 Chibi Nun says: A nun can be covered from head to toe in order to devote herself to God, right?  Then Chibi Veil girl says, but then, if a Muslim girl does it, why is she being oppressed?
Original image taken from Tiara’s blog

This got me thinking while I was talking to Jhameia about why people (read: Caucasian Christians) get so uptight around veiled women. The following proposal is not fully thought out and so may require some fine-tuning?

For me, I feel that part of the reason why the veil threatens such males (and to an extent, the females) so much is that they are confused about the sexuality and “availability” of veiled Muslim women.

For instance, the veiled Christian nun sends a strong message; I am a woman devoted completely to God, and thereby unavailable to you, ever, by virtue of my vows. This means that no one can ever own a nun, because they are owned by God.

A veiled Muslim woman, on the other hand, signifies that she is devoted to her God, but is still available for carnal relations because her veil merely signifies her commitment to God religiously but does not signal her inavailability to marriage. In other words, she confuses the white Male by being both available and unavailable at the same time.

Confused? Here’s another example to tell you to illustrate the point. It’s the same as a woman who goes to a bar, enjoys herself on the dance floor, lets herself be filmed by a camera crew while she’s dancing, and then protesting LOUDLY when her top’s pulled down to show her breasts.

Does that sound fucked up to you? GREAT, BECAUSE IT REALLY DID HAPPEN.

In essence, it is the simple idea that any woman who behaves in a manner that may be deemed “wild” or “disruptive” deserves not only to be oppressed, but also discriminated against. This discrimination need not be overt, but it can be subtle. As subtle as a woman who seems “surprised” that her daughter chose to wear the veil/tudung instead of a bikini.

Edit: With regards to the “oppressed” statement in the picture, and to explain the rest of my entry, when I say oppressed in this context, it is to say that a veiled Muslim woman is an oppressed woman. In other words, she cannot be seen to choose to wear the veil out of her own free will, because most Caucasians (in this context) believe that a Muslim woman dons the veil because she is FORCED/PRESSURED to do so, hence the oppression. The very idea that a woman may CHOOSE to wear the veil because she feels more comfortable in it flies in the face of a lot of people, especially who cannot understand a woman choosing to do something because it is her own choice.

19 Responses

  1. linkinstreet July 24, 2010 / 6:16 PM

    Hmm good point. Another thing is, there are some people that still do not understand the difference between a headscarf (tudung included, but not necessarily is one) and a veil.

    A veil is not religious, it’s a culture. And ironically, something that is so closely affiliated with muslim females came from a culture of a time when Arabs were still looking down on females.

    This also adds to that confusion, especially with people in the west that always associates anything Arab with the Muslim.

    • Naoko Kensaku July 24, 2010 / 8:17 PM

      Re: Adding to confusion
      I agree, because from what I know, there ARE Christian Arabs here, but no one notices them because there’s an idea that everything Arabic is essentially Muslim.

      Veils:
      I always associate veils with headscarves, and the hijab as a category as its own. I suppose this comes from my own upbringing – in English, a tudung is a veil/headscarf, while a burqa/hijab is something else. >>

  2. Izzu July 24, 2010 / 8:43 PM

    Haha~

    The west~~
    And the hijab/purdah originally was because some arabs can’t even tahan looking at woman’s face without feeling funny so they even had to consider face as aurat. So the cover with hijab thing, for women to cover their face to protect themselves/stop people looking at them thinking weird things… is being oppressed? XD

    • Naoko Kensaku July 24, 2010 / 8:43 PM

      Apparently so according to these crazies!

      • Izzu July 24, 2010 / 9:21 PM

        Heh. HEH!

        And I wonder why the western people don’t just go around in their undies only if they think hey~~~ ‘if I wear like this also, other people won’t feel like touching me inappropriately etc’ XD

        and that passage about the mother surprised on the daughter liking tudung… haihs

    • Kate Green, Zombie Shooter July 25, 2010 / 1:25 AM

      Yes, it is oppression. If a woman is forced to do something (wear a veil / wear a headscarf) to prevent lecherous behaviour, that is still oppression — a woman is coerced to take ‘preventive measures’ against male behaviour that shouldn’t even be present in the first place.

      By the way, I don’t think the hijab itself is particularly oppressive — it very much depends on the context and spirit that the woman donning it is. If a free-hair girl residing in a school dorm is coerced to wearing a hijab because all her friends are teasing her about that free-hair slut, it is oppressive. In a Western context where there is freedom of religion and one can (ideally) choose one’s religious practices freely, a Muslim convert who chooses to wear the headscarf is not in any meaningful form of oppression.

  3. Kate Green, Zombie Shooter July 25, 2010 / 1:15 AM

    The analogy of the nun and the hijab-covered woman does not work. The viewer understands that the nun lives in an oppressive environment (look at Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “Heaven-Haven”, for an example).

    But while all Christian nuns are Christian women (even transgender ones, as I know one transgender male-to-female who is considering convent life among the Anglicans), not all Christian women are expected to be nuns. On the other hand, a significant number of Muslim scholars believe that all Muslim women are expected to don the hijab. In the case of the woman in a hijab, the Christian comparison isn’t the nun, it’s the Pauline instruction for woman to have their heads covered in a liturgical setting, which is observed by the Orthodox by choice and rarely observed by anyone else.

    But even then the theological framework that both function in is very different. As with many Christian instructions (often better expressed in the Pauline letters than anything else) the question of sex and gender behaviour is linked to the concept of a natural order, something that Hellenist philosophy was really big on at the time. The question of a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf is about Godly instructions on modesty.

    I think what bugs me a lot is that I know a lot about theology. I know a lot about Christian theology, I know some amount of Islamic theology. I know this because, well, for a long time I was hungering for God and I chased Him intensely, and the result was an intensively huge bank of knowledge on religious issues.

    While I understand that most of the world’s adherents to both religions are not well-versed in their respective theologies, it matters to those who set the tone of that collective consciousness.

    When people randomly select certain religious signifiers (whether it is a word like ‘redemption’ or ‘Word of God’, or whether it is a physical signifier like a headscarf) they often blatantly assume that they point to the same thing simply because of superficial similarities. They don’t.

    An action — donning a headscarf — in one religious tradition rightfully points to the intentions of that particular religious tradition / ideological or cultural set-up. The Christian nun’s attire points to the Christian framework, which is oppressive in certain ways, but not in the same way that Islam is. The Muslim girl’s attire points to the Muslim framework, which is also oppressive in certain ways, but not in the same way that Christianity is.

    Also, I don’t think that when someone dons something by choice, that automatically gives them Feminist Cred. I’m speaking this as someone who wears a headscarf to church, who fully accepts the traditional Christian teaching of the woman needing to recognize the man as her superior, and who rejects women religious clergy. I don’t see why I should be given slack for my choices simply because I actually made a choice. I make the choice because I recognize some values are values I cannot embrace coherently while claiming to hold on to some other values.

    Back again to the analogy: if a Buddhist girl shaves her head, it means completely different things depending on the context she shaves her head in. If you put a caricature of a Chibi Buddhist nun with the words “A nun can shave her head and not be a delinquent” and beside her a punk girl with shaved head and yakuza tattoos, anyone would point out that you’ve missed the point.

    • Kate Green, Zombie Shooter July 25, 2010 / 1:41 AM

      Urgh, my comment was a real mess.

      Basically, my point is this. The Chibi Tudung comic is flawed. The fact that a Western-acceptable form of oppression has similarities with a Western-unaccepted form of oppression does not mean that the unaccepted form of oppression is not oppressive. It could simply be two forms of oppressiveness.

      The fact that both practitioners may be doing it out of choice does not make it any less oppressive.

      Islam and Christianity are both oppressive religious beliefs, but they are each oppressive in different ways. To go into an elaboration of this would be going into some pretty deep theology. Basically, the two religions have cosmetic similarities, but function in completely different ideological frameworks. The actions of its adherents should be measured on the relevance and weight of their ideological frameworks.

  4. Lord Zhilbar July 25, 2010 / 10:11 PM

    *Points upward*

    The gal right above me makes many of the same points I would, though maybe not in the same context I would. I freely admit that I have seen girls wearing headscarves and thought ‘oppressed!’ (Though looking at this makes me far gladder I didn’t try to force my worldview on them.) But in my case, I just happen to think that everything comes down to free choice. And I determine the freedom of that choice by looking at the opposite side.

    In general, if a girl chooses NOT to be a nun, nobody even looks at her sideways. There are no real expectations in that regard. Heck, outside the Catholic community (Which is only one among many communities, here) people wouldn’t really care if a woman ditches holy orders no matter how far past the cutoff point she was. “And what was your last job?” “I was a nun for forty years.” “I see… and what kind of skill-set does that provide?”

    On the other hand, from all I’ve seen, Muslim women are EXPECTED to wear the headscarf, to wear something to avoid provoking ‘the lechery of men’ (who, in MY decadent and collapsing culture, are expected to have self-control enough to sit through a Girls Gone Wild advertisement without placing an order), and are thought less of if they don’t.

    Because a young lady who wants to wear a headscarf on a beach full of bikinis will just get commented on, but a young lady who wants to wear a bikini on a beach full of headscarves seems likely to be a different story. So to speak.

    *Shrugs* That’s what I come away with, anyway.

    • Kate Green, Zombie Shooter July 25, 2010 / 11:05 PM

      I don’t think your assessment of Western society is accurate, although it could be because most of my friends are Christians. A staunch Bible-believing Protestant would *definitely* raise their eyebrows if they encounter a nun who has walked away from her vows.

      • Lord Zhilbar July 25, 2010 / 11:39 PM

        You know, you’re right about that. I do apologize, and retract my statement; I’m too used to being in liberal environments, I suppose. A nun who walked away from her vows would have something of a chilly reception in the Bible Belt, for example, even if West or East Coast culture might be different. (Though if she left to get married, I suspect even a staunch Bible-believing Protestant might not mind too much. She’d still be fulfilling their idea of what a woman’s role is, don’t you think?)

        Really, I was more trying to convey that an ex-nun (who wasn’t thrown out for illegal/immoral/etc. actions, of course) would still be entirely capable of building a life for herself and moving on, that she could choose NOT to be a ‘Bride of Christ’ anymore and still have a pick of communities where it wouldn’t be held against her. There’s several Reverends of my acquaintance who wouldn’t think twice about accepting a former nun into their flock.

        • Kate Green, Zombie Shooter July 26, 2010 / 12:34 AM

          You don’t have to apologize, I wasn’t offended at all.

          I’ll respond with the theological bit first, because it’s easier for me to answer: there are many groups that identify as Bible-believing, with some practices being more outre than others, but essentially contemporary mainstream Protestantism doesn’t identify women as being people who *must* marry, but then when she does, she must regard her husband as her superior. While ascetic practices are not done among mainstream Protestants, there is still plenty of respect to those who undertake it, so the act of renouncing the monastic life would still be quite shocking.

          “Really, I was more trying to convey that an ex-nun (who wasn’t thrown out for illegal/immoral/etc. actions, of course) would still be entirely capable of building a life for herself and moving on, that she could choose NOT to be a ‘Bride of Christ’ anymore and still have a pick of communities where it wouldn’t be held against her.”

          Theologically — ie. based on religious sources and religious sources only, ignoring the local political, social and cultural baggage that comes with issues like these — this freedom isn’t denied to a Muslim woman either. There are various schools of thought regarding the headscarf in Islam. Very liberal Muslim groups believe that the headscarf is optional, and among those who consider it mandatory, there are different applications of its intensity. In some parts of the world the teaching is that it is mandatory to have a headscarf that covers one’s hair and torso, in other parts of the world, it is permitted to have a bit of hair visible.

          This freedom to have differing perspectives on the religion comes from the structure of Sunni Islam: religious knowledge is determined by the Quran (Word of God), contextualized by the Hadith (deeds of the Prophet), and adapted for practical application by the Qias and Ijma (consensus of contemporary Muslim scholars). Scholars have the freedom to adopt and adapt religious instructions in accordance to various needs of the people. This is, in fact, perfectly orthodox Sunni Islam.

          So it’s not true, theoretically, that a Muslim woman does not have the freedom to renounce the headscarf. Certainly I’ve seen plenty of Muslim women who did so in Malaysia. Her need to comply would be more linked to social and cultural pressures than religious ones.

  5. Naoko Kensaku July 25, 2010 / 11:12 PM

    Zhilbar and Kate, I’ll reply to your comments in a bit. Thanks for the comments, but I think it’s my fault as well; I wanted to frame this discussion as having nothing whatsoever to do with the religions per se, but more on how the male white gaze (as exemplified by Zhilbar himself) perceives what is essentially a choice of the girl.

    I’m not talking about religious obligations or symbols in this case, but more on how oppression is viewed simply based on two women who choose to do the same thing.

    Granted though, I am speaking only from my point of view, and it is a very shallow one, but this is what I think anyway. :)

    • Lord Zhilbar July 25, 2010 / 11:41 PM

      So I’m your ‘ang mo advocate?’

      :3

      • Naoko Kensaku July 25, 2010 / 11:43 PM

        More like useful example. ^^;

    • Kate Green, Zombie Shooter July 26, 2010 / 12:09 AM

      I don’t think I quite agree with your framework either. I don’t think that every male and white person looks to a nun and the first thing that comes to mind would be information of her sexual availability. Likewise, I don’t think that the same (Christian, male, white) person looks to a Muslim woman and gets confused because of her sexual availability. This assumes a very uhm, Freudian (for the lack of a better word) understanding of the world, that people are always motivated by sex and nothing else.

      Rather, I think that more accurately, the nun’s attire points to an ideological construct that the Christian (or culturally Christian) white male understands (possibly falsely) as being not being oppressive simply because he has gotten used to that system, whereas the hijab points to a belief system he regards as oppressive. A big reason for this is of course the (mis)understanding that the hijab is mandatory for Muslim woman and the headscarf is non-mandatory for the Christian.

      This is of course a false belief; mandatory headscarf-wearing is part of Christian praxis, it just fell into disuse. While I can’t answer from a Muslim perspective, I think that the argument for the headscarf (or at least a head covering) for Christian women in church is mandatory is pretty strong. I know that the people whom I encounter on Livejournal who are Bible literalists staunchly support the wearing of headscarves, and I haven’t encountered any strong enough argument to counter them.

      I don’t think it’s possible to talk about religious praxis (like wearing a headscarf) and not consider the belief structure of the religion itself. There are plenty of reasons why people want to avoid going down that path: people have very strong opinions about religion because it’s very personal. Still, I think it’s impossible to neglect the fact that the motivation for wearing a religious icon (like the headscarf) is, well, linked to one’s understanding of what accurate religious praxis is.

  6. Lord Zhilbar July 26, 2010 / 1:12 AM

    In response to Kate:

    Glad I didn’t offend. :)

    In regards to mainstream Protestantism, while it’s not believed that women *must* marry, it is an expectation that they will. That would make the difference between leaving the nun’s cloister for another womanly role and just leaving the cloister, if you catch me.

    As for the other, I hadn’t really meant to equate abandoning nunly vows with taking off a headscarf. It would be more on par with abandoning Islam itself, as choosing to stop being a nun would (as far as I can tell) be giving up your identity as a Catholic- I simply wanted to point out that even for a nun, society would still allow ‘take-backs.’ Giving up Islam is something I still haven’t researched properly, so I won’t speak of any difficulties that path may or may not take- but just about any culture where there is one dominant faith is likely to have trouble with people who try to drop out of said faith, as a citizen’s religious and secular roles are intertwined. But that’s getting WELL off-topic.

    • Kate Green, Zombie Shooter July 26, 2010 / 2:35 AM

      I don’t think one stopping becoming a nun would imply stopping being a Catholic, unless it involves an actual loss of faith. I mean, Catholicism and Orthodoxy (the two big denominations that practice monasticism) preach the concept of having a vocation, moreso in Catholicism than Orthodoxy. A nun who walks away could have simply felt that she misunderstood her vocation.

      Getting confused about one’s vocation is a normal emotion for many devoted Catholics / Orthodox — one of the people from whom I learned a lot about Christianity is a devout Catholic whose plans of becoming Catholic clergy is destroyed by the fact that he is gay (so he frequently angsts about his lack of direction and confusion about his vocation). On my part personally, I did ask my priest about what to do if I were to become a nun (seeing that I’m not interested in marrying), and he did tell me that people are encouraged to go for trial periods in a monastery to see how much they can take it. I suppose the time period for those trials differ in different monasteries. So, leaving the cloister isn’t really the apostacy, although it is a serious issue because it involves breaking of vows.

      Apostacy in Islam and how to deal with them is again something that differs from place to place, depending on both the politics and the consensus of the scholars (or how many scholars have political influence). There is at least one Hadith that mentions of the Prophet letting go of an apostate. The idea that it must be followed by death is, by scholarly consensus, only justifiable if it is deemed to be a sufficient threat to the nation (how this is interpreted and applied again differs from place to place).

      The Christian equivalent is still not the nunnery and leaving monastic life, but a practice that has actually gone extinct — the slaying of heretics and apostates from religious orthodoxy. This was done by both the Eastern (Orthodox) and the Western (Catholic) Church. There are various arguments supporting violence against heretics, but the most prominent is that of the teachings Thomas Aquinas, whose ideas still influence many Christians today. Aquinas is a brilliant man whom I admire for many reasons, but he did teach that violence against evil people (criminals and such) was justified in one section of the Summa Theologica, and in another taught that heretics did indeed count as evil people, due to the dangers they posed to the populace. Again, like the mandatory headscarf, the reason people do not practise it anymore is because the practice has fallen into disuse, and not because it is no longer relevant.

      (I’m also not sure if mainstream Protestantism expects women to marry, although that could be more intensely practised in the Bible Belt. I actually encountered more of the ‘people are expected to marry’ when I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy than when I was Protestant. But again, my experience is Malaysian. )

      Again, theology doesn’t necessarily translate to public opinion and culture and politics. I fully understand this. Most religious adherents don’t go around finding info from the Summa Theologica or the Qias and Ijma of various countries (and neither do I, I just short-cut a lot and ask questions on religious forums and have the good fortune of having knowledgeable internet buddies). In today’s society we tend to believe that whatever metaphysical or spiritual belief that anyone has must be considered true because faith is personal. But there is a point, I think, when one’s understanding of a particular faith is so outlandish that it must be considered false.

      The nun’s habit and praxis and the Muslim woman’s hijab and praxis simply cannot be compared because the theological framework each of them claim to represent are completely different. One is an act of ascetism unique to that particular religion and absent in the other. As I pointed out to Naoko, the comparisons end the minute one goes beyond the outward physical appearance and into the reasons why each woman dons her attire.

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