Friday, December 10, 2010

Blue Eyes

Recommended listening: Blue Eyes by Mika

In Social Studies we have been learning about the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In English we watched the movie Persepolis and we are now reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. In both memoirs there is a lot of discussion about the veil. Listening to the perspective of Islamic women on the veil has been both interesting and confusing in many ways. I personally do not know what it's like to be mandated to wear a uniform or anything religious whatsoever. I also don't know what it's like to be told I cannot leave my house looking a certain way. At the beginning of this unit it was difficult for me to even gauge the impact of veiling on identity because it was such a foreign idea to me.

At this point, there are two struggles for me.
1) How does one differentiate between the religious significance of the veil and the political implications that have come with mandating, or forbidding, the veil?
2) On a broader scale, how does our dress impact who we are?

As for question number one, although it's been percolating in my mind since the beginning of our unit, today something finally struck me. As I was observing a fishbowl discussion one of my classmates pointed to this quote from Reading Lolita in Tehran: (ch 33, Part III James)

"Mommy, Mommy, he [Khomeini] is not dead! Women are still wearing their scarves," (Nafisi, 242).

The above quotation is, from my perspective, the epitome of the veil being worn as a symbol of politics rather than spirituality. In this setting, the regime has dictated how women must dress. I feel that any sort of strict regulation on dress stifles one's true self. If you cannot make your own decisions about what to wear, part of who you are and how you express yourself is being robbed from you.

This realization leads me into my second question, which I ask to all of you. Although most of my readers probably have never dealt with veil regulations of any sort, what would limiting your dress do to your identity?
I think there is so much to unpack here. How does limiting how we express ourselves on a spiritual level impact our spirituality? How does our overall dress define who we are?

I plan to do a follow-up post as I think more about these questions, and I welcome your insights as I shape my views on these concepts.

We can no more do without spirituality than we can do without food, shelter, or clothing.
Ernest Holmest


  1. This is a really interesting question. I'm not sure I know enough about this topic to give a valid response regarding the spiritual and religious aspects of the dress code. However, I think the greatest loss that would come from dress regulations would be, perhaps not a complete loss of identity, but a definite limit to one's identity. What I mean to say is, I think by mandating an entire group of people to dress a certain way, those people would inevitably be seen as part of 'that group.' It would then be easier to perceive them in light of that group than as an individual.

  2. Great post, Jamie! Those are interesting questions. I can remember when I went to a private school with a strict dress code. It didn't have much of an impact on anybody's identity, but - like the person above wrote - it did have an impact on how others perceived us. I think a strict dress code enforced on an individual rather than a group would have much more of an impact on one's identity. Perhaps then, you could wonder how it feels for veil-wearing women living in North America today. Does it create a constant sense of feeling like an outsider? And how does that connect with their identity?

  3. Thank you both for your comments!

    Jane I think you brought up a very interesting point about how perception of a group comes into play. The concept of 'that group' or 'them' is something we are definitely considering in class right now.

    Anthony, thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I think uniforms at school is definitely a good way to contextualize this issue, and you brought up some WONDERFUL questions. I will definitely think those through :)

  4. You should also look at how Japan views clothing. In my experience, the Japanese have a very liberal interpretation of "fashion." They care little for what a specific kind of "outfit" denotes in terms of social class, musical taste, lifestyle choice, etc. People will "dress up" when they're done with work simply because they like a certain "look." You'll have guys wearing cowboy hats and boots one day, and leather jackets with slicked hair the next. This may be changing, but it was obvious when I was there that the Japanese don't really care a whole lot for what a person does on their own time, provided it's not harmful to anyone else.

  5. This is a really interesting question you have brought up. I think having the ability to express ourselves through dress is a big part of showing the world who we are. This is very different than a veil, but if I couldn't wear my necklace I would feel like a huge part of me was missing. Tons of people know me by my necklace and I love being able to express myself just by wearing it. People have tons of ways to show the world who they are, and our dress is a major way of showing that.

  6. Great post as usual Jamie :]
    The quotation you pointed out from the fishbowl really stood out to me because it showed that even a child noticed the impact of the veil on her life and the lives of those around her. How we dress is definitely a part of how we express ourselves and I agree with you that if you are forced to dress a certain way, then you are losing a part of yourself. Although physical appearances may seem trivial to some, they are a big deal because if you think about it, how you dress is one of the first things people will notice about you, and you want that first impression to be one that accurately reflects who you are.

  7. Great post Jamie!

    The question of how wearing the veil effects ones identity is one that I think about a lot. To answer your question, I think if I were subjected to wearing the veil I would be depressed (or at least sad). What I wear effects my personality a lot. I don't know if it is something that I should be proud of, but I take a lot of pride in putting together what I wear each morning. Not having the freedom to decide how I want the world to see me would effect the way I see myself.

    I look forward to your next blog about this topic!

  8. Yet another top notch post!
    First, I really like your song recommendation although the link you provided doesn't work :/ But regarding your actual blog post, I think you've brought up a great issue here and I can't wait to read your follow-up post. I do not know a lot about psychology but I know enough to realize that choosing to wear the veil (or not) can have a huge impact on a muslim woman's identity. In "Reading Lolita in Tehran," I think some great insight about veiling in Iran comes from Mahshid near the end of the book on page 327. She discusses how before the revolution, as a pious, veiled muslim women, she was in the minority. But, after her relgion took power and required veiling (among other things), she felt even more helpless and alienated. Because the veil was no longer associated with religion, but politics. Obviously, there is more to unpack here than the impact of simply wearing the veil or not. The situational context is key. Again, I can't wait for the follow-up post to read more of your insights!