Without a Hijab for the First Time

A beautiful and inspiring post on Reddit:

I can’t verify if the post is real, but I hope other women who have to wear the covering against their own wishes read this and find the courage to take it off.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I hope it’s authentic, because I’m quite certain it’s a sentiment that many women secretly have, and perhaps an indulgence many have secretly enjoyed. We should all encourage each other to be so free of encumbrances, both physically and mentally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1149275904 Charlie R Frey

    Sound’s similar to Penn Jillette’s story of “Jewy-Jew” (I can’t remember the exact pseudonym he gave the man) in his book, “God, No!”.  When they all went and treated him to an and enjoyed watching him experience a real american cheeseburger. 

    • http://twitter.com/Kahomono Kahomono

      Oh yeah – for me, it was a shrimp cocktail, but same idea.  

      Orthodox Judaism supplies a “target-rich environment” for experiences like this :)

  • Sulris Campbell

    the hijab thing always confusese me…

    i understand that forcing women to wear a large cumbersome bit of clothing is taking away their freedom to chose their own clothes, which is bad.

    but at the same time in western culture women have to wear shirts….  while men don’t.  i think you will find that the arguments for both the hijab and the shirt is the same: modesty , indecent exposure, induces lust, etc.

    (pants i understand, it is gender neutral and keeps our public bus seats clean)

    why don’t anti-hijab activists also insist that western women should not be forced to wear shirts in public?  They (we) are caught in our culture as thouroughly as the muslims in hijab wearing areas are caught in theirs.

    if i demanded on T.V. that women remove their shirts and walk topless down the streets of New York what would you think of me?  when you demand the same of hijab wearing women why are yous suprised when they look at you like your an ass? 

    ideally i suppose women should not be forced to wear shirts or hijabs if they did not want to.  but also, ideally, they would not catch flack for it if they chose to cover themselves. 

    I am just trying to point out how hypocritical it is for a culture with roughly the same problems to be telling other cultures how wrong they are for doing exactly what we do, but you know, more so.

    if women walked around topless in public areas, our culture would go apeshit.  those women would be called moral degenerates, they would be thrown in jail, perhaps even attacked by lecherous men.  but that’s okay with us becuase its part of our culture!  we can’t possibly be wrong like those other non-western countries filled with brown people! (dripping with sarcasm)

    Yes, i am sure we can all agree that a hijab is a hell of a lot wose than a t-shirt and that nobody should be forced to wear one.  The fact that our system of repressing women when it comes to clothing happens to be quite a bit less cumbersome is a harldy a large moral victory for our culture.  if you look at the reasoning and the arguments you will find them to be the same.  our country’s values are just as backwards as theirs in this matter (though not in other areas of womens rights.  in other areas we are quite a bit ahead, voting, working, driving, etc) 

    while we should fight against women being forced to wear a hijab, i just want to point out that we are not exaclty standing on the high-ground.  perhaps it would be better to focus on voting, driving, and not stoning women to death, in those places we have much firmer ground on which to stand and fight.

    • Pseudonym

      It’s not even a question of toplessness (or top-freeness), necessarily.

      The bottom line is that some people in the West rail against hijabs but conveniently forget that women and girls in our own society are constantly pressured to look or dress certain ways. The issue of women forced to wear the hijab or burqa is fundamentally no different from the issue of unrealistic body images portrayed all over the media.

      The only difference is that men and boys tend to enforce their way with physical abuse where women and girls tend to do it with emotional abuse.

      • Sulris Campbell

        although i was focusing on the preassure for women to wear certain clothing or covering certain parts of their bodies being codified in law…  i suppose that general bopdy image pressures are somewhat similar as well.  but that at least is somewhat more gender neutral (and it is legal not to be hollywood hot), males also have unrealistic standards for manliness.  do any of you fellas have six pack abs?  are all of you sad that you don’t? 

        anway i think the shirt thing is a much more apt analagy than body image preassures for the hijab controversy.

    • Spencer

      I agree. I think all ‘public indecency’ laws should be abolished. Don’t like it, don’t watch it.

    • Deven Kale

      I would just like to mention that I actually do support “topfreedom” for Women, for exactly the same reasons that you mention. I know that’s not entirely the point you were trying to make, but I just had to say that not all of we Americans are hypocritical on that issue.

      The only place where I would disagree with you is with the pants. In many situations, pants are completely understandable, but not all. At the beach, park, pool, etc. they don’t always make sense.

      Otherwise though, great comment. I wish I was even half as articulate as that.

      • Sulris Campbell

        besides the shared seat issue i would also agree on the pants thing from a position of individual freedoms.  but since it is at least gender neutral i see it as less of a problem and more of a quirk of our society.

    • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

      I think that there are similarities in kind, but that there are important differences in quantity.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that a woman in the west is going to have acid thrown in her face if she flashes a bit of nipple.

      The distinction matters.

      Objecting to the hijab is about more than just covering up – it’s about the fear and intimidation that go into enforcing its use.

      A bit of perspective: A girl I used to know here in New Zealand was (and probably still is) muslim. She had a couple of burkas. 

      For her, they were optional. She liked to wear a burka on the days when she just couldn’t be arsed with doing up her hair and makeup. If she was feeling lazy, on with the burka.

      It was also different for her because she had Hindu parents – so dressing up in a Burka was seriously rebellious in her case.

      And that was all fine. I’m okay with that – and if that’s all burkas and hijabs ever were, then I doubt I’d have a problem with them either.

      The problem is that it isn’t all it is. Not by a long shot.

      So yes. There’s a point to be made about why women should be allowed to go topless given that men are afforded the same privilege.

      Enter: Boobs on Bikes.

      None of the women involved in the Boobs on Bikes parade in New Zealand were arrested. More importantly, none of them had acid sprayed in their face.

      The people who objected to the Boobs on Bikes parade in New Zealand took up signature drives and contacted politicians and MPs, and examined legal avenues to prevent the parade… And when none could be found, they shrugged. Sure, they didn’t like it. They were open about the fact that they didn’t like it. Occasionally, they were publicly furious about how much they didn’t like it.

      However: Still. No acid.

      And if anyone had thrown acid on these women, those individuals would have been hunted down and arrested for gratuitous bodily harm (or whatever the equivalent is in New Zealand, I’m no legal expert) and charged with the full force of the law.

      Because the rights of women in New Zealand are secured, even if they want to take part in a topless parade.

      Which isn’t to say that there isn’t still room for improvement, or that there aren’t other social pressures that would prevent other women from going topless if they so chose on a day-to-day basis.

      But still – no acid.

      These situations are not equivalent.

      So it isn’t surprising that we’re much, much more upset about women having acid thrown at them for the crime of exposing their hair than we are about the fact that women who walk around publicly in New Zealand with their shirts off will be made very uncomfortable for doing so, perhaps to the point of being arrested  I hope that wouldn’t happen but can’t be sure it wouldn’t in the case of a lone woman).

      • Sulris Campbell

        i think we can all agree that throwing acid on people is bad.  I don’t think anyone here is pro-acid.  Acid attacks are illegal in muslim countries too.  that’s like bring up the unabomber to argue that americans don’t like technology.

        I dont know about new zealand, perhaps everything there is honky dory.

        but indecent exposure is still a crime in the U.S. that carries real penalties and our definitions of “indecent” seem to be just as arbitrary as any other culture’s.

        • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

          If you acknowledge that the two situations are very different, then why do you feign confusion as to why we get more upset over one than the other?

          • Sulris Campbell

            if we were getting more upset over one than the other i wouldnt have a problem becuase that would imply that we are getting upset about both

            i have a problem becuase we get upset about one and treat the other as if it was an obvious rule that all good women must do, and if they don’t they are horrible people.

            • http://disrespectfultone.blogspot.com/ Daniel Schealler

              Ah, I see.

              Your first comment read as: X and Y are the same, and we should be annoyed about both because they’re the same.

              Now you tell me: X is horrible, true. But Y is also a little bit like X, so we should be a little bit bothered by it too.

              These are not equivalent positions.

              I’ll accept the clarification – but you need to work on your communication. Your initial comment was completely misleading from the point that you were trying to make.

              • Sulris Campbell

                i am sorry if i miss communicated

                i suppose the distinction you make would be the same as between a law that mandates shirts vs a bikini and we could certainly say the freedom to wear a bikini top is better than being forced to wear a shirt  and that therfore bikini-minimum societies have a right to snub their noses at shirt-minimum societies…  but then you might say that that is rediculous which is what i am trying to show about shirt-minimum societies snubbing their noses at hijab-minimum societies.

                but the arguments  used to enforce burka, shirt, or bikini top, laws are the same, the ideas behind them are the same and the way in which they limit freedoms arbitrarily is the same.

                obvioulsy X is a greater form of Y but they both stem from the same rationalizations.  “Westerners” tend to accept the arguments for Y but reject the same arguments for X and that they do so arbitrarily.  furthermore they mostly see it as obvious to wear Y and scandalous not to wear Y but they are confused and horrified if a different person says it is obvious to wear X and scandalous not to wear X.

                (though i have learened that new zealand and southern europe are apperntly exceptions so i regret saying western and should probably have said american… of course participating in a rally with hunrdeds of compatriots is different than walking down the street alone, or going to buy some cheesecake.)

    • Kat

      The biggest problem with the hijab and the cultural/religious traditions surrounding it is that they dictate to a woman what modesty should mean to her. There’s no negotiation. If you happen to come from a background where covering your hair or your entire body or part of your face is the prerequisite for ‘decent’ appearance, you have to go along with it. Sure, you can try to oppose the tradition, but then you risk the ire of your parents, your community, even your government.

      A disclaimer- I live in a region where being topless on public property is legal. Granted, people don’t do it much, because it’s pretty damn cold for eight months of the year, but being shirtless and a woman is, at most, going to earn you a few funny glances.

      So, around these parts, you can negotiate what ‘wearing a shirt’ means to you. If you feel comfortable in an over-sized sweater, that’s cool. A tank-top, a sports bra, a t-shirt, whatever works. The government and dominant culture generally lean towards allowing a woman to negotiate her boundaries and define modesty for herself, if she chooses to. I find that the hijab takes that decision-making process away, and super-imposes premade values in its place.

    • Eivind Kjorstad

      It’s similar in principle, but different in practice. Men too “have” to wear shirts on many occasions. It’s not stricly illegal not to, but nevertheless there’s strong social pressure for me to put on a shirt if going to work, to a restaurant.

      The slight difference that exists, is just due to cultural norms that consider female breasts as more sexual than male breasts. On the flipside though, a penis is considered to be significantly more offensive than female genitalia.

    • Greg

      I’d disagree that women have to wear shirts while men don’t. Maybe men with six packs who like showing off don’t, but there’s definitely a social stigma that hammers down upon some men who might decide to walk around topless and aren’t as aesthetically pleasing(!) ;) Pleasing to women, presumably… (?) ;) Also, as has been noted by other replies, as part of the same cultural norms, the penis is considered more taboo than the vagina, thus it is clearly not a cultural norm aimed at subjugating women.
      In all seriousness, I’m against all laws about clothing except where hygiene is involved. (For example, I think the only good argument against public nudity, is based upon hygiene.) Well, apart from permissive laws, obviously.I actually think the world would be a better place if there were areas public nudity was encouraged – it might help get rid of some people’s ridiculous obsessions about how ‘bad’ sex is.In all fairness, there’s also a geographical part to it. What is being called western culture by this post actually isn’t – I’ve been to Europe, and the norms there are completely different to in the UK or the US. In the warmer climes of mainland Europe, what is acceptable is far different to in the UK or (I presume) the US.There is, however, still a large difference between a hijab and western clothing. Hijab’s inhibit social interaction (things like eye contact and body language are vital when it comes to communication between people), and as a symbol mean far more than wearing (say) a shirt does.Not all clothing is the same – we would have far more outrage over someone wearing – I don’t know – a slave collar, than we would over someone wearing a scarf or necklace. Well, apart from people who are relativists, I suppose, who don’t think we can say that slavery is objectively wrong. (And no, I am not saying that the hijab necessarily means slavery, I’m just giving an example of where clothing differs in its meaning.)

      • Greg

        Urgh – the paragraphs all got removed from that for some reason. Sorry. :(

      • Sulris Campbell

        that’s a good point.  like when the bra took on the special meaning of oppressing women in the 1960′s.    the bra wasn’t doing anything more or less to oppress women than another other peice of clothing but it gained importance as a symbol.   i suppose you could say that the the hijab as that added symbolic meaning that makes it more target worthy.  though i suppose that begs the question of why we give that symbolic meaning to the hijab and not to the shirt… 

        either way i think it gets back to the fact that we dont like them so the weird things they do are wrong.  and we are us so the normal things we do are both justified and awesome!!!

        • Greg

          Well, the origin of the symbolic meaning of the hijab as opposed to the shirt is obvious – Islam, and cultural norms of Islamic culture which treat women as second class citizens.

          The shirt does nothing like that: there is no all powerful rule saying this must be the case. Because our society is obsessed about sex being bad, anything seen as relating to sex must be covered up, or else a huge social stigma gets placed upon them. But it isn’t just women who get that social stigma placed on them, either. Men do too. Where I live, if men go around without shirts on, they immediately get pegged as a certain ‘kind’ of person, with next to no breeding. And if they are – shall we say – overweight, people turn away in disgust. Nothing (for either gender) is illegal about it (as long as the women have their breasts covered up – but jumping upon this difference would be missing the point. It’s for the same reason that men’s swimwear has to be larger at the crotch than women’s swimwear has to be. There’s no inequality here other than the physical differences of our bodies.).

          Your final paragraph makes me think you have completely missed the point. 

          1) I don’t dislike (automatically) Muslims.
          2) I don’t dislike the burkha and it’s fashion companions because they are weird. I dislike them because they are enforced, demeaning, sexist, have connotations of ownership, inhibit communication, and many other reasons beside. Weirdness doesn’t come into it.
          3) I disagree with many of the ‘normal’ things that ‘we’ do. I don’t think they are necessarily justified or awesome. For example, in my previous post I criticised the sexual frustration that is prominent in English speaking societies.

          You seem to be arguing from a perspective of cultural relativism here, is that correct? In other words, nothing is right or wrong, only different. If we met a culture that endorsed slavery, or cannibalism, we wouldn’t have any grounds on which to stand to disagree, just like we apparently have no right to criticise hijabs etc. because it is fundamentally ‘the same’ as western clothing.

          If so, there’s not much point us arguing further, unless it is to discuss relativism. If not, then I think you’ve got preconceptions about why people dislike the burkha etc. which are false. The arguments against the Islamic female body coverings are far more powerful than just ‘we think they are weird’.

          • Sulris Campbell

            i am sorry i meant that last paragraph as a diatribe against society, not you personally.  i felt that your comment was very good.

            i thought you made a very good point about the hijab having a symbolism that the shirt did not have, and that that is a good reason to treat them differently.  what things symbolize matter.  thats why we don’t want giant crosses put up by the government.

            the last paragraph was just to point out that our society might not be un-biased when it chooses what to use as symbols of oppression.  (i am sorry i didn’t mean for it to come of as hostile toward you personally.  that was a mistake in my writing communication, the target of that paragraph was unspecified and since it was a reply to you i should have specified that i was targeting society)

            i am not a cultural relativist, i am a moral absolutist.  i currently follow desirism, created by alonzo fyfe at http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/  (though i often disagree with him i think his ethical theory is spot on)

            i want to point out that our culture is often hypocritical and biased when it talks aboutt the hijab in muslim countries.  hypocracy and bias are bad. 

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Isn’t the hijab only for being out in public? Arn’t the Hijab-wearing women free to take it off ( and even run around naked) in the privacy of their own home?

    If so, then the exhilaration she described must have been the sensation of exposing a little sin in public. Kind of like the sensation us decadent Westerners feel when we have sex in a public place. Breaking a taboo.

    • Trina

      Being ‘in one’s own home’ is still different from being outdoors, unless you have many and large windows.  I don’t know whether those windows could be open without curtains …

    • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

      She would not get to feel the wind indoors. Big difference.

  • Mike

    People here comparing hijab’s to shirts – there’s NO comparison to be made.

    Women don’t HAVE TO wear shirts, they merely need to have their breasts covered. Breasts are a sexual/reproductive organ. Nothing on the face, shoulders or head is a sexual organ, and there’s isn’t anything there that women have that men don’t. It makes no sense saying women should wear something over their head (on account of temptation or whatnot), as men and women’s heads are anatomically the same.

    Ever been to a western beach and seen all the girls fully covered in shirts? Didn’t think so – They’ve got a choice whether to leave it on or not. Western girls aren’t looked down on for not wearing a shirt – she just has to pick an appropriate place – a shopping centre isn’t appropriate, but the beach is.

    Hajib’s are forced no matter what public location, climate, surroundings. Western women are free to take off as much clothing as they like – as long as the sexual organs are covered.

    • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

      But these are both cultural. The covering of sexual organs is just as much a cultural thing as the full covering of the body. This may be common to pretty much all cultures – I can’t think of a culture where total nakedness of adults is the norm – but it is still cultural.

      • Sulris Campbell

        in greece full nudity was not uncommon, especially at sporting events

        and in japan they traditionally had communal coed bathing, which stopped when the prude americans crashed their xenophobia in the meiji era and told them how “wrong”they were.  now they are almost as sexually repressed as we are! good thing we were there to save them from being too awsome.

    • Sulris Campbell

      you say that breasts are too sexual but Muslim countries say that everything except the eyes are too sexual.   in medieval times elbows and ankles were considered sexually appealing.  in Japan it is traditionally the nape of the neck.  furthermore breasts are not sexual organs.  you do not reproduce through the use of breasts.  they feed babies, they don’t produce them…

      • Anonymous

        This is true. If you cover something up, something else becomes appealing. With Islamic head coverings, I’ve often found myself drawn to eyes. Even with something like the Niqab, which covers the lower face, the eyes can still look very pretty. Which is exactly why the Burqa was invented

        • Sulris Campbell

          many say that the very act of covering things up is what makes them especially apealing and sexy!  we might have our cause and effect backwards.  it is not the case that it is too sexy so we cover it up but the fact that we covered it up that made it sooooo sexy to begin with!

          on hot steamy areas of the planet more body parts were traditionaly left uncovered and less body parts are considered too sexy for sight.

          but it the desert or snowy regions more clothes are worn for protection and they tend to also have more sexy parts that need to be covered up….  i would be interested to know if eskimos have similar ideas of modesty as desert tribes….

          on that note to discourage lust we should all walk around completely naked!

  • http://twitter.com/Kahomono Kahomono

    That is EXACTLY how I felt the first time I got in my car and drove somewhere on a Saturday.

    Who’s dicing onions?

  • http://www.facebook.com/bytenik David Pfeffer

    Ignoring the political and cultural ramifications here, I do believe the article is a fake. Even extremely religious Muslim women do not wear any head covering until after around age 10. Thus, she would’ve known what running around with wind in her hair, etc. felt like as a child.

  • http://rosalarian.com Rosalarian

    There’s definitely a few things pinging my skeptical radar that this isn’t 100% true (hijab isn’t worn before a certain age, can be taken off at certain times, etc.). I wonder if the OP used a bit of poetic license to reinforce a true situation. She may have felt wind in her hair when she was a kid, but has gone so long without it that she may as well have never felt it. I don’t know. No doubt there ARE women who take off the hijab and fel exhilaration being in public without it for the first time as an adult, so this story isn’t too far out there. I do wish people would keep hyperbole out of important things to let the truth speak for itself. Of course, this was also her sharing an anecdote that she may have thought would be important only to her. Who knows.


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