I was actually interested in participating in World Hijab Day last year, but I was hesitant. I mean, it feels like a sticky situation. On the one hand, I love the idea of very pointedly showing my support for Muslims in the face of, well, you know, everything lately. On the other hand, I worried about whether wearing the hijab would seem like I was conflating the hijab with all of Islam, which of course isn’t accurate. And I was worried that it could be considered offensive by women who “really” wear the hijab, which apparently is a common enough concern that they asked Muslim women to address it on the World Hijab Day Facebook page. And almost everyone was super-supportive of the idea of women wearing the hijab as a show of solidarity (not surprising, since it was people who had already “liked” the page), and a very few women thought that perhaps, if we did wear the hijab, we would have a beautiful spiritual awakening and possibly decide to cover forever and/or convert to Islam. Hmm, not likely for me, but I’m sure they mean well.
I was still wavering when I heard that a friend was wearing the hijab with her hijab-wearing friend’s enthusiastic support, and between my newly adopted friend-of-a-friend and the encouraging and supportive comments from the ladies on the Facebook page (who were very patiently offering how-to tips and just-remember-it’s-the-thought-that-counts answers to nervous ladies asking for all sorts of first-timer hijab-wearing advice), I decided that this year, I was in.
On Monday, the Planned Parenthood official swag was a scarf, which seemed like my own personal sign.
On Tuesday I “went public” with the following status: “I’ll be wearing hijab tomorrow for #worldhijabday as a learning experience for me and in support of women who wear hijab, religious freedom, and each woman’s right to wear whatever she wants. #IStand4Hijab #wegotucovered.” Right away, I got mostly supportive comments, including a colleague who started searching her house for scarves for herself and her daughters. One person responded, “When is world Jewish tichel day? I wonder how they feel.” And it was not clear if she was just curious or irritated or what. But luckily I’d spent so much time considering whether or not to participate that I felt pretty confident with a response and I even had a fun image (which, sorry, I have no idea of the source, but it was floating around an I used it) to share to go with it. So here’s what I said:
Well, since the idea is to support every woman’s right to wear what she wants, I wear it to support these women, too. Does that mean that everyone’s going to agree one way or the other? Of course not, but that’s how I see it. If someone starts a World Tichel Day, I’m in. The Albany JCC just had its second bomb threat in a couple of weeks, so I think demonstrating support for religious freedom and women wearing what they want is relevant to women who wear the tichel, too. It’s just a lot easier when there’s already an 8K+ FB event and an invitation from women who wear the hijab.
Okay. The Tichel Lady “liked” the comment, so that’s good.
Leading up to the day, I have to confess that I kept thinking of things in the calendar that had narrowly missed being on World Hijab Day, like Tuesday’s all-staff web-cam meeting or my meeting with the Saratoga FRG/navy spouses on Thursday. Frankly, I was a little relieved that my World Hijab Day would be pretty low-key.
The night before, M asked, “But Mom, isn’t that cultural appropriation?” Yep, that’s my 14-year-old for you. I said that I thought it would be cultural appropriation if I were doing this as a goofy costume, but since I’d be wearing the hijab as a show of respect and support, I thought it would be okay. At which point Cute W weighed in that he really hadn’t studied the concept of cultural appropriation enough to have an opinion. At which point I thought that it seemed like Cute W was accidentally culturally appropriating the tendency for women to only voice themselves on a topic in which they had a thoughtful and well-considered opinion, as opposed to throwing around the sort of modern jackass statements that one might expect from a white male.
M then showed me up by grabbing the scarf and immediately putting it on in perfect hijab-style, because a friend of hers wears one and is frequently re-adjusting it. “Oh!” I was excited. “Do you want to wear one, too?” Her “no” had a bit of no-way, nuh-uh, never implied.
As I was getting dressed for hijab day, I’d put on a racer back bra, but then I couldn’t find any racer back shirts, and I started to change bras because I don’t like the straps to show, and then I realized that pretty much my entire upper body would be covered and I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Ah, that’s a nice way to simplify the morning.
But, honestly? I almost felt more exposed wearing the hijab, because it felt like it was just a big ol’ frame for my face. Sure, my hair wasn’t showing, but I felt hyper-aware of my face without the “coverage” that my hair offers. It doesn’t help when you’re watching wear the woman is absolutely gorgeous. I felt like a potato head. I wore as much make-up as I ever wore, including lipstick. Lipstick! When do ever see me wearing lipstick?
I put on the hijab when I got dressed for the day even though I wasn’t going out right away and I didn’t need to wear it around the house (as know-it-all M pointed out later, while we were both in the house). Then I sat at my desk and worked and did laundry and basically didn’t think about it. But I’d planned an outing to Hannaford and Target and a couple of other errands to make sure that I went out into the world a bit. As soon as I was out and about, I became much more self-conscious, mostly worried that my hair was showing or the scarf was slipping or looking goofy. It totally wasn’t. It looked fine.
So, how did people react? Well, I feel like I got a lot of double takes and curious looks from people, mostly women, who weren’t expecting to see my face in the hijab. Weirder still, I saw three different men whom I knew who didn’t recognize me at all, all people who normally would have said hello to me. They seemed to pointedly look away or zip by me so quickly that I couldn’t have said hello without chasing them down. I didn’t run into any female acquaintances, so I wonder if it would have been different. It felt like maybe the hijab was a signal to men that they shouldn’t look at me at all, in any way, which felt strange.
My favorite encounter was the Target cashier. She asked me about the political buttons on my purse, which led to me explaining the hijab, and we ended up high-fiving over the credit card machine.
After errands I had to drive the soccer carpool, which was M and three of her 9th grade teammates. I’d already gotten the sense that M wasn’t super-thrilled with the hijab-wearing, but she was smart enough not to propose that I set it aside for the drive with her friends. But then. . . I managed to get lost. Have I mentioned that I have a terrible sense of direction? Well, there was a confluence of events that led to me making repeated wrong turns. M was ready to jump out the window, and I was starting to sweat under the hijab (yes, it had been a little warm all day, but that had felt cozy until the third wrong turn of this drive). By the time I finally let the girls out I was sure that M wanted to run away from home and never see her witless, clueless, hijab-wearing, spectacle-creating, crazy-ass mother again. I felt like bursting into tears.
Luckily, my last stop of the day was at Panera, to meet a few other women for a little end-of-World Hijab Day celebration. Our group included supporters and hijab-wearers-for-the-day as well as the friend-of-a-friend who wears the hijab regularly, who actually brought extra scarves to give away and kindly adjusted all of our hijabs before we posed for a group photo. That was lovely, and the perfect way to recover from my stressful carpool drive.
I was glad that I wore the hijab and if anyone wants to give it a try next year, or some other time, I’m in.