Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
Women have been covering their heads since before recorded history. In Mesopotamia, it signified noble status while the lack of a head cover identified a slave or harlot, who, if caught covering her head, could be subjected to flogging, having boiling pitch poured on her head or having her ears cut off for daring to misrepresent herself. There are examples dating to the present of women who regularly use a textile to cover their head on either an occasional or daily basis. It can denote anything from a religious preference, an expression of cultural pride or tradition, to a fashion statement, yet these covering are met with a variety of sentiments, ranging from approval to disdain to even fear. Christian women from Ethiopia wear large white scarves with brightly colored woven decorative ends with no repercussions, yet hijab, the Muslim woman's head cover is the cause of over a decade of controversy in France, Turkey, Egypt and Belgium and other European nations. They are denounced in France while at the same time Hermes, a traditional French company, has introduced a series of scarves aimed at the Muslim market. How can a cloth create so much debate, confusion and prejudice? This paper explores the multiple meanings and shifting political tolerances towards women's head covers in the Middle East and the views of the women who demand the right to wear these covers.