Hijab, Femininity and Feminism

Today ends my week in Hijab, though I intend to keep wearing it on weekends, at least until things settle down a bit, Islamophobia-wise.  So probably for quite a while, alas – though since I’m still really enjoying wearing it, at least when I can get it to stay on, this is hardly a sacrifice on my part.

The last few days in Hijab were actually pretty normal.  I think people at work had adjusted to the sight of me in a headscarf – and perhaps I had been mis-judging some of the earlier reactions I got, too, because a few people did mention that they’d found it really difficult to get used to seeing me in it.  I look very different in Hijab.

But I’m still me.

I’ve had some fascinating conversations over the week.  Without exception, my colleagues are supportive of action against racism, against Islamophobia, and against, basically, women being attacked on the basis of what they wear.  Hooray, my colleagues!  (Even the ones with a dubious sense of humour!)  It’s not that I thought they weren’t awesome, but I’ve heard some pretty terrible stories from other people wearing Hijab about what their friends, families and colleagues have said to them about it.  I’m very lucky.  I’ve also had several conversations with vehement atheists who feel that all public religious expression should be banned – but who were, on the other hand, quite in favour of my argument that nobody should get to decide what a woman wears other than the woman herself.  And I’ve had a lovely set of conversations with Muslim women, veiled and unveiled, who  were very kind about what I was doing.

Out and about, I’m still getting a fair few suspicious stares, but I’m also getting a fair number of people being super-nice to me – trying to compensate for Islamophobia, I think.  The most disheartening thing I’ve noticed is that when I smile at people on the street or on the tram, far fewer of them smile back than usual.  This makes me rather sad.

Over the last few days, as I’ve become more at home in Hijab, and more inclined to forget what I’m wearing, I’m noticing a few subtler things about how people react to me.  I seem to have become more feminine in the public eye, which is interesting.  It’s definitely the Hijab, too, and not my clothing – apart from my scarf, I’m wearing precisely the same outfits I normally wear in cooler weather.  But suddenly, a lot more people are offering me seats on trams or holding doors for me.  Alas, with my increased femininity, I’ve also noticed a drop in my perceived IQ – not from my colleagues or friends, but out and about, I am suddenly being treated to a lot more patronising behaviour than I’m used to.  Kindly meant, I might add, but, oh, it’s irritating.

Interestingly, I’m also finding that male acquaintances touch me more when I’m wearing Hijab.  Not inappropriately or intrusively, just I’m getting a lot more friendly pats on the shoulder from people who would not normally do that. I have no idea what that’s about.  Reminding themselves that it is still me?  Very odd.  I could theorise about female bodies being somehow viewed as public domain, so that if one conceals more, people unconcsiously compensate for this, but I don’t want to go all feminist theory on what I suspect is a completely unconscious thing.

And speaking of feminist theory…

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