Veil of ignorance

by Henry Farrell on January 25, 2008

“The Monkey Cage”: writes about an experiment on people’s perceptions of photos of a young woman wearing a headscarf and without one. I don’t see any information on how careful the surveyors were to ensure randomness, whether they carried out statistical tests of significance etc etc (this appears to have been put together by a general social research firm, rather than academics). Still, if the results don’t have major problems, then they make for interesting reading. Not all the inferences that people make about the veiled, as opposed to the unveiled woman, seem unreasonable. Unsurprisingly, more people consider the woman to be more conservative when they see the headscarf photo (this seems to me to be not an unreasonable inference; people who display overt symbols of religiosity often are more conservative). But there are some other judgements that are a little bit less pleasant.

Subjects displayed considerably more aversion to the covered woman. Specifically, they were less likely to want to live near her. While 89% said that they would like the uncovered woman as their next-door neighbor or in their neighborhood, only 62% said that about the covered woman. One-fifth (19%) actually said they wanted her to live “outside of the US.”

More “here”:


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Christopher M 01.25.08 at 10:31 pm

Is it really unreasonable not to want to live next to overtly, and likely conservatively, religious people? I mean, I wouldn’t really prefer to live next door to devout, conservative Christians or Orthodox Jews either. Aren’t they more likely to be the kind of people who will complain if I play my music too loud or have gay friends holding hands on the front porch?

I don’t think that one has to be equally happy about living next door to all sorts of people in order not to be bigoted.

Not that I have any question that lots and lots of Americans are bigoted against Muslims.


Luke 01.25.08 at 10:38 pm

Well, that last result is sort of going to run into trouble, given what the US has done to Iraq, the potential results from that floating mass of Iraqi refugees, they might be right. Either a) because all the pissed off orphaned/maimed/crazy Iraqis would blow up Newark, or whatever or B) lots of crazed former refugees might not be so happy clutched in the bosom of their imperial overlord, plus, as immigrants, they steal American jobs, have strange food, funny accents, and molest our children.

More seriously, I’d have been interested at the results of two different bescarved headshots, perhaps one that looks more like a Jewish headcovering, or given the plurality of styles of hijab, a couple different ones of those. The head/neck deal is the ultra conservative; there’s plenty of lighter ones to be drafted from Egypt, Turkey, and Iran that might suggest either annoying American teenager who shops at Claire’s in the late 1990’s, or cancer treatment covering bald head, rather than religious conservativism.

Or maybe that ultra-catholic lace thing, which should confuse at least some people.

As an alum of the American University of Cairo and living in DC, neither picture looks all that different. Ah, well. I’m sure the populace of the great Omaha area would be greatly upset about the threat to their ice rinks or tractors.

Then again, my homosexual lips drinking coffee is ruining the fabric of their marriages. So that headscarf probably is evil and dangerous, just like brain slugs.


notsneaky 01.25.08 at 10:44 pm

“Is it really unreasonable not to want to live next to overtly, and likely conservatively, religious people? I mean, I wouldn’t really prefer to live next door to devout, conservative Christians or Orthodox Jews either.”

Well that’s where the careful statistics could be useful. If they got data on how subjects inferred religious conservatism and desire/aversion to live near a person then you could see if these two responses are correlated. Ideally, of course, you’d also want to collect info on the subject background, like their religion, political views etc. But a good study could separate those effects out.


seth edenbaum 01.25.08 at 10:48 pm

“The Monkey Cage writes about an experiment on people’s perceptions…”
In what country? In what culture? It’s all about the US, and current experience: nothing else.

Anyone here other than me ever flirted with a woman in a headscarf? It makes you focus on the eyes; and the eyes look back at you. Scary isn’t it?

More silliness.


Ricm 01.25.08 at 10:49 pm

On a slightly related note…

If anyone uses Firefox, there is a little ‘quick search’ box in the upper right hand corner. Its basically the search box for Google, but it is always there. When you type something in, Google offers suggestions based on how many other people have searched the same thing. For example, the number one result for “how to” is “how to tie a tie.” Innocuous enough, until you search “is “.

The top four searches on Google that start with the word ‘is’ are the following:

1) is obama muslim
2) is obama a muslim
3) is barack obama a muslim
4) is barack obama muslim



RICKM 01.25.08 at 10:57 pm

On a slightly related note…

If anyone uses Firefox, there is a little ‘quick search’ box in the upper right hand corner. Its basically the search box for Google, but it is always there. When you type something in, Google offers suggestions based on how many other people have searched the same thing. For example, the number one result for “how to” is “how to tie a tie.” Innocuous enough, until you search “is “.

The top four searches on Google that start with the word ‘is’ are the following:

1) is obama muslim
2) is obama a muslim
3) is barack obama a muslim
4) is barack obama muslim



Righteous Bubba 01.25.08 at 11:05 pm

The top four searches on Google that start with the word ‘is’ are the following:

I get no such results and I figure the results are partially tied to your own net usage you awful awful person.


mr. steven crane 01.25.08 at 11:05 pm

rickm –

not that this is any better (just a different kind of worse), but i consider it very possible that those are more slippery versions of “sponsored links”.

google’s new suggested search queries bother me considerably.


Walt 01.25.08 at 11:10 pm

You have to do “is “, rb (i.e. you have to put the space in after is before it shows up).


Righteous Bubba 01.25.08 at 11:14 pm

I did that, both with the Google toolbar and the Firefox default, with quotes and without. It may have to do with country as well.


Righteous Bubba 01.25.08 at 11:19 pm

I don’t want anyone to know I’m into lemur racing. Is my information private?

Yes, your information is private. Google Suggest does not base its suggestions on your personal searches, although it does use information about the relative popularity of common searches to rank its suggestions. Your Google Suggest searches, like all the information you send to Google, are covered under Google’s privacy policy.

I retract the suggestion that this reveals the awful nature of rickm.


Alan Bostick 01.25.08 at 11:35 pm

My reaction to the pictures doesn’t feel driven by identifying the image on the right as ‘conservative’ or ‘Muslim’ anywhere near so much as it is driven by my immediate reaction to the image on the left as ‘hot.’

I wonder what the results would be like if the two images were of the same woman (a) in a white top with a buttoned collar, and (b) in a scoop-necked top that showed cleavage?

(I’m a het American male; not everyone is, of course.)


seth edenbaum 01.25.08 at 11:59 pm

“I’m a het American male; not everyone is, of course.”
I’m a “het” american male who goes Tango dancing. The photo on the right is hotter, The one on the left is sloppy.


todd. 01.26.08 at 12:03 am

1) I do see the “is ” results reported by rick m, though I’m not sure that we can extrapolate from here that these are top google searches for “is …”, because it’s not clear that this is the algorithm used to rank search suggestions.

2) I was also going to say something along the lines of “well, the picture on the left is cuter than the one on the right, and there may be some correlation between perception of attractiveness and desire to live near.” But of course that doesn’t explain the 19% of people who prefer the second woman live outside the US.


Badger 01.26.08 at 12:18 am

Kudos to the well-known scientists at ™ who did this study. For some reason.


notsneaky 01.26.08 at 12:25 am

For the ‘is’ it’s not the search results, it’s the suggestions you get as you type it in the little pop up scroll down menu.


notsneaky 01.26.08 at 12:29 am

Playing around with it a bit I think there is a personal component to the suggestions you get (probably based on your search history as well as the gmails you get). When I type in “ec” or even “e” I get a lot of stuff on economics which I doubt is true generally. But I’ve never looked up whether Obama is a Muslim, though I’ve looked up other stuff on him. So I think it’s a mix of personal search/mail categories and an aggregate.


John Emerson 01.26.08 at 12:29 am

I see that Seth got there ahead of me, but for me headscarves can be a very effective accessory. Minneapolis is full of lovely Somali women in headscarves, and some of them do seem to flirt a bit.

That is the antithesis of the social rationale for headscarves, but an individual might want her headscarf to be sexy. I’ve been told thatIranian women have developed stylish ways of following the Iranian rules (which aren’t horribly strict).


John Emerson 01.26.08 at 12:36 am

I got Rickm’s results. “Is “(with space) gets that.


Kathryn 01.26.08 at 12:39 am

Looking up “is” followed by any presidential candidate has some interesting results. Apparently, there are a substantial number of people who want to know if Mitt Romney is Jewish. Inquiring minds.


SamChevre 01.26.08 at 12:55 am

I second Luke; it would be interesting to see the reactions to a variety of religious head coverings, rather than only this distinctively Muslim one. (And I think distinctively Sunni; I haven’t seen that pattern in pictures from Iran that I recall.)

My wife, my mother, and many of my friends cover their heads; I have never seen or experienced or heard about any hostility towards them.


todd. 01.26.08 at 1:19 am

Also, am I the only one who thinks the fact that the headscarf was photoshopped in puts that photograph at a disadvantage in the creepiness department?


Badger 01.26.08 at 1:26 am

there is something eerie about that photo on the right, isn’t there. I was thinking Aerial Board of Control


Henry (not the famous one) 01.26.08 at 1:27 am

And for Clinton they ask “Is Clinton a Republican?”

Nothing for Edwards by this route, but it does turn up the popularity of the question “Is England an island?”


seth e 01.26.08 at 1:51 am

Google “Milan or Tehran” and click on Blogs sterling. The kid understands.
Shia babeland.
I’m on the crackberry I don’t have the link


yoyo 01.26.08 at 2:01 am

My wife, my mother, and many of my friends cover their heads; I have never seen or experienced or heard about any hostility towards them.

personally my hostility would be more towards the males related to such women than to the women themselves.


Rickm 01.26.08 at 2:18 am

The Google suggest includes two different groups of suggestions: those things that you previously searched, and those things that others had searched. It compartmentalizes both groups, so you will see things that you searched, and below them, a horizontal line will demarcate the group of suggestions based on others searches.

For what its worth, I performed this on my work computer, which brand new. My home computer confirms this.

Here is a slate article about google search.


lemuel pitkin 01.26.08 at 4:09 am

My computer suggests the Obama searches too.


qingl78 01.26.08 at 5:00 am

I’ve taken to waring a balaclava as my hijab. I’ve had nothing but negative reactions to it (damned bigots). Most of the bigots, I’ve noticed, are in banks.

I only wear it because I’m so damned pretty that I might be a temptation to others of both sexes and my G-D told me to wear it.

Why oh, why do I have to wait so long to be free.


idlemind 01.26.08 at 5:40 am

I think this is just an example of a new form of Google-bombing. If you search for “is ” on Yahoo you’ll get:
what is best sports city
what is a recession
who is dale earnhardt jr dating
pink is the new blog
when is super bowl 2008

though I wonder if the fourth suggestion is the result of Yahoo-bombing…


rob 01.26.08 at 8:59 am

Most of my right-wing friends (and, to be honest, most of my left-wing friends who are not from South Asia or the Middle-East) have a profound distaste for women in hijabs–whether it’s pity or disgust I’m not sure (I have seem glimmers of both) and I have never really gotten an honest answer to that question from them.

I’m a first-gen. American w/ parents born in India, and I am personally indifferent.


seth edenbaum 01.26.08 at 9:13 am


bad Jim 01.26.08 at 9:20 am

That is one nice-looking young woman. Dirty fucking hippie that I am, I prefer the left, unbound, curlier version.

My general objection to the hijab is that it doesn’t shade the face. You know you need to wear a hat, a cap, a visor, if you don’t want your face to look like a raisin ten years hence, don’t you?


wissen 01.26.08 at 9:21 am

Is we forgettin da Seinsfrage?


bernarda 01.26.08 at 10:51 am

Bush holds hands with and kisses Saudi King Abullah. You won’t see him doing that with a muslim woman. What does that mean, if anything?

As to the muslim head – and even face – covering for women, that is about the same as having to were a yellow star in 30’s Germany. Male muslim believers are pigs, period. If any muslim men are offended, tough luck, take it up with allah.


Adam Roberts 01.26.08 at 11:01 am

24: Nothing for Edwards by this route, but it does turn up the popularity of the question “Is England an island?”

Ha! The answer is no: England is a continent, although it does have an island off its southern coast called Europe/Asia/Africa.


bi 01.26.08 at 11:06 am


“What does that mean, if anything?”

It means you just triggered Godwin’s Law, stupid. If you don’t like that, take it up with George Washington.

= = =

As for the experiment, I’d like to offer the following images to use as controls:

My hypothesis: The first image will probably be construed as a sign of the decadence of liberalism, or as a celebration of the natural beauty of the female body… or both concurrently (go figure). The second image is so obviously stupid that it makes people’s brains explode, so it’ll probably be construed as being of a 100% traitor.


bi 01.26.08 at 11:07 am


novakant 01.26.08 at 12:01 pm

If you’re using Firefox, install the Customize Google addon and you will be able turn off/on almost any google feature.


novakant 01.26.08 at 1:04 pm

On the issue at hand: while I don’t doubt that there is plenty of anti-muslim bigotry around, for me it’s the old debate between religious tolerance and multiculturalism on the one side, women’s rights and laicite on the other – it depends on the circumstances and my position is not set in stone, though I tend to give more weight to the latter.

Most of the secular, (upper) middle class Turks I’ve known regard the headscarf as an anachronism at best, some are violently opposed to it. You come across Saudi women fully covered, head lowered such as to avoid any eye contact with strangers and walking three steps behind their husbands in South Kensington any day. And there’s immense religiously inspired sexual repression and hypocrisy in the Muslim community in East London for instance.

On the other hand, you see happy little Muslim girls chatting on the bus after school or bright, confident women studying for higher degrees in the library wearing head scarves.

It’s worth noting that the resurgence of Islamic dress is a comparatively recent phenomenon coinciding with a new moralistic rigor within some Islamic communities, so that multicultural tolerance can be in danger of lending support to a specific form of repression, rather than furthering the tolerance for people of the Islamic faith as such.


MattF 01.26.08 at 1:50 pm

There’s a point here, but it’s not a particularly new or interesting one.

Since there is, in fact, a difference between the photos and there is not, deliberately, any additional context, people will consult their prejudices and construct a story about the visible difference. It is found that the story that’s constructed is something along the lines of ‘liberal Muslim = good/conservative Muslim = bad’. Now– what, exactly do you now know that you didn’t know before?


Righteous Bubba 01.26.08 at 3:56 pm

I got Rickm’s results. “Is “(with space) gets that.

I get it on my Mac and not my PC. So much for the Mac’s superiority.


rory_and_me 01.26.08 at 4:10 pm

The Joe public reactions to the pics are tediously predictable. People tend to have irrational fears about anything that isn’t reassuringly familiar.

I confess that women in Islamic dress have been known to turn me on. Not correct obviously since one’s reaction ought to be more of a sex neutral acknowledgment of the wearer’s personhood etc, rather than speculations about relative degrees of hotness.

It is true though that things hidden tend to be more alluring. Probably why there is a huge body of Victorian era writings that fantasize about the thrill of peeling things off.

Not that I would ever dream of objectifying Muslim sisterhood in any Flyntian fashion.

As for living next door … I don’t understand people who need neighbors who are clones of themselves. I prefer people who are as different as possible. Makes life more interesting.

So yeah, I think there is something rather beautiful, and dare I say erotic, about Islamic dress (burqa excepted). Of the two pics, I think the one of her wearing hijab is the more attractive, and she can live next door to me anytime she feels like it.


Matt Weiner 01.26.08 at 4:31 pm

It is found that the story that’s constructed is something along the lines of ‘liberal Muslim = good/conservative Muslim = bad’.

Actually only 2% of respondents thought the woman on the left was a Muslim at all. Otherwise, agreed with your points.


Matt Weiner 01.26.08 at 4:35 pm

Also, the design of the study seems particularly weird (although I’m not a professional so there may be some good way of doing this). Respondents were apparently actually forced to choose, for instance, whether they would like the woman to live next door, in their neighborhood, elsewhere in their town, elsewhere in the US, or outside of the US. This doesn’t leave room for my preferred answer, “Wherever she wants to, except not next door, because currently all my next-door neighbors are businesses and I like not having to worry about noise after 6 pm.”


Luke 01.26.08 at 6:46 pm

SamChevre, hmm. The headcovering is not especially Sunni, as I’ve seen it in the Gulf and in Lebanon, as well as in Egypt. Insomuch as I can tell, the style shown in the photograph represents a generational, rather than sectarian, divide among Muslims.

Among my professors at AUC, if the older ones were hijabi, it was minimal, looking like a loose kerchief over the head, if at all. The younger you went, the more severe the veiling, to the point of the one shown in the photo here, though plenty just wrapped their hair and pinned it back–I’m having a hell of a time finding a pic, right now, but it hardly looks out of place in the West; the version they picked is sort of the most excessive, and the most obviously Islamicate, which is the goal of the study, I guess.


McChowder 01.26.08 at 8:54 pm

I also get the same “is ” results, but if I try “was,” “was Jesus married” tops “was Obama a Muslim.”


Roy Belmont 01.27.08 at 12:18 am

It takes a while for people to realize the world as they found it when young was in motion, not fixed, that the solid verities of behavior and style and ethical/moral certainty were in flux even as they seemed so permanent.
You see women on the street in cities today that would have been only been paralleled in visual seduction by call girls decades earlier. Women dressed like corner girls dressed when they were teenagers.
What’s sexy but okay changes, with the changes happening slowly enough they feel inevitable and relatively comfortable. Young girls headed for the clubs evolve fashion toward raw sexual provocation. This is not static, it’s going somewhere. Somewhere the women and girls in headscarves aren’t going, and neither are their Christian fundamentalist sisters in their long pale blue skirts and shapeless blouses.
The right and wrongness of it is only determined after the big showdown.
Who’s left standing did what was right, ipso facto. There’s no philosophical ground to it, no analyzable moral truth involved. It’s all and only about survival. Over time cultures that keep their women out of the street have a wider edge, cultures that let their children go daringly further and further toward increasingly blurred lines of propriety have a narrower, if sharper one.
That said the influence of the artificially-created and -maintained anti-Arab anti-Muslim bigotry America’s airwaves have been saturated in these last seven years or so can’t be underestimated. My bet is the whole thing’s gotten so mechanically predictable we could as easily have had by now a society in which American women were vying for the most subtle ornamentation on their own headscarves, if that had suited the interests of the Great Oz and his minions.


Patrick 01.27.08 at 3:47 am


I associate the headscarf with sexism, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Maybe someday cultural change will redeem the headscarf, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Not that this means that I think women in head scarves should be forbidden to live in my neighborhood, of course. Disapproving of someone’s personal choices and thinking someone should be deported are very different.


seth edenbaum 01.27.08 at 4:18 am

I’ve tried to point out how stupid this thread is, to no avail.
I live down the street from a mosque. I got shitfaced with a Muslim man last week. twice. We meet up for drinks all the time. I know a muslim woman who owns a cafe but would never sell alcohol… even though she drinks it herself. My business partner’s 10 old son goes to friend’s houses 4 or 5 night a week for dinner during ramadan. My partner is jewish. I’ve seen hijab wearing hotties in t-shirts with “save a horse ride a cowboy” written across the chest. I’ve seen a girl in a hijab and covered head to toe, in spandex! And the sense of confidence and cool reserve in some more conservatively observant muslim women is just damn sexy, and they know it.

Islam is modernizing and secularizing. What’s left of religious christianity and judaism are slipping into reaction. Taking a snapshot you’d never know this: you’d think the situations were identical. To learn otherwise requires more work than you’re willing to do, and it requires an interest in history. But history isn’t science so it’s beyond the pale

This thread is embarrassing to read.


Helen 01.27.08 at 4:21 am

Over time cultures that keep their women out of the street have a wider edge,…

Totally effing offensive, Roy. Look at what you have written. So the inhabitants of a “culture” are exclusively male, while women are things (“their” women) to be moved about and restricted this way and that?


smaug 01.27.08 at 5:07 am

Re #43, you’re in good company.

According to Monkey Cage:

Slightly more considered the covered woman “beautiful” (27%) than did the uncovered woman (16%).

The covered woman was also considered more likely to be a “good mother” and a “devoted wife”.


Roy Belmont 01.27.08 at 5:10 am

Helen, I’m sorry you took offense but I think you misread that, with prejudice. The women “belong” to the culture, as do the men and the children, and a lot of other stuff into the bargain.
It’s kind of knee-jerk to assume it’s only about sexist patriarchal control, though understandably, since a lot of it is. But not all. A spooky aspect is the possibility of other contexts in which a lot of the seeming nonsense of religious proscriptions turns out to have direct survival value, for the culture, the genes, the memes, whatever. As things stand there’s no question the ferocity of fundamentalist strictures especially as applied to women is a bad deal for most women and a good deal for a minority of men dominant within that culture. But things stand shakily. Change is everywhere, coming on hard.
Paris Hilton is a successful woman by most of the terms of this culture at this time. Change a few parameters and it looks a lot different. The Amish are marginal in most ways, now. It’s not hard to imagine contextual shifts that give that kind of living a distinct survival advantage. It’s a betting program, not an ethical/moral prescription. The gamble’s the thing.


thompsaj 01.27.08 at 9:09 am

Is shingles contagious?


Dave 01.27.08 at 9:40 am

“Islam is modernizing and secularizing.”

Well, I sure hope so, but where’s your evidence, beyond the anecdotal? The Saudi monarchy, as I recall, has invested billions in ensuring the reverse course.


Danielle Day 01.27.08 at 7:31 pm

Man, i don’t want to live next door to– or within a good 50 miles of– any devout anything. To, um… Heck, i guess, with them and their twisted beliefs.


mr. steven crane 01.28.08 at 6:00 am

that’s kinda tough, danielle, unless you want to have a cabin in the woods or a ranch or something.


bi 01.28.08 at 7:25 am


Oh come on. Islam isn’t just Saudi Arabia and Al-Qaeda. Other nations in the Islamic world — Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan, to name a few — aren’t into this Wahhabism thing.

Not that I agree “Islam” as a whole is modernizing, but still…


Badtux 01.28.08 at 8:35 am

The photo on the left is a photo of a woman who embraces mainstream American culture. If I go out with her, I do not have to worry about whether I am going to have the same cultural background, language, same general values (within a range of variation of course), etc. The photo on the right is a photo of a woman who does not embrace mainstream American culture. As an American, I might feel that she does not embrace American culture because she feels superior to Americans. Like most Americans, I don’t like being near people who feel they’re better than I am, so would have more negative feelings towards her.

Now, of course, the same body is underneath those different styles of garb, but that is irrelevant to my perceptions. I might have similar perceptions towards a woman wearing expensive furs and jewelry. As a modest penguin, I would have negative perceptions towards this woman as someone who obviously feels superior to those around her and wishes to flaunt the fact that she’s wealthier than the average penguin-American.

Note that none of this has anything to do with religion, since all that the Islamic religion requires is that women dress “modestly”, where “modest” is a cultural value. “Modest” here in the United States means dressing like Hillary Clinton in suits and dresses that say “business”, not “sexy”. Rather, it has to do with my perceptions of whether someone feels superior to me or not. I might have the same perceptions regarding anybody who wears garb suggesting that due to some characteristic she is better than the rest of us. Arrogance is an American value, true enough, but it is not an American value that makes a lot of friends. Ask anybody in the high tech industry (outside of Microsoft) about Bill Gates, for example, and be prepared to have your ears scalded, because he is a very arrogant man who is hated and detested by most of his peers in his industry. I might very well not want to live next door to someone who proudly proclaims that they are better than me because they embrace a different religion from me — which is what religious garb (of any type) is basically shouting at me.

Anyhow, this is a different perspective that I haven’t seen in this thread — i.e., that it is not her faith, but a perception of arrogance, that is off-putting to those who view the picture on the right of the woman wearing garb that proudly proclaims that she belongs to a particularly religion.

– Badtux the somewhat-arrogant Penguin


abb1 01.28.08 at 8:58 am

Ha-ha, good one, Badtux. That’s my reaction too, looking at the picture on the right: “Ya think ya better than me, huh? Wanna piece o’ me?” And I reach for my knuckles.


Doctor Slack 01.28.08 at 12:50 pm

The Saudi monarchy, as I recall,

Is a sclerotic entity that lives in fear of its own military, and whose Wahhabism has failed to remedy that circumstance despite the fact that the trend toward open and inchoate ethnic hostility from the modern West — up to and including frivolously-conceived invasions of the Middle East — should have bolstered it. Not a very impressive data point.

Seth is right.


Doctor Slack 01.28.08 at 12:52 pm

Badtux is funny. Who does she think she is, dressing all different and shit? Bitch. There’s the spirit of freedom and diversity that clearly marks the modern Enlightenment tradition.


Answer Guy 01.28.08 at 1:44 pm

I think a previous commenter covered this.

I’m a gay man – not an especially flamboyant one, but gay nonetheles. The Islamic headscarf suggests not only the woman is a Muslim but is likely to be more observant/devout than a typical Muslim American. I would probably not even consider the religious beliefs of the woman on the left, other than a vague sense that she blends in with other American women; even if I were told she was a Muslim, I wouldn’t assume very much about her specific beliefs. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to assume that the woman on the right is likely to harbor anti-gay sentiments, given the context. Based on that, I’d probably respond that I’d rather she not live next door to me; if you asked the sort of woman I imagine would wear such clothing if she wanted a homosexual as their neighbor, I am guessing that she would probably respond in the same way.

As for my neighborhood…she should probably live elsewhere in the city if she doesn’t want to get looked at funny. There are actually a lot of places in tbe Baltimore-Washington area where people would barely take notice of a woman in an Islamic headscarf, but I don’t think my neighborhood would be one of them. But that’s for her sake rather than for mine.


AlisonS 01.28.08 at 5:11 pm

Why should anyone care if someone else wants to advertise their superstitious nonsense by their dress. I tend to look at them with pity for their ignorance, but make no judgement with regard to their character or personality. Any individual could be a good or bad neighbour regardless of his or her beliefs.


seth edenbaum 01.28.08 at 6:31 pm

“Anyhow, this is a different perspective that I haven’t seen in this thread—i.e., that it is not her faith, but a perception of arrogance, that is off-putting to those who view the picture on the right of the woman wearing garb that proudly proclaims that she belongs to a particularly religion.”

I know a woman who’s taken off her hijab on occasion to go out and socialize, just as an experiment. It was difficult. She said she felt naked without it. A friend’s son who’s closest friend is Egyptian, sees his friend’s mother walk around the house without her scarf on. He’s a 10 year old boy and it’s her home. J asks his son what her hair is like. “Long and beautiful.”

There can be a sort of standoffish quality to certain forms of public display, but it’s not universal. I’m easily annoyed by the blunt arrogance of cops, but not all cops see their uniform as a license to indulge. Priests often piss me off, and nuns annoy me, but not all of them. I’ve met some Hasid’s who I like very much, and many who are schmucks, especially to unobservant jews like me. I went to schools with Mennonite girls with blond hair in buns and white bonnets: kick-ass field hockey players. I’m wary of men in $3000 suits, though I own one myself; and the public displays of geekdom, of obliviousness to the sexual and social reality of the non platonic world, make me want to reach for a gun.

I don’t expect much of people, but how you can expect so much of others without expecting at least much of yourself: that amazes me. That’s fucking pathetic.


22state 01.28.08 at 7:03 pm

Try the same thing with a man with an untrimmed beard. I’ll bet that the reaction is WAYY more extreme.

But, also try to find a guy with an untrimmed beard who is not a fundamentalist (any religion), an outlaw biker, or a mountain man/survivalist type. You might find one or two 70 yr old hipppies, but that’s about it.

My point is that I think you have a chicken-egg problem here. Look at Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Egypt. Until the Saudi salifi-movement started its outreach in the late 1970’s, those countries had hijab that was very much like the Marian (as in Mary mother of Jesus) statues – a loose head covering, some kind of concealing outerwear that was more functional and weather/economy depednant than dogmatic. Now, the style and severity of hijab is seen as a statement about community and faith. If my neighbor is making a statement about how they interact with society by their dress, I’m entitled to make assumptions about their separationist views and their commitment to civil society based on their dress.

P.S. look at the results on a different point. Note that, regardless of other views, that a statistically significant number of respondants found the so-called veiled (her face was still visible) picture “hotter” than the un-covered picture. Topic for another post.


berbarda 01.28.08 at 8:51 pm

bi, # 37, you don’t have a clue, so stuff it.


TGGP 01.28.08 at 9:15 pm

Razib at GNXP has had some good posts on the subject of head-coverings:


Laleh 01.28.08 at 9:20 pm

The thing is hijab is not just one thing. This cartoon (which is a bit weird in some respects) nevertheless fairly accurately reflects the variety of hijab on Damascene streets (and that’s just Damscus):


Laleh 01.28.08 at 9:29 pm

As an atheist woman of Iranian (Muslim) origin, an academic and a feminist, last time I visited East Jerusalem and saw settlers rampaging through the market with their semi-automatic weapons, for the first time ever, I wanted to wear a hijab just to be counted as their “enemy” (same sort of reaction I get when I read crap like Bernarda at #35).

So why can’t we give some credit to lots of women taking up the hijab for purely political reasons (as well as moral, ethical, and religious ones)?


Helen 01.29.08 at 4:28 am

#53: Roy, I do not find your argument coherent, I have an inkling of what you are trying to say, but there is enough exclusion of women from public spaces in the Western world as it is (public places at night, some public transport, et cetera). To say that is something that should be embraced rather than fought against is all very well for you, as a male, but I reserve the right to find it offensive, as well as the construction “their / our women”, which is an archaism which doesn’t belong in the twenty-first century. Women are not things.


rory_and_me 01.29.08 at 8:23 am

Laleh um … wearing hijab for political reasons? You’re scaring me slightly.

Given their druthers Iranian women (for example) living in urban centers tended to have a natural preference for Western/Iranian hybrid fashions that were very chic. Remember those wonderful sunglasses, some studded with faux diamonds many used to favor – tres cool. Now these same women are being coerced and humiliated on the streets of Tehran by semi-literate Islamic thug police for wearing headscarves that are too small or tops that are too revealing. Adult women are being treated like children! This is hideous – and it’s being enforced by the minions of Ahmadinejad for religious reasons that are … when you get behind it … political.

I have no objection at all to Islamic dress as such, but I do have an objection when young women are intimidated into wearing hijab. Recently here in Ontario a terrible tragedy occurred – a young Muslim girl was strangled to death by her father because she refused to comply with traditional Islamic dress codes. Obviously the domestic situation was more complex than a simple ‘hijab issue’, but the gist of it was that she was continually being abused because she wouldn’t fall-in-line.

The feminist reaction here really pissed me off. They refused to address male patriarchal attitudes in the Muslim community, and directed reporters to ‘reps of the Muslim community’ to make a response. The reason it annoyed me is because Muslim college/school age females are also Canadian, moreover many identify closely with cultural trends in the larger society and so I think women activists should in fact take more of an active role in addressing those negative and controling factors in the Muslim community that turn some young women into virtual pawns of male authority.

So the hijab as token of submission to Allah, the hijab as symbol of ‘being- owned-and-operated-by-some-dude’, the hijab as sign of being a ‘humble woman’ AND hijab as political statement (whatever that means), doesn’t hold much appeal for me personally, especially since like you I am atheist. The hijab when worn as a free choice without all the heavy baggage or simply as a fashion statement is a different matter.

Women have fought long and fought hard for the better part of the century in the West for their rightful freedoms and I don’t want to see stealth patriarchy making a return through the back door, aided and abetted by Western Islam. I simply don’t trust it when veiled Saudi women say “yes I’m free, I’m liberated … you don’t get it” – I just think “what dupes”! They only have the illusion of freedom because if they ever seriously kicked back at the male authority that allow them their little freedoms, they would be suddenly find themselves less liberated. Just because you’re on a long stretchy leash, doesn’t mean you are free.


engels 01.29.08 at 9:11 am

I’m an atheist and I’d much rather live next door to someone who wears a hijab than half of the people who have commented on this thread…


abb1 01.29.08 at 10:47 am

Laleh um … wearing hijab for political reasons? You’re scaring me slightly.

What about that Danish king in the 1940s wearing (allegedly) a star of david for political reasons?


engels 01.29.08 at 11:28 am

wearing hijab for political reasons? You’re scaring me slightly

While I doubt if many people are interested in your phobias, if you are going to bring them up perhaps you should be a little less cryptic.


seth edenbaum 01.29.08 at 12:07 pm

“Laleh um … wearing hijab for political reasons? You’re scaring me slightly.”
Learn something about context. You start from what you know and what you are. Thee is such a thing as islamic feminism.


s.e. 01.29.08 at 12:25 pm

Also in England, I don’t have to to find the links, many of the younger generation of veiled women are daughters of assimilated parents- teenagers rebelling against their parents and scaring whitey too.


Laleh 01.29.08 at 5:34 pm


of course people wear (or shed) hijab for political reasons, and of course neither wearing it nor NOT wearing it should be enforced. i come from a country where in the 1930s they forcibly ripped the hijab off the heads of elderly women (people like my great grandmother) which is something akin to ripping clothes off women’s backs on a European street. and then in the early 1980s i was slapped in the face by young women who thought my hijab was too loose and not Islamic enough. so trust me, I know what force is.

but again, that outward signifier of politics is really really important. and i personally know a half dozen educated radical women in European and North American cities who have taken up the hijab for precisely that reason (a couple of them have active pre-marital sex lives, and several of them even drink)…


rory_and_me 01.29.08 at 6:08 pm

Seth – I’m aware of so-called “Islamic feminism” – we have a very cool writer and media presence in Canada called Irshad Manji who has some very interesting thoughts on this.

However the larger problem is religion of restriction, religion of law. I’m not objectifying Islam as the solo “concern” here as some on the right like to do. I see Huckabee and such Xtian crusading types who want to amend the Constitution to meet “God’s standards” as equally, and in fact, more offensive.

Monotheism by virtue of its laws, Mosaic and otherwise, is all about restriction. The place of women in Islam according to tradition is very, very clear – no matter what spin some feminist Muslims try to put on it. Yes brave pathfinders such as Irshad have the courage to seek a new definitions, including those relating to sexual orientation (she is a lesbian), but she has been routinely threatened. In fact I get the sense that the threats on her life have backed her off the more militant stance.

Organized religion is the problem – not spirituality. I had to learn this painfully having been raised in a conservative, right wing environment. It’s one reason why I am coming to greatly value forums such as Crooked Timber because it creates an oasis of genuine discourse in a political environment that is becoming increasingly partisan, polarized and fractious.

Laleh ty – I’m with you completely. I guess my reference to “political reasons” has been conditioned by the top-down dress code requirements of theocracy – which I loathe. But if a woman feels that hijab is a part of her identity and its her choice, it’s a different matter entirely.


pageturners 01.30.08 at 7:47 am

The smile of the left-hand woman looks goofy; the smile of the right-hand woman looks sneaky. I’m a bad person.

#77, the idea that there’s any feminism in wearing a headscarf to conceal hair so that you won’t tempt men… well…

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