Barbara Crafton's Almost-Daily Emo for today is titled Headscarves and Minarets. It's a good one, starting with thoughts about the movement in some European countries against minarets on mosques (Switzerland) and headscarves in public buildings (France). She thinks about these changes in the context of oppression:
And veiling may be oppressive to women but so, surely, is legislating what they may and may not wear. Moreover, banning headcoverings for Muslim women in public buildings will have the immediate unintended consequence of denying them access to both education and to the courts -- a family in which covering is expected will not be a family that allows its woman to appear in public bareheaded. Whatever we may think it should be, that it what it is: maybe that family should hold a view other than the one it holds and should conduct its affairs differently, but what will actually happen is that the girls will have to stay home. A measure intended to liberate will further enslave.
And she goes on to consider little girls in her own life who, when told that they would not wear a veil for Confirmation, were terribly disappointed.
I was surprised - though I shouldn't have been -- to learn that the girls themselves wanted the veils. They thought they were pretty. "But I wanna look like a bride!" one of them said, and the rest giggled. I was torn: I understood both the patriarchy part and the pretty part. Veils are about preserving chastity, a motif pretty much absent from the Confirmation rite as we have it, which is about making an adult profession of one's faith. But veils are also about pretty: most, though not all, of my brides wear them, including brides who have lived with their grooms for a long time before marrying them. Maybe the veil was originally about preserving a woman's virtue by hiding her beauty, but now it's just about the transition from one state to another. You don't know all there is to know about something just because you know its orgins. Every religious and cultural symbol acquires layers of additional meaning as time passes, and it takes time for time to pass.
I identify with this very strongly. When I was a little, little girl, (I'm thinking late sixties so not very long after around Vatican II) my family went to a certain Episcopal church in Houston. My older brother and sister were still going along at that time (thought not very willingly!) and my sister wore a doily on her head (she HAD to, she didn't like it). My mother wore a lace mantilla. Other ladies wore hats. If a woman came to church without a head covering, she had to put a kleenex on her head.
"I want to wear a doily!" I said, "like Sarah does!"
My mama told me I could wear a doily when I was older, like Sarah.
I don't know exactly when or why it happened, but the head covering stopped. Did I notice it at the time? Don't know. And so one day, when I was older, I said, "Why aren't people wearing doilies to church anymore? When do I get to wear one?"
Mom explained that we didn't do that any longer, but if I wanted a doily I could surely wear one. Well, of course I didn't want to be the ONLY person wearing one! I wanted to be A PART OF the women that wore them. And those women were gone with the years.
Now, if you told me today that I HAD to cover my head in church, I might object strenuously! But then, I wanted to belong. I wanted a sign that I was grown up. I wanted a ritual. We don't have many of those any more....and too bad. I think we miss and need them.
(ps: I am also the child who, at about age 4, asked her mother to buy her a hairnet. My poor confused mother bought me a food-service type hairnet. THAT was not what I wanted: I wanted a clear hairnet with little jewels in it, like my Gramma Beth wore! Where I was planning to wear this hairnet, I could not say. But I know why I wanted to look like Gramma Beth: she had the most beautiful white hair and I wanted her approval more than anything. Maybe I thought showing up in a matching hairnet would gain me that. More likely she'd have though I was utterly mad. We'll never know.)
(ps2: and maybe I AM utterly mad. But I have a good time...)