Check out my collaborative piece with Stop Street Harassment: Brazil: the hijab and the concept of oppression
Para ler este texto em português, clique aqui
Cold Saturday in Berlin. I believe the idea did not come from me, but from my friend, who had been through the experience herself. I guess I was asking too many questions about it, so she just wrapped one around my head, “Iranian style”, with some hair showing, just so I would feel how it is to go out as a Muslim.
What I first realised is that, in a western country, when a Muslim woman goes out in public, she is always making a statement. The hijab became a stigma of a faith that has been questioned and misinterpreted by so many that are not involved.
My first sensation was fear. I am living in the country of Pegida, an anti-Islamic movement that has been growing since the economic crisis hit Europe right in the core and, after Charlie Hebdo, things could get ugly, we never know. But since this is Berlin and not Dresden, the feeling was gone quite fast.
Some of the assumptions I had made before were also rapidly dismissed. I thought, for example, that I would be getting more glimpses in the street than normal. Maybe in Brazil I would, since there’s not as many Muslims there as there is in Europe. A reporter in Sao Paulo recorded her experience going out dressed as a Muslim, showing how people often disrespects Muslim women, harassing them or filming them as if they are some kind of exotic animal. In Berlin there was nothing of the kind.
Something that really messed with my head was the feeling of looking older than normal. I felt like I was about five years older and had three kids – which says a lot about the stigma Muslim women carry. My friend cleverly got the idea beneath that feeling: “do you feel older or just less attractive?” This was very interesting: the hijab is a symbol of modesty, of not relying on your looks to be noted, and I completely felt that, even though I’m not a fan of make-up and wear sports clothes most of my time. The fact that I didn’t have my hair to show really made a difference in my self-esteem.
I compare the use of the veil with something else that bothers me, in the other extreme: nudity unrelated to sex. Living in Europe, I have received invitation from friends to join them in saunas: “but… you’re gonna see me naked, I can’t”. Brazilians can show everything during Carnaval and might be very straightforward when it comes to sex, but when we are just there, naked, we simply feel exposed. At least that’s how I feel.
I bet Muslim women would feel like that if they would go out without the hijab.