Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Scarves, Symbolism and History

I read an outline of islamic women's head coverings on the BBC:

I remember my grandma used to wear a large folded silk square on her head. She was a christian woman and probably wore it out of the fashion of her time. I have usually associated women's head coverings with older women or stories of ancient women.

I think the tradition of wearing head coverings is much older than islam. Note this Bible verse from the New Testament which predates the founding of islam by hundreds of years:

"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head,since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. (1 Corinthians 11:3-10)"

I don't believe in any of that. I think any human can pray or not pray to whatever they will or nothing at all, with a head covered or not. I quote it to point out that the head covering as a muslim political symbol is a co-opted anachronism.

I think head coverings can be attractive on women. I like the way women use dress to enhance their beauty. In the case of a muslim head covering, it can be a very positive statement of faith, virtue and identity that can also be beautiful.

I am not happy with the idea that the head covering is imposed on any woman rather than chosen. At certain lengths, it becomes an insult to women's freedom, individuality and dignity. I also think that some levels of coverage create anti-social situations and security concerns.

A Turkish or French muslim who wears the hijab as a personal religious choice is a bright spot in a free society to me. Yet at the extremes of the Taliban enforcing repressive systems upon women, I believe any symbol thereof becomes incendiary.

The Naqib and the Burkah seem to me to reduce the status and human dignity of women and are not socially viable in the west, even though they are often tolerated. I think the human face is important to identifying who it is you are dealing with and what their intentions are. Also, perhaps unfortunately, these "over everything" coverings have been used by some muslim women to commit suicide bombings in some areas of the world. Sometimes these coverings are used to smuggle lawbreaking men away from justice, in disguise.

Headscarves are banned in French schools. This seems to be what they have chosen to do to reduce the likelihood of religious tension among classmates. Though, to someone who desires to follow the counsel of her faith, it may be a big sacrifice. Perhaps something akin to asking a catholic girl to go to school without a shirt on.

In much the same way that a child can be sent home for wearing the wrong t-shirt to school, I believe that in some situations it is appropriate to curtail symbolic dress in schools. This is especially important if what one person is proud to wear causes enormous tension in classmates.

In another way, the headscarf can be a symbol of anti-semitism. When many muslim societies wrongly deny the holocaust, muslim dress styles tend to symbolize anti-jewish feelings to some people.

On the other side of this debate, there is a lot of rhetoric in France speaking of muslim immigrants who won't integrate or change their faith. The immigrants are accused of being the cause of many problems in France like crime or economic issues. All of this is hauntingly familiar from the rhetoric used in Germany in the 1930's against jews.

I think of politicians in their suits, gang members and their representative attire, mini-skirts on Wall Street or hemp sweaters in San Francisco and I realize the cloth-speech is all around us.

In a truly free society we should all be able to wear what we chose. Though symbolism seems to permeate clothing like a language of its own.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gender and Communication

I heard a couple of friends of mine who are women in their twenties talking about their boyfriends not being "trained yet". This whole concept may be intended to be quaint but I find it basically offensive in principal. As if men were animals destined to servitude.

Maybe I just shouldn't hang out with any woman in her "I am finding myself, so I hate men" days.

I understand some women may at times feel the need to iterate claims to self worth into their lover's minds. Women don't want injustices imposed upon them assumptively as if that were the natural order of things.

I am a Man. I know we were all women until that awesome gene was activated with its significant cascading effects. I sometimes feel I need to remind women that men are human beings with blood coursing through their veins. Our bodies have an organ that is analogous to each and every organ in the female body even though physically men and women are gloriously different in some naturally intriguing ways.

I see so much ignorance and poorly formed communication between men and women. It is as if each exchange is 90% presumption, 9% what mom or dad taught and about 1% real understanding. Sometimes when I speak with a woman I get a sense that she thinks she "knows men" and that I am just the same in every way and that nothing I say matters and won't change her preconceived notions. I don't doubt this is like the experience some woman may have communicating with men.

Women often ask: "What are you thinking?" My male answer is "Well a lot." With some things, I can't put any of it into words either because it is so abstract, sublime or internalized. Maybe it's my narrow corpus callosum that keeps me from putting the verbs with the notions. At least it cannot be done quickly. Maybe I just don't feel the need to explain my thoughts on command to anyone or maybe I am just relaxing and trying not to form thoughts that can be shared. Maybe I am thinking things I think you will not find acceptable and because I want to keep you in my life I know not to talk about all my notions. Maybe I don't function like your girlfriend's do so I don't have a bonding token at hand at every or any moment.

The mean little misogynist in me sometimes has contempt for women's packaged emotions. They seem cliché to me sometimes because they are so readily verbalized like little products on a shelf. I am empathetic and sensible enough to abstract myself from my subjectivity long enough to see that women likewise find my approach to emotions lacking because of how not-readily-sharable it is.

What should not be disputed is that we are all human beings and all have thoughts and feelings, all have a heart and soul, and morally equal worth.

As for women "training" their men, For God's sake just treat me with the same respect you feel you deserve and you can expect me to treat you with that same respect.

Friday, November 10, 2006


I am Canadian born so I got a dose of the sarcasm and humor that anglo-saxon roots bring with it. I am ok with joking around. My self confidence stands up under all kinds of teasing. Some people know how to pull off a good dig and can take them back in stride. Though, I am the kind of person who feels there is a line.

There is a kind of immature sarcastic insult that can be endured, tolerated but is eventually nothing more than haranguing or harassment.

When you know you are respected and accepted by your peers, jokes and sarcasm have a context that is truly not painful or insulting. I think as a (one time) Canadian I have a wonderful personality feature called openness. There is a friendly park surrounding my soul, with few to no barriers. One could say there is a symbolic boundary over which people can easily step into my friend-space and interact with my world. Sometimes people misbehave and have to be escorted to the edge of my friend-space and banned or sent on a break. Mostly, though, I am patient, tolerant and accepting. I sincerely desire to know the features of another persons personality and life and to see the good in them. I usually try to have enough respect and decency for others not to attack them personally or place insulting hurtful labels on them.

My goat can be easy to get, it's right over a short wall on my property. I expect people to respect me and what is mine as I offer the same to them. I honestly don't know the proper way to deal with people who don't live by the same social contract. I just want to be treated properly and I agree to do the same for others.

I heard about the Canadian (NATO) forces taking over in Afghanistan. Though soldiers, they intuitively wanted to show restraint against their fellow men. As one of the Canadian soldiers said when interviewed about the first encounter, "We got our noses bloodied". So they recommitted themselves to go after the Taliban tribal fighters and terrorists with full force. They should have known, but at the same time, these are the kind of people they are. Like other Canadians before them in the World Wars, they will get the job done and be on the victorious side.

Occasionally my inherent benefit of the doubt is offered to the wrong kind of person. Perhaps their insecurities clash with my own or they regard my openness as weakness. Maybe they are attracted to the same women, you know, like we are Moose or Elephant Seals in competition.

It doesn't come naturally to me to use a credible threat or even an implied one to deter someone from annoying me. If I am to the point of saying I'll do something, I just might. So I don't go there. All I can do is show my displeasure, state my disagreement. Sometimes that makes it seem like I can no longer be joked with, teased or insulted. That's unfortunate. It's all about the spirit of the thing. It is easy to pick out other's vulnerabilities or fears and play on them. It's just not nice.

I think some of the fittest humans evolved being nice. I think it takes highly adapted intelligence to make love not war.

I don't want a society where violence is the path to respect. That doesn't seem to be in harmony with the rule of law or any other high minded human ideal.

Now, when I speak of haranguing I don't just mean..."Hey Jerk". I am talking about things that amount to possible life-ruining besmirchment of character that in the first place were never true. When these kinds of labels are used even for humor, it can anger and dismay the target of these, greatly reducing happiness. It becomes an honor issue. Just desserts must be eaten, but dishonoring someone makes it gauntlet dropping time.

I still am too nice and Canadian to really stand up in the right way. Another powerful thing to do would be not to dignify insults with a response. I have yet to be secure enough and of a magnitude of character where I can get that done properly either. So I settle with getting pissed off and using a few stern words. That alienates people...I can feel it happen.

There are people around me that I know have heard how annoyed I can get when I was unfairly prodded and insulted. I am sure that they never hear a balanced view. It is clear I cannot interact with some people in the same way I once could, because they heard my character portrayed by the very person who got on my nerves.

I am a grown man and I feel like I am still in junior high.

My achilles heel is that I see bullies as people who are just as insecure and lonely as I sometimes feel. I can't dehumanize them. So I muddle on not handling them exactly right. Oh well, all I can do is be me and hope that others will get to know me instead of just stopping at the insults, labels and the outburst.