A lot of talk and venom has been spit against Muslim women wearing headscarves.

It makes one wonder if these “christians” have ever read the Bible admonition for women to cover their heads. No one follows the rule nowadays, but it is there, because in pagan societies, the veil was a symbol of a modest married woman (as opposed to a prostitute). Since Jesus wasn’t big on rules, when fashions changed, women felt free to follow fashion, and so only a few small Christian sects still follow the rules, at least in the West. But why ridicule those who follow rules your own great grandmothers would approve of?

Now, I oppose those that cover the face (Burkha and Aayla) or need your hands to keep on (The traditional Chador). They interfere with women’s ability to shop and care for kids. But of course, such coverings were never mandated by Islam: they predate Islam, and they were traditionally only used by upper class women outside the house; traditional women in villages were related to everyone, and didn’t bother to stay veiled with relatives. But since veiling was a “status symbol” of being rich, it became something many women desired. Nowadays, the Saudi trained immans who are stricter than the prophet ever dared to be are pushing it as a rule on women, but one suspects that in a generation or so, the women will go back to doing what they want to do and wearing what they want to wear. Human nature hasn’t changed much, and fashions come and go.

In the meanwhile, Muslim women often embrace a veil as a protest against secularism and pornographic material from the West that threatens conservative family values. One doesn’t have to be Muslim to decide to be a bit modest. Even in the US, certain groups, like the Amish and Mennonites, and Catholic nuns, covered their hair as a religious statement.

But the rejection of hats (by men and women) in the US is actually a fairly new trend, dating back to JFK who refused to wear funny hats in the race for president.

But grandmothers like me are old enough to remember hats, which one wore to church (along with white gloves), and if you didn’t have a hat, a headscarf or a Mantilla would do. My Baptist neighbors in the MidWest still wear hats, although no gloves.

Yet there are very good reasons for hats, scarves, and head coverings.

Sunstroke is one. All those pioneer women wearing bonnets in those old photographs weren’t doing it for beauty, but to protect themselves from the sun. Similarly, all those nice National Geographic photos of “primitive” women wearing mud on their hair ignores the fact that black hair is hot, and that mud not only is cool but keeps the bugs down. Their daughters are more fashion conscious, and wear turbans or headscarves tied behind the neck. In the Philippines, they still wear scarves and/or straw hats for work, to protect themselves from the hot sun and rain.

In cooler seasons, the second reason to wear a head covering is warmth. Hats in cold weather should be a “no brainer”, yet again this is not so. My wool hat was often the only one in sight when I worked in Minnesota, even though it would go down to 30 below and I walked to work. Well, if the locals prefered frostbitten ears to stay hatless and fashionable, then no problem, but I stayed warm.

But historically, there are more reasons for women to wear headcoverings.

In some European cultures, girls had uncovered hair, but married women wore the local headcovering. It was a sign of pride in the days when married women had status (although modern feminists think it was a sign of subjection, this ignores that married women who were respected and had status, and that many ran farms and the businesses of their families).

True, the fashions of the elites might be different, but for peasant and small business women, the head coverings identified your village and status. Each village had a different bonnet, so wearing the head covering was a way to identify and affirm your job, your status (wife) and your village.

But headcoverings were also practical. They kept the hair out of your face and work area: which is why nurses traditionally wore caps (over their buns/hair) and food handlers still wear hats or hair nets. If you cleaned house in days before a vacuum cleaner, it kept the dirt out of your hair: an important reason in houses without indoor heat where washing and drying long hair was impractical.

So a woman wearing a headcovering might have many reasons to do so. The real question is why everyone else doesn’t wear a scarf or hat or bonnet.

And for those who want to save the planet, there are more reasons. In a “green” future, head coverings may make a come back.

If you are “green” you should have a garden. And you should wear a hat or scarf to protect yourself from the sun.

If you are “green”, you should walk or use a bicycle. Again, a scarf would keep your hair from flying in the wind, and protect your head from sun, rain, cold and flying debris.

And if you are “green” you should be keeping your thermostat down indoors. Survivalists know you can lose 30percent of your body heat from your head, so a scarf/ hat in the day and a sleeping cap at night saves precious energy.

So let’s hear it for the veil/bonnet/headscarf. A symbol of old fashioned values, one’s cultural heritage, and a way to live green.

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Thanks for the idea from CoffeeCatholic Blog.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

When she visits the farm, she wears a baseball cap…

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