School Uniforms, Hijab and Polygamy

400px-Karen_Millen,_Belfast,_March_2011I loved my school uniform. It was a sort of greyish blue with a very strict blazer with the school crest. Our school uniform wasn’t really comfortable, and it definitely wasn’t pretty – or sexy -but I felt so proud to wear it! That uniform gave me a sense of self, of representing something fine and enviable. It also made me feel like I belonged, I was a part of something, something larger than me. This feeling was invoked and encouraged by rituals and by staff and we were made to feel that the uniform represented the school motto – Inspiring a life of significance.

When I read sites encouraging women to wear hijab, I see great similarities. They seem to aspire to exactly the same motto! And they do it by evoking the same feelings, just trade school uniform for hijab: sense of self, sense of belonging, sense of representing something fine and enviable. Makes you feel special.

The school uniform also made you look businesslike and modest. It showed that you were a good girl, a long way from miniskirts and high heels. Just like the hijab. It was a message.

Of course, I graduated and was allowed to get out of the uniform. And I missed it sometimes! But overall, it was fantastic to be myself, wearing clothes of my own choice. It felt like a shield to wear a uniform, I could hide behind it. And of course it was extremely convenient for all the parents who didn’t want their daughters in miniskirts, or who couldn’t afford fashion.

The school uniform is a sign of ownership – and status. A sign that you are a vassal, but also that you are protected by rules and powers behind the uniform. The same goes for the hijab.

The hijab is primarily a way for men to hide their possessions. It’s like covering what you have in the trunk of your SUV to keep thieves away. The hijab also makes objects out of women, since it implies that if you don’t wear it you have to take the blame if you’re molested. It is a way to hide women to the public space, and to make women disappear.

And you can make people proud of being owned, of being hidden, of being possessions. Just like you can make people proud of surviving in polygamy, being forced to be #2, 3 or four… Simply by making them wear the nose ring, the hijab or the school uniform, as a sign of being selected, of belonging, of representing something fine and enviable. Just as the women of men in the Hells Angels can be proud of having a tattoo saying “Property of Big Jim” on their forehead.

I don’t wear a school uniform any more. I don’t wear hijab. I don’t have “Property of Big Jim” tattooed on my forehead.

My favourite designer is Karen Millen.

11 thoughts on “School Uniforms, Hijab and Polygamy

  1. Fiona,
    Would you share with us, what is you’re first husband’s interpretation of the hijab? His second wife is covered, correct? Was that part of his attraction to her? Also, how did he meet her, and choose her for his second wife? (If you’ve addressed that already, I’m sorry, perhaps you could repeat the link. I’m having a hard time finding things in WordPress.)

    I looked up Karen Millen. Some of her dresses are reminiscent of Chanel.

  2. I have been reading for quite some time and like your blog for two reasons. One, it’s so captivating; it would make a great movie or book. Two, I’m a western woman that’s been dating a Muslim man for a year. We’ve been so happy together that it has been easy to sweep important cultural and religious questions I have under the rug that I know should be addressed before our relationship progresses further. Your blog on polygamy is just an umbrella for other questions I should be asking and has encouraged me to finally do so. I’m impressed by how well you’ve dealt with the situation and adjusted accordingly; you come across as a strong, independent woman with a great sense of humor. Looking forward to your blog entries. Wishing you all the best!

  3. Hello Dale!

    My husband believes hijab is not what it is made out to be. He believes it’s about dressing appropriately, and it goes for women and men. He says that what is stated in the quran is that you shouldn’t show your breasts in public, and you shouldn’t dress too sexy when you’re out alone. There’s nothing about obligatory veiling (it actually says that you can use a headscarf to hide your breasts but if your breasts are already covered, it doesn’t say the veil is obligatory.)
    Yes, his #2 is a niqabi. I dont know if he finds it attractive, and I find it difficult to ask… 😦 I know that he enjoys being in control, having her ask his permission to leave the home, seeing him as her head. I suppose he enjoys the change… 😉

    How they met is one of the things he initially refused to tell me. He had decided then to keep everything about her from me, to keep his marriages separate and to keep me from hurting her. He also wanted to shield our integrity by not telling things about one wife to the other. However, when I married Graham, that changed because my first husband had a need to know things. So he started to share things with me, in order to have me share things about Graham. So I know now that #2 was the daughter of a man who had asked a favour of one of the men in the club my husband belongs to in Londond, a club for arab business men – to find his daughter a wealthy husband. The deal was brokered by this friend, and imam and the girl’s father. They only “met” via Skype before they married. So I suppose he fell in love with the idea of her rather than her.

  4. Are you saying all women who wear hijab are suffering from some kind of psychosis?

  5. Hello, and welcome!

    Well, if men who feel male and strong in a uniform suffer from a psychosis, if college graduates who are proud wearing a cloak suffer from a psychosis, if police officers who feel empowered by their uniform suffer from a psychosis – then yes. Cause this is why women can actually enjoy wearing the hijab. It makes them feel selected, superior and special. AND – there are strong sexual connotations too. It’s a kind of fetish. Just like men are turned on by a nurse’s uniform or women are turned on by an officer’s uniform, the hijab is a strong sexual fetish. And this is also why women might want to wear it. Did you know that many men say that a nun’s habit is one of the most sexy garments in the world? There you have it! That’s why men are able to lure women into wearing a hijab, niqab or burka. Of course, it also helps to have basij who come and smash your head in if you don’t wear it…

  6. Very well said Fiona. And thank you for not falling for the goofy trap that aafgg tried to set for you.

  7. Actually, many well-educated, white-collar Muslims, prefer non-veiled women. In the West, Muslim women who don’t wear hijab are sometimes considered more desirable. The reason for this is many Muslim men want a westernized woman. Many young Muslim men might not want someone who is too religious because they want to date before marriage. I have heard many young Western Muslim women talk about how hard it is to wear hijab because they often face rejection from the most desirable Muslim men. These men want to assimilate and they are often turned-off by hijab.

  8. Of course that is true. Just as a lot of men prefer it when women aren’t wearing a nun’s habit 🙂 I have also heard that while many young muslim men prefer dating and having a girlfriend who’s not a hijabi, as soon as they get married the husband starts demanding that she veils up. The famous “I want to be able to look at other women but I don’t want anybody looking at my woman”-syndrome.

    My guess is, the muslim men who really are against hijab aren’t likely to become polygamous either. To any decent man, misogyny in all shapes would be a turn off.

  9. Moni,
    “I have heard many young Western Muslim women talk about how hard it is to wear hijab because they often face rejection from the most desirable Muslim men”

    That’s interesting Moni, and as a reader here, I’m really happy to read something intelligent instead of the ideological blather that comes in. I don’t know what your own personal point of view is, and I grasp that you are just stating facts about people. When I say “you” in the following paragraph, I”m not talking about you personally.

    There is an inherent contradiction is the concept of “facing rejection” as described above, by an hijabi. First, the concept itself is very modern. When you wear hijab, you are not just covering, you are associating yourself to a whole aggregate of cultural norms, in which the individual components may vary (it may include polygamy it may not, it may include arranged marriages it may not, it may include wifely obedience, it may not etc…) but it does not include “acceptance” by single men, who associate themselves to different norms, Muslim or other.

    So to indulge in the emotion tinged experience of “facing rejection” from people who you are distinquishing yourself from by the hijab itself is to ask for the things you yourself have openly rejected. So who is doing the rejecting?

    And what makes those men so desirable? I suspect it’s their personal economy and upward mobility. That kind of economic stature is not created in societies where 50% of the population is covered. Period.

  10. I personally have found myself to be more “visible” when wearing hijab….far from hidden. That’s pretty much because it’s uncommon where I live. I stand out like a sore thumb.

    I know there are women who wear hijab because their men (husbands, fathers, etc) impose it upon them. For these women, what you’re saying perhaps is applicable. But there are also women who choose to wear hijab who are single and don’t have any Muslim family. They are doing it of their own choice.

    I suppose one might say that they are doing it for maladaptive reasons, sure, there’s always that argument. But what about women who are just truly spiritual women? Who make choices not because of coercion or social pressure, but because they just want to grow in their understanding of their faith? This is something we see not just among Muslim women who wear hijab, but among catholic women who commit to being nuns, among Jewish women who shave their heads and wear wigs or cover their heads, among pentecostal women who grow their hair long, and among many other faiths in many ways.

    To me, for those who aren’t inclined to religion or spirituality, it will always be understood that religious practice (of any kind) is a sort of brainwashing or restriction on freedom. But for those who are inclined spiritually (no matter what that path looks like), they want to do whatever they can to draw closer to their object/deity of worship. I don’t think that makes someone sick or manipulated. I think it’s just two different understandings about life and how to live it. Ideally, individuals on both sides of the fence should be mature enough to let each other do as they please without trying to discredit each other.

  11. Spirituality has been manifested by e.g. crucifying yourself, by piercing your palms, by flogging yourself et.c. All voluntary. By people “Who make choices not because of coercion or social pressure, but because they just want to grow in their understanding of their faith?” Fine. I do not approve. I I do not believe people should be allowed to flog themselves in public spaces to increase their spirituality. And I do believe these behaviors are sick and prove serious manipulation. And I do believe that those who see these things have an obligation to object.

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