American women, and I suppose some American men, too, if they are pretending to be progressive, view the Veiled Woman as a grim symbol of Muslim paternalism run amok. In the US, the veil is the logo of terrible oppression.
I’m not saying veiled women aren’t oppressed. In certain parts of the world, girls who saunter through the public square in a pair of hot pants and a tube top get acid thrown on them. That’s no trifle. Still, I wonder how much of the American distaste for the veil is rooted in the conviction that pre-menopausal women ought to pretty much wear hot pants all the time?
But I digress.
To those Americans who gaze about the landscape, observing satisfying amounts of cleavage and sighing the relieved sigh of American entitlement because, although women here may earn less than men and are more likely than men to die in poverty, at least they can run around in hot pants, I have this to say: Pause a moment. Reflect.
Your liberty is not what it seems.
For although the consequences of an appearance infraction are not often, for the busy Western gal-on-the-go, immediately life-threatening (although they certainly can be), the pressure on her to cave in to patriarchal mandate, looks-wise, is every bit as strong as it is for a Pakistani woman. Western women may run little risk of acid attacks, but are nevertheless very strongly compelled to conform to standards which are, when viewed objectively, just as soul-suckingly asinine as the veil. I have recently held forth on the relationship of women’s clothing to patriarchal horndoggitude. Today I allude to — that’s right — facial hair.
In a recent issue of Bitch magazine is an article* containing this statement: “These days, women’s removal of their facial hair is just another concession in the militarized zones of masculine and feminine, where women must still conform or confront considerable judgment and ridicule.”
The most common reaction to a chick with chin hair is, according to a study cited in the Bitch article, “disgust.” Avoidance of which is a motivating factor in the idiotic daily shavings and pluckings to which American women subject themselves, so thoroughly has this patriarchally-induced bit of the feminine ideal gotten itself lodged in our cultural consciousness. A woman who is old, or who has not gotten a boob job, or who wears no makeup can be tolerated in certain situations, but a five-o’clock shadow is beyond the pale on any occasion.
Just how facial hair came to be the exclusive purview of men — since, believe you me, there are legions of fuckin’ hairy chicks out there — I know not, but it would not surprise me to learn that it is the result of the ever-increasing compulsion to exaggerate the physical differences between the sexes. The greater the perceived difference, the greater the ease with which the lies of patriarchy can be foisted off as truth. I drop no bombshells when I remind you what happens when one group of people perceives differences in another group: the differences are seen first as threats, and then as rationalization for hatred, and finally as carte blanche for the dominant group to kick the other group’s ass.
Ass-kicking: the cornerstone of patriarchy.
But dang it, I digressed again. Here, you will be relieved to know, is my point: as the Pakistani woman obscureth her identity with fabric, so doth the Western woman obscure hers with Nair. Neither is particularly allowed not to. Regardless of the idiosyncrasies of local custom, patriarchy will not suffer a woman who does not strive with her every fiber to achieve success in the mastery of feminine drag.
* Dowl, Aimée. “Beyond The Bearded Lady: Outgrowing the Shame of Female Facial Hair.” Bitch No. 28, Spring 2005: 54-59.