Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Hijab Study: My afternoon in the scarf of a hijabi woman



I’ve thought long and hard about how to write this. This is something I’ve been meaning to touch on for a bit now. It’s a matter of choice and appearance. Opinion. Religion. Culture. One day, I made a decision about my appearance, and the world I was in could barely stand to look me in the eye.

Let’s back up a bit. One night, I watched this social experiment video on how so many passerbys simply ignored a man verbally attacking and cruelly insulting a woman in a hijab, because of the hijab. As discouraging as results like that are, I’m hardly surprised. I’ve seen enough glares and stink-eyes thrown in the direction of my friends who choose to wear hijabs to know that there are still much unfriendly feelings towards this particular religion even in the liberal areas of the US. It’s funny though – I’ve never once seen my friends react negatively to the negativity. It’s usually me glaring and giving the stink-eye back. They are seriously some of the sweetest, most forgiving, non-judgmental people I know. Far moreso than myself.

I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a social experiment by going out in a hijab and seeing and experiencing first-hand just how the non-Muslim world treats these women. I’m a theist who's belief system most closely lines up with Christianity. I’m about non-ignorance and treating people well, because as the cliché goes: that’s what Jesus would do. Having worn a particular head covering on occasion every once and again way back when, out in public, I am not completely unfamiliar with getting stares for that cloth thing on your head. But that didn’t prepare me for going out in a hijab for the first time ever. It was much like the feeling of being the smartest, most attractive, most fawned upon or powerful person in the room only to get upstaged by some other attention-hog, if you know what I’m getting at.

Basically, I got a different kind of treatment from what I've gotten used to.

March 4, about 4 in the afternoon I drove to a little local coffee house dressed in a long sleeved tunic sweater, skinny jeans, and a blue plaid hijab wrapped around my head in the way my friend taught me how.

“People are looking. And it’s not the kind of looks I normally get." I typed into my word document once I settled into a booth. Did I mention that this area is far more “conservative”? I was expecting a bit more negativity, but it still left a hole of utter disappointment and irritation in humanity. There were stares. Decrease in manners. Short, clipped replies that would normally turn into friendly small talk at the grocery store. Leery glances. Eye contact avoidance. One man even moved to the other end of the coffee shop (next time something like that happens I’m going to say something witty). But what struck me most of all: fear. It was in their eyes. Fear and suspicion of a little non-white girl sitting in a coffee shop booth with a mocha and a laptop. Every time I smiled or said hello to someone with any hint of suspicion, it amazed me every time that their first reaction, before returning the friendly gesture, was surprise. It was as if to say,

It talks, and it’s friendly?


I’d like to at least think that’s a little indicator of toppling down some kind of incorrect preconceived notion about what a hijab means. For the record, the hijab is worn for both modesty and religious reasons. The idea is that a man won’t be so distracted by her body but instead be directed to her face when he talks to her. So that value maybe clashes with your cultural background, but other cultures besides your own do actually exist. Get over it.

They weren’t all like that. A few old ladies were very kind and sweet to me – in that genuine kind of way. Not the forced, overly big, I’m-purposely-trying-to-be-nice-to-you-non-normal-foreign-person kind of way. They looked me in the eye instead of honing in on my hijab as theirs lit up and the little crinkles around their mouth and eyes scrunched together. There should be more people like those ladies.

That was my first, but not my last time going out in a hijab. My point in all this is to simply point out that bad people are bad people. Not that particular people couldn’t be jerks, but like anyone else you’d have to know them first before finding that out. What idiots decide to become is not in the true name of the religion they claimed to be a part of, and neither are the rest responsible for the mistakes of some stray nuts. The normal ones in such religions will quickly and readily tell you they dislike the crazies just as much as the next person. That’s just it. A treacherous person is a treacherous person. Not a race, not a religion, not a woman wearing a head-covering in a particular style.


I’m still disappointed to find that the one day I made a change to my appearance, the world as I was in could barely stand to look me in the eye.

30 comments:

  1. Wow. That is very, very interesting. Almost makes me want to go out in a long jean skirt and see how others view all those people in my city. I've never seen anyone wearing a hijab in our community, but if I do I will do my best to treat them well, now that I know this.
    Thank you so much for posting this; it's amazingly disappointing and eye-opening.
    Christina
    P.S. I love the photo!!

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    1. Long jean skirt + oval head covering clipped on with hair clips will definitely get you some looks. Thanks so much for your comment, it totally just made my night.

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  2. Very great study! This was really interesting to read, and everything you´ve written is true! I used to wore hijab and now when I don´t any more. I sometimes notice the difference, especially where there are not many people who where hijab, and I think it´s sad. It´s that you get judged just because you have a piece of scarf on your head.. I hope people sooner or later realise that it´s not what you wear that matters, but who you are. :)


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    1. Couldn't agree more. Here's to changing the world for better!

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  3. I just wrote a huge long paragraph and it deleted instead of published!
    Aunt Susan

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  4. This is really interesting. The same thing happens in Australia... the area I'm living in is not the most multicultural place in sydney, people may not be as accepting - i.e., the Cronulla riot. There are similar issues surrounding obesity and social treatment, I guess if people skew from the social norm, they'll receive different treatments. I'm not sure about the US, but the younger gen in Australia has gone absolutely haywire. There was a recent incident where two girls 17 and 21 physically and verbally assaulted a 77year old blind man on a public bus. An obvious lack of respect, discipline and mindfulness in today's youth.

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    1. Well that's just rotten. It's true, today's youth really just isn't that bright (but that seems to have always been an issue). From my experience here the younger generation (speaking very generally here) tends to be the most open-minded. During this particular experiment though I got mixed signals from ages all across the board. Funnily enough, both the nicest and rudest treatment was from the middle to older ages.

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  5. Wow. I must admit, I had never heard the term before, or even seen anyone wear a hijab in person (living in a very small town, in Arizona), but this is eye opening. I'm by nature a very open, honest, kind person, I think, and sometimes I am still amazed by the cruelty and intolerance the world holds for anyone different than the standards it has set for "normal".

    Thank you for sharing this, though. As painful (and revolting) as it is to realize that people would actually refuse to help someone because of the difference in their dress, I am glad I saw this post, and read it, so I can be aware of what is going on, and stand up for those who are "different" - or even just make it a point to treat them the same way I would treat anyone else.

    {And thank you for your comments on my blog - they are truly lovely.}
    xx

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    1. Right? But that is the world we live in. Fighting back with love seems to be the best option to such intolerance.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and learn; this is exactly why I'm doing this study - to educate and combat ignorance. If more people knew and took a stand like that, the world would be a better place.

      And of course, I love your blog! :)

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  6. I think if more people had to walk in someone else's life and deal with life the way they had to.. there would be more tolerance in this world.

    Great idea and wonderful that some people are looking past the clothing to the person:)

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    1. This is true. Everyone should learn to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.

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  7. I'm so intrigued by this idea and I think it's really great that you did this. :)

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  8. This was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this with us! I think you look beautiful either way :)
    xo TJ

    http://www.hislittlelady.com

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  9. Wow this was so moving and interesting !
    Eb x
    Thefearlessfox.blogspot.co.uk

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  10. Wow, this is super thought provoking, Pixie. Props for doing this experiment and writing about it. I recently worked with a fellow employee who is obviously racist, and it caused me to think about some things, rather angrily to be sure, as racism is something I never tolerate from people. I love how the new testament writer, Paul put it: "For while I was with you I resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and him crucified." and to me, that is so profound because it means everyone. Like, it doesn't matter what the person is wearing, or how they look, or how they talk. We should see the beauty of Christ inside of everyone. To put people into boxes is beyond wrong. It's about love and how that love is manifesting inside all of us, because of His ultimate love. Thanks for writing this!

    Cheers,
    Kate

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  11. Very important and interesting experiment!
    xx

    www.sakuranko.com

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  12. P.s. I love how you did the photo at the top! So cool

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    1. Thanks Katie! I love that you brought up the 1 Corinthians passage, it's something I've been thinking about lately. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to write such a thoughtful note!

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    2. Same here! And you're so welcome, I love your blog!

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  13. interesting post and the first picture is really pretty!:)
    xoxo
    rainbows and dreams

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  14. Wow. I stumbled across your blog and saw this post..I think what you did was very interesting and thought-provoking. I am a Christian too and I try to be tolerant of others, you know, not judging them by what they wear. I never really "know" what they go through and the fact that you chose to "walk a day in their shoes" is just amazing. Its great how empathic you are! I enjoyed reading this post...you had a very interesting experiment there!

    I would love if you could stop by my blog, www.littlepandacrafts.blogspot.com

    Thanks!
    ♥ MJ

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    1. Thanks MJ, I'm glad you enjoyed it and got something out of this. I hope you'll come back to visit!

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