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(Coffee) Shop Talk

Welcome to the shop where I talk about things that go well with coffee, which is almost everything.

I look at my WordPress stats almost every day, hoping that the little blue line chart will stop going steadily downward. It doesn’t. What I really need is something controversial enough to grab readers yet not such a popular topic that everyone goes to read about it in much bigger blogs.

Think, think.

So far my biggest-hitting topics are Ayn Rand, Thomas Paine, and abayas.

I think I’ve said all that I have to say about Ms. Rand. I still have every admiration for Thomas Paine, but I don’t really have any current thoughts about him. That would leave abayas.

I’m actually beginning to have fewer and fewer opinions about abayas, as long as no one is forcing me to wear one. The dress code in Egypt is pretty relaxed, relative to other Middle Eastern countries. Most women here wear the hijab, or head-and-neck scarf, in every color and pattern imaginable, along with long sleeves and either an ankle-length skirt or pants under a shorter skirt or long shirt. I do see plenty of abayas, mostly on the metro rather than in expat-ful Ma’adi, and I even see lots of full-on, face-veil-and-gloves getup.

I still think that covering everything except perhaps your face and hands is kind of repressed and silly, and Egyptian culture hasn’t done much to convince me that its women (and men) aren’t repressed. I know it’s nothing compared to some other places (I’m looking at you, Saudi), but still.

A very long and complicated conversation about hegemony (dominant social power structures) in Egypt vs. the U.S. took place in my apartment last night. I had a lot of rum last night and was only a peripheral participant in the conversation, so I can’t really tell you much about the details. I think the upshot was that racial and gender issues seem to be much smaller issues in Egyptian society than they really are because nobody talks about them. Things just are the way they are.

Also, from what I’ve gathered from talking to people, when an Egyptian girl rebels against the hijab or other clothing restrictions, the issue at stake is typically that of wanting to look like a fashionable western girl rather than any sort of well-articulated, philosophical feminism. An Egyptian girl who wants to wear less is usually about as politically minded as an American girl who wants the same thing.

The tricky thing about it is that a lot of women like to think that covering themselves from scalp to ankle will get them more respect than dressing like those cute but slutty western women. It may be slightly true in certain social circles. However, I am quickly developing a theory that, unless you are trying to fit the dress code of a specific group of people, how modestly dressed you are has absolutely nothing to do with how much respect you get. How much respect a woman gets from society depends entirely on two things: how much that society respects women, and how much additional respect the woman demands through her actions.

I am likely to get the same amount of respect in a bikini or in an abaya; the difference is who I’m with. It’s like what Eliza Doolittle says at the end of My Fair Lady. A lady isn’t a lady because of how she speaks, dresses, or pours tea. A lady is a lady because of how she is treated. In conclusion, if Egyptian women decide that they want more respect from men, they’re going to have to do a lot more than wrap scarves around their heads–they’ll have to demand respect through their actions, regardless of the scarves.

This is just another issue that makes me happy I was born in the land of radical feminism, easy-to-get birth control, topless beaches, cougars, a woman’s right to choose (whether to get married or not), and other deadly female sins.

*Note: Not all Egyptian women are repressed. There are women who wear what they like and expect to be treated more or less equal to men, but they are in the minority.

Below: Barbie with hijab.

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