Why don't men cover their faces?

<i></i>

We used to play at my aunt’s garden when we were younger -- girls and boys, there was no difference. We grew up together, we used to race, play, laugh. Sometimes we would fight playfully.

We used to watch TV together, cry at the end of sad cartoons together, and we grew a bit older, we began to study for our classes together. Whenever we’d fight we used to threaten the other that we’d tell on them to the teacher. We used to play practical jokes on one another, we’d laugh with all our hearts.

                                                                            ***

Now my cousin and I are staring outside the window. We are looking at the garden where my male cousin and his friends are playing. This is the garden where we used to play together. They used to be our friends once upon a time, these are the boys we used to play with. But what happened? Why are we prisoners at home, while they play ball outside with all freedom? What did we do? Did we grow older? Did our bodies change? Did we become an object of temptation that needs to be covered from people’s eyes? Aren’t those the boys we knew since we were children? What changed? Why are we strangers? Why do I run and hide whenever I hear one of their voices? Is it just because the pitch of his voice changed? Is that why we aren’t friends anymore? Are we supposed to act differently towards one another? Different to how we acted just yesterday? We started to act shy and anxious whenever we’d speak and we stopped playing with one another. My cousin and I began spending our spare time watching Mexican soap operas, as if we were in our 50s.

                                                                             ***

I am at school and we are learning about what a woman should cover. Her hair is temptation, her eyebrows are temptation. I remembered my favorite male singer -- his eyes were beautiful too. His hair is beautiful -- but why doesn’t he veil? I asked myself this question, but I couldn’t find the answer. I remembered that I was banned from playing in the garden because I hit puberty. However, my male friends weren’t. Didn’t they hit puberty too? Why weren’t they imprisoned at home? I also couldn’t find the answer.

I hear it all the time: “A woman is a jewel that needs to be protected (i.e. covered),” and sometimes it is even said that a woman is like candy “if you remove the wrapper (i.e. the cover) the flies will swarm around her”. I turn on the TV and find that favorite male singer that I am so fond of brushing his soft silky hair and flaunting his handsomeness: his arms are bare, his chest is bare -- why isn’t this object of temptation covered? Why isn’t he imprisoned at home? Why aren’t women tempted by him? Some might claim that a woman shouldn’t look at this… then shouldn’t men shield their gaze when looking at a tempting female “object”? I couldn’t find the answer.


                                                                             ***

I am at university. I see some people distributing a small religious book: Temptations of a Woman. Her hair, her feet, her eyes, and “Thus, a woman must cover one of her eyes as both of them together are tempting.” I swear this is what I read in this book!

It’s as if there is nothing left in this world to talk about and scrutinize other than a woman and how she is a temptation. I decided to observe men’s looks. I wanted to know which women would attract men with her temptation. In front of me walks a woman wearing a tight Abaya (long black cover). "Aha!I found her," I thought,"She is an object of temptation."

I continue watching. In front of me walks a woman with a baggy Abaya, however, with an uncovered face. The man stares at her. "Aha! So her face is also a temptation!"

A third woman walks in front of me, her face is covered and she is wearing a baggy Abaya from top to toe. The man is staring at her! "Huh? I don’t understand. What is so tempting about a black Abaya? No eyes, no feet… What is this man staring at?

At that moment I realized that clothing has nothing to do with it. Men would stare on all occasions. However, he, with his broad shoulders and his hair, eyes and lips isn’t considered an object of temptation, even if all the women in the world started at him. He is a man, he shouldn’t hide in his home. No one calls him a 'jewel'. At that moment I wished I wasn’t a jewel. I wished to be a free man.

                                                                                 ***


I am in a Western country. Women are walking around me: one is wearing pants, the other is wearing a short skirt, another wears shorts. Men and women are walking side by side. It is strange -- no one is staring. Why don’t I see the looks of men I saw in my country? Those looks that made a woman feel naked, those looks that I hated -- the ones that made me hate being on this earth, and hate being born a woman. Those looks that deny me my humanity. Why don’t I see those looks here?

All the women are dressed up. Why don’t I see those looks even though all the women are attractive here? I saw one women run and laugh. I remembered that I wasn’t allowed to run once I hit puberty. I remembered my aunt’s window. I remembered I was an object of temptation that must be covered. I remembered that a man in my country wears white, while I am covered in black. I asked myself, "Why don’t men wear black? Why don’t men cover their faces?"

And I couldn’t find the answer.



Hind Aleryani is a Yemeni journalist and blogger. This story first appeared on yourmiddleeast.com, republished with permission. You can find Hind on Twitter @HindAleryani and read her blog here.



117 comments

  • I think this is a bold comment for a Muslim to make and commend it.
    The looks that you describe, that men in your country would give (if women were dressed in the western way) is all to do with the way the men are conditioned and socialised. Even within Australia, I've come across strict Muslim men that have two responses to 'uncovered' women. They either ogle them, like they've been oppressed for years, or they stare at them in a judgmental manner, perhaps even blame them for the feelings or responses that they are told are dirty and shameful.
    Either way, the way the men behave is related to some form of oppression, but at the same time there is a completely different gender construction of women within conservative Islam. It's not enough for women to be objectified in western culture, the type of objectification in Islam may not be identical, but it's objectification just the same, but on the opposite pole: instead of the woman being marketed as an object, in many cases in various forms of undress, the covered up woman is the exclusive object of a man or her male relatives (before she is married off).
    I'll never forget the glare a Muslim man gave my partner when we were looking at computers at Myer. His wife was completely covered and my partner was astounded, didn't know where to look, but the woman's husband glared at my partner as if to ask 'why are you looking at my wife?' If only he knew that the reason my partner was looking was because he is repulsed by the practice of total covering.

    Commenter
    AM
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 8:31AM
    • I must say something I have never understood, especially Muslim men in Western countries is the way the men are seen as vultures. You would think they'd be appalled that they are made to feel like they half no self control. Oh dear the women better cover themselves lest I cannot control myself at the sight of a pair of eyes and force myself upon her! I'm sure if I said that to male friends (including some Muslims, albiet not so traditional ones) they'd be really offended.

      Commenter
      Fiona
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 12:14PM
    • A Muslim acquaintance once alluded to my "alluring" voice. If I hadn't known Islam well, I wouldn't have understood her. She implied that therefore, the Prophet was right to demand that unrelated men and women do not mix lest the alluring voices of women seduced and clouded the judgment of men they're not wedded to. The whole episode made me sick for an entire day - as if somehow I were at fault for being a woman. Utterly repugnant.

      Commenter
      Alix
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 2:10PM
    • May I offer some historical perspective (just a bit of what I have read travelling through Spain and Turkey in 2010)? Back in the 7th century warfare was very common, and so the practice of men having several wives (if they could afford to do so) was common because lots of men were on the battlefield or buried in graves. But I have no idea why there is this modern-day practice of men enforcing "decency" on "the rest of society" while the very same men can (and usually do) get away with whatever they want. It is a double standard - and men shouldn't be able to decide what is decent or what is not for non-men, that should be up to the individual.

      Commenter
      Black Palm
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 2:51PM
  • There is no good answer. I hope that one day very soon, this custom which is incomprehensible and unacceptable to me is changed. But I get the impression that I won't see that day.

    Commenter
    TerryD
    Location
    Veigy, France
    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 8:43AM
    • I'm sorry Hind, but you can never assume that there is a rational answer when any religion is involved. Good luck.

      Commenter
      John
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 8:53AM
      • ^^ This. Well said John.

        Commenter
        Dale
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        December 03, 2012, 2:49PM
    • I can't for the life of me understand why women in this day and age would feel constrained to cover up in the name of religion. It's as if they are living in another century. But each to their own...

      Commenter
      Megan
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 9:14AM
      • Take a trip to the Middle East and you'll understand. It is not like the Western world at all, especially in the rural areas. It is like stepping into a time warp. It's very easy for people to judge without knowing what the countries are like.

        Commenter
        Dirk
        Date and time
        December 03, 2012, 11:57AM
      • If a woman rebels in some of these societies, she is very likely to be tortured and killed. People around here won't stop it, and are not sympathetic. Even most of the women are likely to call her a whore who deserved it. This is what happens when you base your morality on ancient fairy stories - and not just Islamic ones - your morality and sense of right becomes twisted and can be manipulated.

        Commenter
        NotMyUsualName
        Date and time
        December 03, 2012, 12:49PM

    More comments

    Comments are now closed