The Unintended Consequence of Headscarves?

June 20, 2006

A girl with cherry earing
Originally uploaded by Farhang .

Here is something that the holier-than-thou types will be unnerved by: I find that wearing the headscarf makes women look more attractive.

What is more, I suspect that I am not alone in thinking this. In fact, I have checked with a few friends (mostly because I was getting worried if it was the right thing to think) and found out that they share my aesthetics. No, it is not only my demons. This is one of those things that everybody knows and nobody wants to talk about, because… well, because we are talking about Muslim women’s headdress and not the swimsuits featured in FHM’s latest!

But it’s true. And THAT gives a whole different meaning to the phrase “unintended consequence.” Of course the intended consequence of legislating hijab and making the headscarf mandatory is that it makes women modest and keeps the men’s demons in check. This thinking has driven the age old effort in the Muslim world to keep women shrouded in public. To be fair, it has succeeded in some places. The all-black ninja thing that Saudi women wear makes them look scary, and the Taliban’s definition of hijab aimed not only at women’s modesty, but at their total invisibility. Coupled with the generally suffocating social and cultural atmospheres that marked Taliban-era Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia for since I remember, and the violence that they made into a big part of public life, everything would be kept in check, including the people’s very souls.

But I suspect that my fashionable Muslim sisters -especially here in America- have subverted the headscarf into a haute accessory. And power to them! I was recently lunching with a few Middle Eastern friends (men) in a popular hangout location in D.C. and it was the opening weekend of some big movie. The place was bustling with young people from all backgrounds, but the Muslim women stood out -at least for the few of us on the table- in their sophisticated taste as indicated by ethnic jewelry and other accessories, and yes, the headscarves that subtly bore their national origins.

I am convinced that many people wear the headscarf not so much out of conservative religious zeal or parental compulsion as much as out of free choice, a sense of belonging, and the sheer trendiness of headscarves as an accessory. If they were that conservative or under pressure from their parents, many would not be accompanied by dates (trust me, they could not have been siblings) or dressed in otherwise “immodest” clothing such as tight and/or ripped jeans, short-legged capri pants, or that latest craze among girls: short-legged, curve-exaggerating, loose pants that look more like a skirt than pants, but upon closer inspection are really pants…

Naturally, talk of the headscarf dominated our conversation, and though we are all against legislating for (or for that matter against, as the Europeans seem to be so excited about) headscarves, we all agreed that it made women look attractive (“sexy” is how one friend put it) -in some mysterious way that God himself only knows.

Now you tell me if this is all a figment of a handful of homesick, nostalgic, single Muslim men’s perverse imaginations, or that there is some truth to this?