Sailaja N. Joshi

Couture Culture: Behind the Veil

In Couture Culture, Social Change, Women in Society on March 22, 2010 at 5:15 pm

In reading (and reading) articles, journals and books for my thesis I came across an very interesting article which illuminates exactly WHY women and their bodies are sites of study in anthropology and sociology.  These observations have been made cross culturally and it is thus interesting to note, that no matter where they are, women work.

The question now, is why.

Women are considered ideal sites for cultural observation, specifically in regards to beauty and dress because they are upholders of culture. They are the biological reproducers of culture, as they give physical birth to the next generation. As a result of this relationship, women guard the boundaries of culture and values disseminating them to the next generation. A woman’s body has thus become tied to a nation’s politics and culture, becoming a site of dynamic observation.

For anthropologist/sociologists/smart marketers this should come as no surprise.  Obviously, women represent a nation best, I mean after all no one really watches a Mister World pageant now do they? Come to think of it, no one really watches the Miss World anymore but I digress. I think what is most striking (and interesting for that matter) about this idea is that women control their dress and clothes, and do so in a very conscious way.

Take for instance the veil a hot topic in politics and fashion across the world. Many view the veil as a garment entirely connected with Islam, the oppression of women and war, but this could not be further from the actual truth. When one bothers to understand the origins of the veil, one would know that the veil is pregnant with meaning.

First the veil, symbolizes purity and respect, for the community and family. A woman who takes off her veil in certain company, or does not wear it at all, is displaying her disdain for a specific person. Further more, she is announcing that this person is not worthy of my respect, or my families. The veil is thus not a way in which women are oppressed, but a way in which they can overtly convey their contempt.

The veil is also a girl’s right of passage into womanhood. Much like a bra, the veil announces to the community that this young lady is a woman. Imagine being a adolescent girl in America and not wearing a bra, an uncomfortable feeling I can assure you. Not wearing a veil would evoke a very similar feeling for girls in the veiled world.

I bring up these points because the veil is full of cultural values that we in the Western world are not privy to. The community as a whole develops the rules that govern veiling, unlike with oppressive regimes such as the Taliban. What is sad is that most Americans have come to assume the veil as oppressive, but in reality it is a dynamic garment, like the bra or skirt, that symbolizes femininity.

  1. Hi Sailaja

    Really enjoyed reading your blogs.



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