Hopefully I have some fans who are Harry Potter fans. That will make the title make some sense.😉
For those not in the know, the Invisibility Cloak in Harry Potter is a cloak Harry receives for Christmas. As you can probably guess, it grants the wearer Invisibility so he can carry out his adventures in secret. And I can’t help but conjure this image when people talk about religious head coverings for women.
Religious head coverings aren’t always a choice and the practice has a number of sexist origins and connotations. Yet what of those women who identify as feminist and claim that their covering is a choice? I could put all kinds of feminist spin on that, or use the “I choose my choice” copout, but I won’t be doing that. Rather, I would like to explore a theory…religious covering as Invisibility Cloak.
Women everywhere trying to make it in patriarchy have coping mechanisms or perceived escape routes. The avenues explored by individual women depend on the circumstances she finds herself in. For too many young lesbians trying to dodge sexism and lesbophobia, their escape is transition. It’s their way to be seen as powerful, shape their destiny, and simultaneously, to be invisible to men and remove the bull’s eye women are marked with. For religious feminists with the ability to choose, and who aren’t fron overly Orthodox backgrounds, head coverings can fulfill the same function.
The exact meaning of head coverings varies depending on the faith in question. In the Catholic faith specifically, it mimics bridal imagery with woman, the Church, being the bride of Christ. It also is a statement of the special sacredness of women. Smoke obscures God’s face. The tabernacle and monstrance are veiled to conceal the living body and blood of Christ. All sacred, mysterious things are veiled, and that includes women in imitation of the Blessed Virgin.
What greater desire can a woman have at times than to be sacred, mysterious, and invisible? The head covering is an acceptable, culture-bound way to hide. Hide from people’s judgments over how her hair should look. From people’s assumption that if she doesn’t take care of her hair the way she “should,” she must be lazy or depressed. If she is veiled, she and her body can be secret and her body can truly be hers, not to be touched, looked at, admired or speculated on. If people are going to take, maybe it won’t be about my weight, my breasts, my makeup or lack thereof. Maybe they will be (and they often are) So preoccupied with the curiosity of the veil they won’t comment on anything else. Maybe the men will, for once, stay away.
It is an accessible, culture bound way to imitate women in her circle who have some kind of power, for whom men hold so much respect that they bow before her. Just as little girls might dress up as She-Ra or Wonder Woman or Hermione, what little girl in the Catholic subculture doesn’t want to be Mary, Queen of Heaven, have men serve her, and crush the serpent (patriarchy?) beneath her feet?
Of course there is no real escape for women in patriarchy. Just as women risk harassment and violence for being feminine, exposed, or sexy, just as other women face harassment and violence for being butch and not serving men visually…veiled women have a burden to bear. They are viewed as submissive, religious, sometimes controlling men want to marry them. They are asked why they wear the veil, since they’re so beautiful. They face the same risk of rape and assault as anyone else coded “woman.” Veiling for too many women isn’t a choice but a requirement, and if you flout that requirement you are a harlot. Assumptions are made about the lack of sexual appeal or desire of veiled women. In the end, all women are visible, marked, for their own reasons.
Veiling is just another way some women try to be a little less obvious. And another way in which men, as a class, ruin stuff.