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 Christian. 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.