Monday, June 15, 2009

Close Encounters of the 4th Kind

It's been a while (I think) since I've dipped my toe into the churning waters of political incorrectness so I think the time to stick my foot in it (i.e., those churning waters of political incorrectness) is long overdue. And to be fair, I wasn't even going to bother spilling any more ink on this topic (my previous vents are well-documented) were it not for the fact that a visiting friend, himself a Turk now living in Canada, raised the topic while we catching up in Istanbul recently.

What's with these women? he asked. Look at them! What's happening to this country?

My friends: I give you The Headscarf.

But not The Headscarf per se, but The Turkish Headscarf. (Or perhaps what fashionistas might call The Scarf à la turque.)

So while Presidents Obama and Sarkozy battle over a woman's right to wear a scarf - which itself is tied up with Turkey's future in the EU - and rather than airing my own feelings about covered women, or even commenting on the often volatile politics of the headscarf in this country tempted though I am, let me just say this: headscarved women here are weird-looking.

And by weird-looking I mean that those heads that are so modestly covered by shiny gaudy synthetic silk scarves look
like they belong on a space alien or an 18th Dynasty Egyptian princess.


It just seems that Turkey is overrun by women with misshapen heads. Our friend, who had just returned from a trip to Saudi and the Emirates - where no women wore their scarves accordingly - couldn't get over it: they look like aliens he gushed. Yup. Took the words right out of my mouth.

I have lived and worked and travelled in enough Muslim countries to know that covered women needn't look like this. It is avoidable! And yes, I understand that there are different styles for different regions and for different ages and for different budgets: I have seen the so-called rapunzel-style, the Jerusalem twist, the simple ribbon style, the simple square scarf. But this?

At first I thought there might be a head bustle at work or a skull extender of sorts under all that rayon. Then I thought that perhaps women here are tying back their hair into a chignon of sorts, a chignon which juts out almost perpendicularly from the back of their heads. Once layered and scarved, the hair bump becomes exaggerated. Or maybe not. Of course, I could just shell out the cash for the videos How to Wear a Turkish Hijab (volumes 7 and 8) but didn't I find the links on youtube? - which is banned in Turkey because of anti-Atatürk comments made on the site, but, because this is Turkey and everything is possible, there are ways to circumvent the ban.

So I checked out the tutorial (don't bother unless you've already seen its sister video: How to Watch Paint Dry, volumes 2 and 3) and, for the most part, it was as useless as tits on a bull although I did appreciate the tip on hairspraying the scarf to keep it nicely arched. Then finally at the 8:12 point, the demonstrator mentions that the wearer should put her hair up in a high bun with a loose pony-tail which makes no sense to me because it's either a high bun or a pony tail, right?

Nonetheless ... bingo! Voilà: The grotesque head bump.

Of course, not all women look like they're packing a cycling helmet under their scarves: many don't bother covering their heads at all while others opt for the cocoon-like vitamin D-sucking full niqab. And of course some wear a normal headscarf and I-can't-believe-I-just-made-reference-to-a-normal-headscarf. But it does seem that the covering of female follicles is on the rise in Turkey where over 60% of women already wear some form of head covering.

Personally, I'm rather smitten with one of my alien-headed female students who came to class last week with a face piercing. Not sure how that fits into the whole ideal of feminine desexualization modesty but perhaps the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) just wasn't all that forward-thinking. Ooops, did I just say that out loud?


Miss Footloose said...

Hello Cat,

I must confess, I succumbed to the temptation to watch the tutorial, as I was also watching paint dry and this way could multi-task. I try not to pass up opportunities to learn something new because learning is good for the brain cells, or so I'm told.

I found your post very enlightening and shedding light in a dark world is a noble task.

In Ramallah, Palestine, where I lived for some time, the scarves were mostly white with pretty lace edgings, although many (young) women didn't wear any head covering.

Miss Footloose

Snowflake said...

OMG. I can't believe I watched it and then watched a couple more! What was with those black gloves? Spooky.

This Cat's Abroad said...

Thanks for the comments Miss F & Snowflake. Snowflake ... have you been practicing tying your scarf in anticipation of next week?

Cath said...

Loved the alien graphic.

Anonymous said...

Sarkozy would do well to mind his own little women instead of worrying about what others wear on their heads. He could do double-duty and save little kittens from being stuffed in her bra

Anonymous said...

face piercing? I think you mean a hizma... pretty old scool, and most muslim scholars find nothing wrong with it..

every turk knows the song "altin hizma"