Thursday, April 21, 2011

Inside flowers are nice too...

The same week end as my Red Butte garden and Temple Square picture taking fest:  Salt Lake Orchid Show!
Held inside the Red Butte Orangerie, it was a nice slightly warm and humid switch from my usual outside flower shooting experiences.

The plants were packed in together on tables and to get up close to photograph a bloom required some up on tip toe work, stretching and breath holding.
At one point my blouse brushed a bloom and I was quickly reminded to be very, very careful!

Next time I will wear a tight fitting tank top to the show.
It certainly would be easier; a regular long sleeved shirt was way too warm in there.

Each part of each orchid was fascinating, and then the entire flower was fascinating too.

Yesterday I read an article written in 2002 about laws written against wearing Muslim head scarves and dress.
The author was a traditional Mennonite; in the article was was expressing her empathy for the Muslim women as she had for years worn "cape" dresses and a cap.  She included photos of herself in high school, the only girl so attired back in the 1950s.  She continued to wear her traditional religion mandated outfit until just recently.  No one ever took offense and the garb had not disqualified her from holding offices throughout her academic and professional careers.

The article had been posted on Facebook by a friend of a friend, with no comment.

For some reason I mulled the article all day.

(I especially like this hairy trimmed flower, and took lots of photos of it.)

The thing about wearing religious or organizational mandated clothing styles is that such practices serve to both cause the wear to be identified with their group and to mentally more closely identify themselves with their own "people".

I have not problem with that.  In fact I kind of think it is a good idea. As I thought about posting these orchid pictures I thought how interesting it was that those who study orchid are able to instantly know each kind of orchid by its looks.  The shape of the flower, the color patterns, the size, leaf structure etc etc instantly informs the viewer that not only is this an orchid (as opposed to a rose or a dandelion) but also exactly which kind of orchid is being viewed.

Not being being around orchids much, I tend to just group them casually as the orchids with the cup like bottom thing-ee, and the hairy ones or the one with the big middle that smells really good.

My mind kept dinking around with the empathetic writing of the Mennonite woman, trying to figure out what was niggling me about her take on Muslim women and the ban on their garb.

(The above shot: Not an orchid.  It is one bud of what is called a Bear's Breeches.  It is a pretty common garden plant in So Cal at least, and was part of the permanent flower collection inside the Red Butte Orangerie.  It looks really different up close in bud than it does in full bloom at a distance.)

This, however, is another orchid variety.

Eventually the mulling revealed what was niggling me about the article.

Mennonite outfits, Nun's outfits, Friars brown robes, Hara Krishna orange wraps, Girl Scouts green dresses, Marine uniforms, Hockey uniforms:  All of the people who chose to wear such clothing consider a personal choice.
They choose it for themselves.
They do not mandate it for others.

It doesn't take much reading to grasp the truth about Muslim women's wear:  Islam proscribes that ALL women be so attired in order for the world to be "righteous".
Women who choose to wear the garb can still be beaten or even killed if, as in one case, their sleeve slips back while they write on a chalkboard, and a wrist is revealed.
(Check any Islamic wear will see for sale the tight knitted sleeves that are worn beneath their other sleeves to prevent inadvertent immodesty.)

When I see a Muslim woman wearing a scarf around her hair and jeans and a tee shirt I mentally note that at any time her religious leaders could haul her off the street and beat her, and even kill her.
It happens.

I wonder if she fully understands what she is doing by giving minimal adherence to Islamic law.
How does she feel about the women who are born into Sharia compliant countries who have no choice but to cover all but their hands and a mesh covered opening for their eyes?

Another article popped up on my Face book page, sent by my friend Ellen.
Written by a Jewish man, he had observations about where we as Christian were in terms of caring about the Christians around the globe who are being killed by Muslims.
He pointed out that the current #1 baby name in the UK is Mohammad, and that there is already multiple Sharia courts in that country.

He didn't say it: Before too long there will be more Sharia courts than non-Sharia courts.
When that happens, it will quickly be a situation where there is only Sharia courts.

He suggests that Christians hold rallies to protest the treatment of Christians in Islamic countries.  He also feels that the Jews should attend such rallies, as Christians attended and fought for Jews who were being ill treated in the Soviet Union.
And he suggested that Muslims should likewise attend and state their concern for the well being of Christians.

In the Mennonite woman's writing, there was concern about the right for Muslim women to dress according to their religious preference.

I suppose someone should be concerned about Muslim women having the right to dress in their own fashion.

I just think it is more imperative that Muslim women express their concern that Christians be allowed to live, and worship freely without fear because of the Muslim population.

The right to wear a scarf and a tent like dress verses the right for people to attend church with their children without fearing the loss of their live.

(I am totally smitten by the hidden red dots inside the pouch on this orchid!)

Bottom line:  Anyone can wear what ever they want in public as long as their reproductive organs and anus are covered, in my way of thinking.

As long as the garment meets that criteria, I am fine.
On the other hand...if your garment suggests that I or others may be harmed if not dressed like you, I am totally against what you are wearing.

Simple isn't it?

Tonight we celebrate Maundy Thursday.  I think about how triumphant the disciples must have been feeling as they gathered about to eat the Passover.
They were observant Jews; they wore tassels to constantly remind them of God and their heritage as His Chosen People.
No one feared that the Jews would force any one else to wear the tassels.
No one today should fear a Jew either, for any reason.

And yet...
Over and over I read how the Muslims demand that the Jews must be driven into the sea.
The Saturday people first, then the Sunday people...
(I being a Sunday person, I find this to be a very disturbing thought.)

(Looks like a folk dress doesn't it?)

I don't know why God made so many varieties of flowers.

They grow in specific ecological niches, and encroach on each other usually only when man has interfered.

I think even in Christendom there are niches for varying ways of living out life as a believer.
We vary, and yet pull towards the same goal in the end.

Salvation, and God's Kingdom come.
His will be done.

(I realize this is a bit of a ramble, but sharing it on the blog helps me process my thoughts together via writing.  The two articles I mentioned are copied below.   I hope you enjoyed the flowers...and if you wanted to pass on the "reaction" part of my world, that is fine too.)

Plain Clothes Revisited:

Empathy for Muslim Women

Laura H. Weaver

From:  Mennonite Life, June 2002 (pictures did not copy)

On September 17, 2001, while driving home, I heard an NPR interview with Suha Samhouri, "a typical New York woman in her mid-20s, except for the Hijab that covers her head." The previous week, reporter Rick Karr explained, when she drove to a shopping center, "she failed to recognize two women she'd known for years . . . because they weren't wearing Hijab." Samhouri herself reported, in the interview, "As I was walking towards my car, I just saw the tears roll down my eyes and I couldn't believe it. I was really shocked. . . . Just very unbelievable, someone, you know, having to change their beliefs, their ideas because of one or a group of really terrible people." And as I was driving, I, too, began crying. A week later I read, in a Newsweek article, "In Washington D.C., Muslim women have had hijab scarves snatched from their heads." (1) During September I heard other NPR interviews with young Muslim women in the U.S., for example, Amina Chaudary, a graduate student in public policy at George Washington University. Chaudary, who began wearing the scarf during high school and wore it when she was the captain of the varsity basketball team, said that it has now become "a target-verbal, physical, whatever-stares."

I became angry when I heard of such mistreatment and equally angry during local discussions treating a Muslim woman as an Other. Here in Evansville, Indiana, I attended a book discussion of Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, (2) written by Geraldine Brooks, a Westerner--a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in the Middle East. Throughout most of this book, Brooks describes Western women's dress in positive images and Muslim women's dress (head and body coverings) in negative ones. For example, Brooks complains about a young Muslim woman's getting rid of her Western dress: Sahar "wrapped away" her curls "in a severe blue scarf" and replaced her "shapely dress" with "a dowdy sack. . .[;] she had crumpled her bright wings and folded herself into a dull cocoon" (p. 7). Elsewhere Brooks describes Muslim women's dress as "shapeless" (pp. 22, 63), "figure hiding" (p. 23), and "concealing" (p. 92). These outfits are compared pejoratively to the clothing of nuns, whom the author considers "fossil[s]" (pp. 10, 92), and to death and hell: the chador worn by the author to gain credibility at a press conference is a "black shroud" (p. 289), and the "360-degree black cloaks" worn by Saudi women "made them look, as Guy de Maupassant once wrote, 'like death out for a walk'" (p. 21). On one occasion the author, seeing "the black-cloaked figures" of women, feels as if she had been "locked up by mistake in some kind of convent from hell" (p. 19). In our group discussion of this book, other women, sharing Brooks's bias, asked, "How could they wear those clothes?" Outraged by their question, I wanted to leave the room.

Instinctively I placed myself in the position of Muslim women wearing distinctive clothing, especially as minority people in the U.S., not only when I listened to the radio or participated in a book discussion but also when I saw them in person. When, with other friends, I went to an open house at the local mosque and when I saw the local imam's wife at a civil rights luncheon, I identified more with the Muslim women, whether their heads were fully or partially covered by scarves, than with the other women accompanying me. Recently I recalled another moment perhaps ten years ago when, in a restroom on the University of Evansville campus, I was standing at the washbowl besideaced myself in the position of Muslim women wearing distinctive clothing, especially as minority people in the U.S., not only when I listened to the radio or participated in a book discussion but also when I saw them in person. When, with other friends, I went to an open house at the local mosque and when I saw the local imam's wife at a civil rights luncheon, I identified more with the Muslim women, whether their heads were fully or partially covered by scarves, than with the other women accompanying me. Recently I recalled another moment perhaps ten years ago when, in a restroom on the University of Evansville campus, I was standing at the washbowl beside a Muslim woman wearing the hijab. I felt that I was in her place. In this identification, my intellectual recognition of the apparent oppression signified by prescribed coverings for women's heads and bodies was subordinated to my experiential connection with Muslim women.

Photo 1

Because of the increased attention given to Muslim women's clothing after September 11, I began to revisit my experience with the Mennonite cap (head covering) and plain clothing, worn until I was 31 years old. During the past 19 years my earlier changes in cap/hair/clothing have often constituted the subject matter of my personal-experience essays designed to demonstrate my gradual acculturation. In those essays I never set out to ridicule my cap and plain clothes; I just attempted to show the changes. Photograph #1 illustrates that phase of my writing: my treating the cap and the plain clothes as an artifact, something to be discussed. In that photograph, I am a spectator of my life, as shown by my holding the cap in my hands and by the family photographs in the background--one showing me in my plain clothes and the other, in my non-plain clothes. Now, however, I've begun to see my plain-clothes experiences in a new way.

Instead of concentrating on my acculturation, I'm now interested in looking closely at my "plain" period, especially at the ways in which, despite my different appearance, I was a normal person participating in activities in the dominant society. I sense that my objection to others' seeing Muslim head scarves and other clothing only as an instrument of oppression--as something to ridicule or seek to eradicate--derives from my plain-clothes past. Seeing the scarves and dresses, I recalled my own experiences not as an "other" but as a normal person.

Reminiscing prompted me to locate photographs taken when I was a plain-clothes student at Manor-Millersville High School (now Penn Manor) in Millersville, Pennsylvania, and a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In appearance I had nothing in common with the other students in either place. However, I participated in life at both places; underneath the different hairstyle, the cap, and the plain dress, I was a human being who, in a public high school, shared with others in academic work and extracurricular activities and, in graduate school, again performed the usual academic work and socialized with other students. (3)

Photo 2

Throughout high school I not only went to classes but also engaged in extracurricular activities. And always I wore the cap, even when singing in Glee Club performances within and outside the school and while wearing a gym suit for physical education class. Never did anyone order me or even try to persuade me to take off the cap or to stop wearing the cape dress. Two photos illustrate my differences from other people but also my participation. Photo #2 shows that the high school girls, except for a few other plain-clothes Mennonites, had cut hair and curls, wore skirts and blouses (some with decorative bows), and white socks. However, I wore my hair pulled back in a bun, wore a cap with strings, a cape dress with no decoration, and black shoes and stockings. Clearly, I was different. However, that physical difference did not prohibit me from actively joining in high school life and even in gaining recognition as the editor of the school newspaper, Manor Hi-Lights. As the editor, I was seated in the center of the photo, with 26 other staff members around me.

Photo 3

In the National Honor Society photo (#3) I again looked different. Other girls had cut hair and curls, wore skirts, blouses, scarves. I had long hair in a bun, wore a cap with strings, and wore a cape dress. But I participated sufficiently in high school life to be inducted into the National Honor Society, which emphasized scholarship, leadership, character, and service.

Photo 4

Photo 5

The next two photographs (#4 and #5) were taken on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia during my work on a master's degree. Although, of course, my life there, just as in the public high school, involved academic performance, these particular photographs illustrate that, despite my different appearance, I socialized with other graduate students in English. Again, I am distinguished from other female students by my hair worn in a bun and by my white cap. By this time in my life, the cap was smaller, more hair showed at the neck, and there was less difference between my dress and those worn by other young women. However, I was still different--in fact, the only University of Pennsylvania woman wearing a cap. But just as clearly, I became friends with other graduate students, both women and men. We often studied in the same section of the library, and we socialized outside of classes. Together we went to parties. Although I drank soft drinks when others drank alcohol, I was there--invited with other students.

By the time I taught at Bluffton College and then completed a Ph.D. at the University of Kansas, I no longer wore a cap and cape dress. However, during the previous 31 years of my life (except for periods as a student and a teacher at Eastern Mennonite College and a teacher at Belleville Mennonite High School [Pennsylvania]) I was accustomed to looking different from the people around me: in public grade school; public high school; the workplace (an advertising agency and a law office) during two years between high school and college and in Christmas and summer vacations; and graduate school during my master's degree studies. That difference, revealed in those five photos, became so internalized that, regardless of my agreement or disagreement with the reason for different clothing, I still identify with the persons wearing it. When something negative is said about them, especially women wearing religiously-prescribed clothing, I cringe--as if it were said about me. (4)

My witnessing the discrimination against Muslim women's head coverings and other clothing has profoundly affected me, without, however, leading me to romanticize either conservative Mennonite or Muslim women's experiences. Focusing less on my acculturation, now I am revisiting my experience with plain clothes, recapturing my engagement as a minority person in the dominant society. I remember that plain Laura was a normal human being who shared in academic life and socialized with others. The other effect is that I see Muslim women not as targets for our scorn or our attempted re-training but as participating human beings. My shared experience of having worn a distinctive head covering and dress has generated cross-cultural empathy. Other proof of an emerging appreciation for Muslim women's clothing appears at the end of Nine Parts of Desire, where even Brooks, after having consistently denigrated Muslim women's clothing, describes her changed response to the chador she wore to do her job:

When I look at that chador I no longer get the little shudder of fear or the gust of outrage that I used to feel when I saw the most extreme forms of Islamic dress. These days my feelings are much more complex. Chadors are linked in my mind to women I've felt close to, in spite of the abyss of belief that divided us. (5)

Facing fewer obstacles than did Brooks, I developed cross-cultural empathy much more easily. Not only "women I've felt close to" but also I myself have worn religiously-prescribed clothing. Living as plain Laura for 31 years prepared me to enter into the experiences of the Other--especially Muslim women in the U. S.


1. Lynette Clemetson and Keith Naughton, "Patriotism vs. Ethnic Pride: An American Dilemma," Newsweek, 24 Sept 2001, p. 69.

2. Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women (New York: Random House, 1995).

3. Admittedly, I had more freedom than do Muslim women in some countries. In this essay I am describing the similarity between my experience as a conservative Mennonite minority woman and that of a Muslim minority woman in the U. S.

4. Despite my decision not to wear plain clothing and despite my disagreement with doctrinal justifications for this practice, I would probably react similarly to harsh criticism of a plain-clothes Mennonite woman who is a minority in a given situation. Although I do not identify with groups of such Mennonite women, I identify with a single minority figure.

5. Brooks, 234.

The second article is available to read HERE.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

Wow. So much to think about this morning. I have errands to run shortly, so I'll come back to read the second article. I'm not quite sure where I stand on the debate of the hijab. There has been a lot of controversy since "9/11" regarding requiring Muslim women to remove their covering for ID photos, such as driver's licenses, because "it could be anyone beneath that hijab!" Of that, I agree, but my respect for their beliefs and traditions gives me pause, too. Unless every ID contained other means of identification (fingerprint, DNA, whatever), a photo ID must contain a face to be considered a valid ID. Anyway, my thoughts ramble on and on and in many circles.

I have always admired orchids for their elegant beauty, but I've never been brave enough to try growing them. Here in FL, you find them hanging from branches of trees throughout most of the year. They like the shade, warmth, and humidity. Very nice photos, Jill. Lots of food for thought.