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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Nancy Pelosi Wears Head Scarf, Right Wing Contracts Amnesia

posted by on April 4 at 12:33 PM

What Shakes said (in response to right-wing critics who smeared Nancy Pelosi as “subservient” for wearing a head scarf while visiting a mosque):

Meanwhile, Drudge is whipping the Bush Minions into a frenzy with a picture of Pelosi wearing a headscarf while visiting the tomb of John the Baptist in Damascus. Think Progress has a collection of reactions from rightwing bloggers with a case of the vapors, no doubt fanning themselves on a fainting couch while waxing concerned for the delicate sensibilities of fragile progressive feminists like me: “It pains the left too, I’m sure, to see the most powerful woman in America having to yield, however slightly, to a misogynistic culture’s expectations.” And so forth.

You know, I might get more exercised about that if I hadn’t spent my life, much like Nancy Pelosi certainly has, yielding to the expectations of a misogynistic culture’s expectations myself.

Anyhow, since I don’t suppose any of us can expect the Brave, Brave Culture Warriors of the Right to understand the sort of subtlety of a statement like “Just because you don’t make us wear headscarves doesn’t mean America is sexism-free, douchebags,Think Progress takes the picture-book route and simply posts a picture of Laura Bush in a headscarf during her visit to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Photos of Laura Bush and Condoleezza Rice being “subservient” here, here, here, here, and here.

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My ex-Catholic mother always wore a scarf out-of-doors up until 1979 and we were from TEXAS!

Posted by Catman | April 4, 2007 12:38 PM

Someone really ought to make a DVD highlighting all the ways the rightwingers have stuck their foot in their mouth the last 7 years. It could just win a best comedy or documentary award.

Posted by him | April 4, 2007 12:44 PM

I totally agree with the spirit of this post, but I'd just like to point out that the last picture of Condi really looks photoshopped.

Posted by steve | April 4, 2007 1:04 PM

It is totally Photoshopped. It's a bad one at that.

Posted by elswinger | April 4, 2007 1:53 PM

So how many of these complainers would wear a speedo (or even shorts) to church on Sunday? Why not? In summer, when it's hot, wouldn't it be comfortable? What about a hawaiian shirt and flip-flops to a funeral, or sweats to a wedding? There's such a thing as dressing appropriately, and the unfamiliarity of a custom doesn't in itself make it oppressive. After all, it wasn't so long ago that women had to cover their ankles here. And which end of the political spectrum do you think fought to keep that "moral standard"?

There's a nuance to the way women feel about their dress in Islamic countries -- a nuance that's lost on many western observers -- particularly outside the psychotic theocracies of Saudi and Taliban Afghanistan and (actually to a significantly lesser extent) Iran. For all the times they may wish to dress a little more comfortably (going to beach isn't so much fun in a burka) there are times when women appreciate the camouflage: nobody knows you're fat in a burka, either, or can leer at your ass, and a scarf is nice if you're having a particularly bad hair day. Much like a power suit in the west, there's a respect that others automatically extend to a woman in conservative dress. For women accustomed to it, in a society where it is expected, going out without it feels like walking down the street in a bikini.

Besides, while it's an oppressive dicatoship that tolerates no political dissent, Syria isn't an especially oppressive state by mideast standards when it comes to womens' rights. Women drive, serve in the military, hold jobs where they manage men. Many Syrian women, particularly the younger ones, don't wear headscarves on a daily basis, though plenty do (even some of the Syrian Christian women do). Some of the older ladies wear the full hejab, veil and all (though a couple of Bedu women near Apemia were quite willing to remove it to allow me to take a photo of their facial tatoos). At the entrance to the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus (third holiest in Islam) I watched a guard with a stick block the main entrance to local woman because they weren't wearing headscarves: they had to go around to another entrance, where headscarves were available on loan for them to wear during their visit. (As an obvious infidel, I had to go around to the other entrance too. And I had to take my shoes off -- oh, the oppression of a non-muslim who wouldn't have to remove his shoes in a church!)

The irony of US policy is that the most oppressive states, like Saudi, are close allies, while some of the most liberal states, like Syria and pre-invasion Iraq, are enemies. If these commentators really gave a rat's ass about women's rights, they would be complaining about that.

Posted by Yusef | April 4, 2007 2:01 PM

So what's Drudge's opinion on the dress code (no shorts, no skirts above the knee, no bare shoulders) at St. Peter's?

Posted by keshmeshi | April 4, 2007 2:08 PM

Hey Barnett, you forgot to include
Laura Bush's wedding picture. You know, the one where she is wearing the veil.

--- Jensen

Posted by Jensen Interceptor | April 4, 2007 2:12 PM

I have travelled extensively in Asia. I most of SE Asia, I was required to take my shoes off and go barefoot whenever I visited a Buddhist temple or monastery.

Clearly I was being oppressed and subservient. I obviously should have told them to fuck off, and stomped in there wearing my hiking boots.

Posted by SDA in SEA | April 4, 2007 2:15 PM

It seems like the conservative viewpoint -- that women *are* subservient -- is upheld no matter who is wearing the scarf. Condi wears a scarf and reports to a man. Right-wing wives are submissive to their husbands. All's right with the world. Nancy wears a scarf and doesn't report to a man and it looks...well, that's why women can't be leaders. It's a little circular, granted, but try not to notice that.

Posted by MvB | April 4, 2007 2:18 PM

Meanwhile, the Bush Regime racks up yet more incompetent things this week.

Results matter.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 4, 2007 3:27 PM

Why the f do they care so much about the oppression in other cultures? You're conservative right? Since conservatives did we take on this "we need to change the world for the better" attitude? As an American let's start caring about America first.

Or at least make it equal in all the animal kingdom; and be pissed that male dogs treat bitches like, well, bitches.


Posted by Cochise. | April 4, 2007 3:59 PM

the scarf is a symbol of servatude,to wear it is showing respect for the idea of women being inferior to men. I am surprised many defend it as ok. so what if laura bush wore it, it was wrong if she did and wrong for pelosi to have done it. the difference is that women are forced to wear it in these countries under threat of their lives. you really want to equate that with respect of wearing a suit to church? anyone beaten for not wearing a suit to church lately?

Posted by marc | April 7, 2007 8:13 AM

the scarf is a symbol of servatude,to wear it is showing respect for the idea of women being inferior to men. I am surprised many defend it as ok. so what if laura bush wore it, it was wrong if she did and wrong for pelosi to have done it. the difference is that women are forced to wear it in these countries under threat of their lives. you really want to equate that with respect of wearing a suit to church? anyone beaten for not wearing a suit to church lately?

Posted by marc | April 7, 2007 8:13 AM

I guess if pelosi goes to the south and wears the confederate flag it is also ok. since she is showing only respect for the culture. next time a repub goes around with the confederate flag, no one on the left should say a word, since they are only being respectful to southern culture

Posted by marc | April 7, 2007 8:47 AM

Women in Syria are not beaten if they don't cover their hair, nor were they in pre-invasion Iraq or many other parts of the muslim world (women may have been beaten by their husbands and brothers for other things, but then domestic abuse of women is hardly unheard of here, either). You can stand on a street corner in Damascus today and watch women with uncovered heads go by. In Saudi, in Iran, in Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan and tribal areas in Pakistan, yes those women would be beaten or even killed. And that's certainly a problem -- but then religious nutjob fundamentalists are a problem wherever they crop up (the US harbors a few of those too -- though authorities may have arrested Warren Jeffs, for example, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints continues to operate). They're a much worse problem when they are the government and have the force of law behind them, of course. But those same Republicans who are upset at Pelosi don't seem to be cutting off military sales and aid to Saudi, so how seriously do they really take the plight of women in these places, symbolic or real?

At any rate, in a place where the wearing of a particular piece of clothing is a choice, not a dictate, choosing to wear it is not an at of servitude, symbolic or otherwise. If a Catholic woman chooses to wear a cross, is she proclaiming her servitude to a church that does not allow women in its hierarchy? Or might she possibly be expressing devotion to her faith despite that flaw in its dogma? Pelosi as a Christian presumably feels no religious obligation to cover her hair, so either she got caught up in the romance of donning exotic garb (which happens surprisingly often in "the orient") or she was merely trying to be (unnecessarily) gracious to her hosts. Leaving her hair uncovered wouldn't have symbolized anything in Syria, and wouldn't have excited comment either way, so covering it presumably doesn't symbolize anything either. Having her hair uncovered would have prevented any news clips of her time there from airing on Saudi or Iranian TV, however (though everybody gets the Beiruti channels via satellite anyway) and that might have been a consideration: showing a powerful western woman meeting male arab leaders is far more symbolic than anything she might have on her head.

The muslim world is not one huge monolithic block -- though that's often how the west sees it, and it certainly what Osama bin Laden is trying accomplish. Fortunately that's unlikely to happen: the weight of history is leaning the other way. But it’s possible to help or hinder progress, and you’re unlikely to help if you don’t recognize that diversity and adjust your actions and opinions accordingly. We want to encourage the more progressive societies without hardening attitudes by being deliberately insulting to traditions, whatever you might think they symbolize. It took Europe several centuries to progress from the middle ages to the enlightenment; the muslim world can make that transition too, and in less time, but you have to pick your battles. Headscarves in Syria is not going to be one that gains you very much.

Posted by Yusef | April 13, 2007 2:43 PM

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