Hijabed Like Me
by Kathy Chin- A Chinese American
I walked down the street in my long white dress and inch-long, black hair
one afternoon, and truck drivers whistled and shouted obscenities at me. I
felt defeated. I had just stepped out of a hair salon. I had cut my hair
short, telling the hairdresser to trim it as she would a cut a man's
hair.I sat numbly as my hairdresser skillfully sheared into my
shoulder-length hair with her scissors, asking me with every inch she cut
off if; I was freaking out yet. I wasn't freaking out, but I felt
I WAS OBLITERATING MY FEMININITY
It wasn't just another haircut. It meant so much more. I was trying to
appear androgynous by cutting my hair. I wanted to obliterate by
femininity. Yet that did not prevent some men from treating me as a sex
object. I was mistaken. It was not my femininity that was problematic, but
my sexuality, or rather the sexuality that some men had ascribed to me
based on my biological sex. They reacted to me as they saw me and not as I
Why should it even matter how they see me, as long as I know who I am? But
I believe that men who see women as only sexual beings often commit
violence against them, such as rape and battery. Sexual abuse and assault
are not only my fears, but my reality.
I was molested and raped. My experiences with men who violated me have
made me angry and frustrated.
How do I stop the violence? How do I prevent men from seeing me as an
object rather than a female? How do I stop them from equating the two? How
do I proceed with life after experiencing what others only dread? The
experiences have left me with questions about my identity. Am I just
another Chinese-American female? I used to think that I have to arrive at
a conclusion about who I am, but now I realize that my identity is
MY EXPERIENCE OF BEING “HIJABED”
One experience that was particularly educational was when I “dressed up”
as a Muslim woman for a drive along Crenshaw Boulevard with three Muslim
men as part of a newsmagazine project. I wore a white, long-sleeved cotton
shirt, and a flowery silk scarf that covered my head, which I borrowed
from a Muslim woman. Not only did I look the part, I believed I felt the
part. Of course, I wouldn't really know what it feels like to be Hijabed-I
coined this word for the lack of a better term-everyday, because I was not
raised with Islamic teachings.
However, people perceived me as a Muslim woman and did not treat me as a
sexual being by making cruel remarks. I noticed that men's eyes did not
glide over my body as has happened when I wasn't Hijabed. I was fully
clothed, exposing only my face. I remembered walking into an Islamic
center and an African-American gentleman inside addressed me as “sister”,
and asked where I came from. I told him I was originally from China. That
didn't seem to matter. He respected me and assumed I was Muslim. I didn't
know how to break the news to him because I wasn't sure if I was or not.
I walked into the store that sold African jewelry and furniture and
another gentleman asked me as I was walking out if I was Muslim. I looked
at him and smiled, not knowing how to respond. I chose not to answer.
BEING HIJABED CHANGED OTHERS' PERCEPTION OF ME
Outside the store, I asked one of the Muslim men I was with, “Am I
Muslim?” He explained that everything that breathes and submits is. I have
concluded that I may be and just don't know it. I haven't labeled myself
as such yet. I don't know enough about Islam to assert that I am Muslim.
HIJAB AS OPPRESSION: A SUPERFICIAL AND MISGUIDED
I consciously chose to be Hijabed because I was searching for respect from
men. Initially, as both a Women's Studies major and a thinking female, I
bought into the Western view that the wearing of a scarf is oppressive.
After this experience and much reflection, I have arrived at the
conclusion that such a view is superficial and misguided.
THE MOST LIBERATING EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE
I covered up that day out of choice, and it was the most liberating
experience of my life. I now see alternatives to being a woman. I
discovered that the way I dress dictated others' reaction towards me. It
saddens me that this is a reality. It is a reality that I have accepted,
and chose to conquer rather than be conquered by it. It was my sexuality
that I covered, not my femininity. The covering of the former allowed the
liberation of the latter.
by Kathy Chin
This article was originally published in Al-Talib, the newsmagazine of the
Muslim Students' Association of the University of California in Los
Angeles (UCLA) in October 1994. At the time of its publication, Kathy Chin
was a senior at UCLA majoring in Psychobiology and Women's Studies.
Article taken (with
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