I have had debates about this with liberals. But particularly for those who do not speak the language, facial expressions convey meaning and indicate good will and friendship. I was so used to greeting everyone I passed around the lake with a smile and a hello that in this context the isolation of this woman glared. For all their Simone de Bevoir-inspired academic talk and analysis about the “gaze,” feminists cannot see this blatant disregard for the connection of the woman, particularly the woman who cannot speak the language, with the outside world. Not even able to feel the sun on her skin, the woman was cut off from the human community, encased in a shroud. I had visions of old footage of women from the Soviet Union in head scarves, shoveling the streets, pushing wheelbarrows.
I looked at her children: the boy who wore the clothes that gave him freedom of movement and allowed him to blend in with other children. But there was the girl, already being trained by the scarf for a reclusive life of subservience. I saw myself in the little girl, saw myself, the immigrant daughter of Slovenian parents who felt that the value of a daughter was in her service and that an education beyond eighth grade was a waste.
But I grew up in a culture that in the 1960s and 1970s did not adopt my parents’ ways. Rather, I and my Eastern European friends adapted to American ways. We adapted the fashions, the manners, and the attitudes.
A field trip to a public library, in Rochester, New York, opened a new world for me. With my precious yellow library card I took home books from a mote-filled library (now long closed after the riots). Once the books were in my room I could steal moments from my chores and before bedtime. I was drawn to a series of books bound in pink about a family of Victorian girls.
And that was my introduction to the culture of the West, specifically its wonderful patriarchal and chivalrous culture, borne of Christianity.
I don’t remember the titles or the author of the pink-bound books, but I do remember reading about a family of girls who were treasured by their father. These books exposed me to a culture that cherished, protected, and respected women--and that contrasted to the ways of my peasant parents. After reading the books I began to see that daughters of Americans were not treated like servants and sequestered in their homes. I began to think about putting myself through college and started a fund from cleaning houses and babysitting for neighbors. Books became my refuge and I began to reject some of the ways of my parents.
This process is called assimilation and at one time it was the expected course of events. For me, it represented freedom.
But as I remember the little girl in her head scarf in 2007 I see no such future for her. Indeed it is becoming more common to see college women wearing the traditional scarves, sometimes with blue jeans. Those who call themselves “progressive” would keep her in her head scarf, veil, and long gown. They defend her “choice” of wearing the garb of her mother. In fact, fashion shows and magazine spreads assimilate this fashion. A recent one in Marie Claire promoted such attire as adapted by designers. The hijab is chic.
And the women who escape from this culture and dare to speak up about it like the Somali refugee, and former member of the Dutch parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, are attacked by those like Newsweek’s Arab-American writer, Lorraine Ali. Conversely, one need only pick up any feminist tract to see de rigor attributions of patriarchal oppression to Christianity. Even literary criticism, as I learned in graduate school, propounds anti-Western vitriol.
Given the messages of “coexistence,” and the dogma of multiculturalism that pervades our educational system, the little girl in the scarf will have nowhere to turn for an alternative to her seventh-century culture. She will not be exposed in a favorable way to the ideals of the West in the literature she reads, whether it be in her textbooks or library books. Her teachers will be so timid about defending the West that they will not be able to explicitly state that some practices of her culture, such as genital mutilation, are wrong. College freshmen are already indoctrinated.
Little do the multiculturalists care about the little girl who will become like her mother, walking in a prison of black cloth, isolated, without identity, not even able to feel the sun. But they are the same ones, the ones who so detest their own culture, that they are blind to the barbarism in our midst. It may be too late for the woman swathed in black, but we need to reach her daughter. This essay was originally published in The American Spectator on April 24, 2007.