This is going to be a bit of a pot-pourri post, because today was much the same as yesterday – the only difference was that I went to my singing lesson after work, which meant actually going into the city briefly, but I’m pleased to say that I seemed to blend into the crowd about as much as I usually do.
This is not the case at work, of course.
One thing I’m finding fascinating is the different responses of men and women I work with. Don’t get me wrong, people of both genders are still being lovely. But there are definitely gender-based differences in how men and women interact with me. The women I work with who know why I’m wearing the scarf are treating it more or less like a new haircut – I’m getting the sorts of friendly, complimentary comments about colour, style and maintenance that I got when I died my hair a bright colour a few months back. And then, invariably, talk turns to the convenience of bad hair days and a scarf.
(For the record, I washed my hair last night. I re-did the colour. I made my hair beautiful. And then today? I had a Bad Scarf Day, in which my hair was continually escaping, my scarf was randomly bunching up by my ear, the folds wouldn’t sit flat, my pins persisted in attacking me, everything itched – you name it, if it was annoying, my scarf was doing it.
But underneath it, I was having a great hair day. I can tell, because I took my scarf off when I got home, and my hair looked awesome.)
The men, on the other hand, mostly do not comment on the scarf – not even the ones who would normally comment on a haircut. In fact, many of them seem to have difficulty meeting my eyes, though this improves once we actually start conversing.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is about sexism or judgment or anything like that. I think it’s a misplaced instinct of politeness, where the normal rules for politeness are unclear. And, in fact, I have the same issue. Just as I wasn’t sure whether it was ‘appropriate’ to continue my usual practice of smiling at everyone I see in the street, regardless of gender (I still smile at random women, but I’m wary of making eye contact with random men), I think there is a feeling – not necessarily a conscious one – that the headscarf is a statement that one does not want male attention, thank you. And so men see a headscarf and automatically avert their gaze slightly in instinctive politeness.
This feels very strange, especially as I do feel entirely like me on the inside – I’m wearing my normal, brightly coloured clothes, and my scarves are bright and colourful to match. (Which looks awesome, I might add. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this stylish before. But I digress.) Essentially, I’m aiming for a look that ‘yes, I’m wearing a scarf, and I’m still me’, because I find it utterly weird that a single item of clothing can so utterly transform identity.
Perhaps that is its purpose?
I don’t know. I thought my Hijab was saying “Please look at my face, not my body,” not “I want to be invisible.”
This is something else I’ll have to think about – especially because, as I think I’ve mentioned, I’m finding that I really love being just a face and hands and fee and a blur of colour. My feet transport me through the world, my hands interact with it, and my face communicates with it – the rest of me is mine, and this feels incredibly luxurious and safe. I wonder if this is what wearing Hijab is supposed to be about?
Alas, in the current political climate, my clothing communicates with the world, too, and I don’t really control what it’s saying.
(If there are any Hijabi women reading this, I’d love to hear their take on what they feel the Hijab communicates – and what they think of the politeness thing.)
On a more humourous note, I’m still loving the people who are expressing such fervent solidarity with me, while clearly being unsure what they are expressing solidarity with. I work with genuinely gorgeous people. And I am evidently going to have to send some more explanatory emails.
I’m getting some very kind smiles from women on the tram, too, which I probably don’t deserve, but it’s another nice bit of evidence that there are plenty of people in the community who feel friendly towards Muslims. I’m also getting my share of weird looks, but honestly, that’s not really a first for me. Different reason, same reaction…
No, that was flippant. If I’m honest, while I’m probably noticing weird looks more, there are definitely more weird looks to notice, and I’m certainly finding myself making careful choices about who I sit opposite on the tram or the train. Despite feeling safer in myself, I’m still feeling less safe in public.
I’ll finish this little patchwork post with an anecdote that I forgot to share with you yesterday. As I think I mentioned, I started the morning with a lengthy meeting with a group of people from departments I don’t work with every day – everyone there knew me, but nobody knew me well, so there were supportive looks, but nothing said outright. (We really don’t like talking about religion in Australia, do we? Even I feel awkward about it, and I find theology and why people believe what they believe utterly fascinating…)
Anyway, I’m vaguely attempting the 5:2 diet, and yesterday was supposed to be a fast day, but there were croissants and danishes for breakfast, and people kept on passing them to me, and looking confused when I refused them, as I am a known eater and baker of cakes. And after the second time I said no, thank you, I’m fine, I had the awful realisation that I was pretty much going to have to have a croissant, because people were going to keep offering them, there was no time for conversation and if I simply said I was fasting, I was just going to confirm everyone’s impression that I had Found Religion…
So much for that particular fast day…