Friday, February 5, 2010

Women of Cover

In my community there are at least three distinct religious groups of women covering: two in the Christian tradition and one in the Islamic tradition. Our Islamic ladies wear the headscarves sometimes with abaya or long dusters, and sometimes in regular western clothing. One Christian group wears prayer caps with long dresses and capes. The other tends toward the long denim skirts and kerchiefs. These women are respected in our community and while they tend to be devoted to home and family, many do work outside the home AND run businesses here both as individuals and as part of their families.

We do not have any fundamentalist Mormons here. My Jewish friend, strangely, is the only person I have ever heard snipe about the dress code of our covered friends. This goes along with her well meaning but unfortunate lack of tact. I do not think there are any Orthodox Jews here or we would see the requisite wigged married ladies.

Because I am old, I have been exposed to other head covering traditions such as in the Catholic church, yes I am old enough to have attended a Catholic wedding mass, be named for a Catholic Saint (subconsciously, I think, by Mother), and be familiar with the Catholic Mantilla. Mother briefly attended Catholic nursing school before being dismissed by the assistant Mother Superior for (choose any of the following): a) walking in the convent halls in only her underwear (this may have something else to do with my interest in the history of underwear!), b) drag racing on Saturday nights, c) Coming to Sunday Mass so drunk she could not say the Rosary, d) Her older brother calling the school and asking, "Is this the Catholic whorehouse?", or e) some combination or all of the above. Mind you, Mother was not Catholic, nor was I baptized Catholic. Nevertheless, Catholicism is a part of the family tradition. It is also the tradition I married into.

I had a lot of misconceptions. I met a beloved customer who shared with me her true and abiding Catholic faith and how a devout, pious modern Catholic lives. It was eye opening and nourishing. There is a lot of diversity in Catholicism and some of that diversity is finding expression in a return to more traditional practices such as women wearing the head covering.

As I have experienced my friends and neighbors who cover, I do not find oppression. I do not find oppression myself in being a woman of cover. And, I believe more and more women of many faiths are choosing to cover both in worship and in daily life as a statement of faith and identity. However, I do believe many people feel threatened by covering women because it distresses their own secular identities. This has even been raised as a possible source for the head covering conflict in France, as it is a difficult reminder for some of the influence and power of the Catholic church.

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