Monthly Archives: July 2010

Fashion Friday

Doubling up the dress means you’re not fighting to keep your tank down and your slip down. The under-dress, being sleeveless, makes it far more comfortable when underneath a jersey dress.

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As an Orthodox Christian woman there is no specific requirement on coverage. Within my parish (local custom can vary widely by parish, country, and Tradition) there is no absolute requirement that women cover their heads during a church service, unless they are reading during the service. So what’s up with me? A woman who refuses to leave the house without her hair covered?

While covering my head isn’t a requirement, it is a known and common practice within the churches following the Russian Tradition.  In more ethnic churches than my convert heavy one, you may find head covering a requirement for women. Some parishes may also require that men and women stand on different sides of the church. The important point here is that during church services like the Liturgy, women covering their heads is a common site. So is seeing women without anything on their heads.

Within the Orthodox Tradition there is also an understanding of Personal Piety. While there is always a general rule, there is always pastoral discretion. It’s the whole, let the weak man eat nothing but vegetables and the strong man eat whatever he likes, thing (Romans 14:2). Personal piety recognises that people practice and live their faith differently. Some may have more strict fasting and prayer rules than others. The bottom line is ask your priest. This is true for a good many things within the Church. You could file my modesty standards under personal piety, though it doesn’t fully explain everything.

So if I’m not required to cover more than the rest of the world what on earth am I doing? Is it because I hate my body? Common question. Short answer: Absolutely not! Do I have purple hair? Never dyed it. I don’t dislike my body and I don’t hate my hair. But it is all mine. Not a single person has any right to any part of me. For that matter they don’t have any right to see any part of me either.

While covering my head started out as a way to remember the presence of the Almighty, it has also come to be a silent protest. It is a silent protest against the claim that confident women display much, or most of their bodies. It is my way of disagreeing with the idea that because I cover myself, I am no longer liberated; I am practicing self-oppression.

Many thanks to Laura who comment on the About the Blog page and said,

I know women raised Christian who became Muslims and chose to veil, or, of course, Amish women. But a sassy facially pierced Canadian who chooses to cover as a Christian is *very* interesting. Could you please write a post about that?

Well Laura, I hope this answers a question or two. I’ll be doing a post on why I don’t think piercings are an issue and what my husband thinks about my particular eccentricities soon.

This week has been a bit crazy. I’ll have a post up by Wednesday.

Modesty and Feminism

I was reading the Globe and Mail on my way to work and came across this article about the resurgence of aprons as fashionable items. While this doesn’t have anything to do with modesty directly, it does discuss femininity and gender-roles related to one small item of clothing. It isn’t even a clothing item. It’s an accessory.

When discussing modesty in the modern world it is nearly impossible to avoid discussing feminism briefly. Many argue that modesty is the very opposite of liberation; it is anti-feminist. Modesty is thought to be a denial of your true self. In a culture where individuality is the supreme value, a denial of any part of your identity is declared anathema. (We’ll leave the “Modesty is a realisation of self and not a denial of self,” argument for another time.)

So the question is: Can an apron be just an apron?

The one quote that is truly irritating comes from Shira Tarran, a blogger for Ms. Magazine:

“These aprons are reinforcing ideas that domestic labour like cooking is women’s work and there’s nothing ironic or progressive about unpaid work, even if we want to wrap it up in a pretty decoration”

Dear Ms Tarran, no one said my husband couldn’t wear my cherry print apron in the kitchen. He may want to protect his clothes while making his fantastic grilled-cheese sandwiches.

The view-point that I think younger women tend to identify with suggests, “the apron doesn’t define the way it used to.”

Like other apronistas, she argues that the unforgiving work schedules that have threatened domestic life to near extinction today have conversely made the apron a symbol of respite – at least for some women.

My mom was born in 1950. I was born in the early 80s. In terms of personality we are the same woman born more than 30 years apart. Our conservatism and liberalism make us aliens to each other. For as long as I can remember, my mother has identified as a feminist. For most of my life I thought the feminists were all a bunch of old, crazy women who were out of touch with the modern reality. My mother and I illustrate the gap in 2nd and 3rd wave feminist thought.

I teach knitting classes. It is interesting how many women, who fall into the same generation as the second wave feminism, are picking up knitting needles as a hobby for pure enjoyment. Many women of this generation didn’t learn in their younger years because such a domestic art was a symbol of  enforced domesticity. Bowing to the patriarchy of old would elicit scorn from your enlightened and liberated peers.

Women of my generation ( approximately 30 and younger) haven’t had the same ideas to fight against. We have always assumed that we are the equal of men and, therefore, deserving of all rights and privileges that a man enjoys. We understand that we have the right to a career if we want it. Being a stay at home parent is a choice. Domestic arts could simply exist as a creative hobby.

Maybe that’s it, It isn’t a feminism issue as much as it is a generational issue. Younger women see vintage fashions and see the glamour and ideals of by-gone days. Women who lived through the early years of the 20th century have a different point of reference. An apron brings up all the memories of the fights they thought they’d won. The idea that younger women would throw all the previous generation’s efforts out the window and don symbols of feminine servitude is a disrespect at the most basic level. To our predecessors it is, to a far lesser extent, like winning one of the wars to preserve democracy and then turning around and running into the arms of the fascists or communists. The generational gap is really at the heart of the issue.

I don’t much care for militant feminism. I recognise equality in the human race. Equality is not defined as sameness. To me it really is just an apron. It represents nothing more than a fashion statement.

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Fashion Friday

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If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It!

I was reading the Modestly Yours blog the other day and came across an interesting post. The post is entitled “A Quick Note on Miley . . .” Check out the original post for the comments.

The original post follows

This article appeared after Miley Cyrus came under fire for her choice of clothing on her latest album cover.

When answering the accusations levelled at her, Ms. Cyrus responded with the following words:

“I’m really comfortable with my body…”

Yes, again. Funny how “being comfortable” with your body always means showing it off.

“If you’ve got, it flaunt it,” is a hot button issue with me. I find this is one of the issues that comes up in conversation time and again. I do not cover myself because I am ashamed of my body. I cover it up because it’s fantastic and no one has any right to see it. It’s perhaps a rather pompous statement but, none the less, is exactly how I feel.

I too was a teenager once in my life. I didn’t see the point in modesty. I wasn’t running around in nothing but I was sporting the tank-and-bra-strap look very frequently. I was ok with jeans with large contrasting patches on my back-side. Baby-Ts were in and I was happy with that. Around grade 11 or 12 something slowly took root. I had read A Return to Modesty, by Wendy Shalit, in the summer between grade 11 and 12 which probably made me a little bit more conscious of many of my behaviours.

I was a teeny little girl who was a bit top-heavy. During the same summer I read Shalit’s book, I had gone on a trip and had spent a good deal of time with a guy friend who would point out all the boys/men looking at me and doing double-takes. It appears I had been fairly oblivious to how much ogling was going on.

I don’t really know when the switch finally flipped. At one point I took off the patches from the jeans. By the time I was 19, finished my first stint in post secondary, and living on my own, I had decided that more coverage was ok. Perhaps it was preferable.

When I got married I wore a back-less dress, though the front showed no cleavage (at least it didn’t all hang out). I still, more or less, followed the common mode of dress. But, within 2 years I had sworn off pants. A year and a half after that, my hair was undercover for good.

So what does this all have to do with Miley? I think it’s possible that she’ll grow out of it. I think this can be the unfortunate part of the process we all go through to, “find ourselves.” I wasn’t raised in a home where modesty was a constant point of discussion, it barely registered. So here is hoping that Miley figures out that she is worth the self-respect a pair of sleeves and coverage to the knees can bring.\

You can also read “Why Miley Cyrus is stripping down as she grows up,”  written, incidentally, by Wendy Shalit.

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“You Can’t Wear That Here Babushka.”

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One of my 5 jobs this summer (don’t worry they don’t all happen at once) is working summer relief at a large doctor’s office. It’s a great place to work. There are five GPs, each with their own assistant and one receptionist. Everyone is friendly and the prevailing sense of humour is dry and sarcastic. These are my kind of people.

I will be working closely with Dr. W while his assistant is away. At the end of my first day of training with Dr. W’s regular assistant, KN, we went in for a chat with Dr. W.  He’s something of a character. After a few exchanges of witty banter between KN and Dr. W, Dr. W turns to me and in a funny accent says something akin to, “You know you can’t wear that here, eh Babuska?” Now, don’t misunderstand, (it’s very difficult to convey the subtle nuances of a dry sense of humour though the medium) Dr. W wasn’t really suggesting that I not be allowed to wear my headscarf to work. He was just yanking my proverbial chain. But this brings up good topic for discussion: What if he were serious?

I have had my share of encounters. Mostly when I first decided to cover all the time and I was working the same job that I had been working before I started to cover. I was working in the accounting department of a medium-sized corporation. We were a rowdy bunch of well fed bookkeepers and accountants. (Really, we don’t all look at our shoes and scuttle out of eye sight the second we see someone else. We just let you think that’s what we do. That way we can get some work done if you don’t think we’re fun to hang out with.) As with many jobs we did have one person who always knew what was going on, or at least wanted to know, X. X was great to go to if you wanted to know what was going on in the company, official or otherwise. X also felt entitled to know why I covered my hair.

X was not a manager, nor a supervisor of mine. When I first decided to cover, I went off to VV boutique (I’ve also heard it called Value Village)  and grabbed a couple scarves. I had a couple berets at home and decided to purchase a great black, felt cloche. I was pretty set. I decided to try the oh-so-glamorous cloche for work first. The president happened to walk by and make a favourable comment.

I quickly determined that a cloche, while oh-so-glamorous, wasn’t terribly appropriate office attire. I felt it was rude to have a brim blocking my face. I’m nearly average height for a woman so most people would be looking down onto a brim, not able to even make out my nose. Berets became the thing.  They were quick and I was still clumsy with a scarf. Here is where X once again enters the picture. I had been wearing my hair covered to work for a few weeks when I had to run some papers to X.

(The following conversation is paraphrased and not a direct quotation.)

“Why are you wearing that? You know you’re not allowed to wear that. They can ask you to take it off,” X besieged me with questions.

“The president saw me wearing a hat the other day and said he liked it,” I was so confused and surprised I could barely sputter a complete sentence.

“Well, why are you wearing that anyway?” X continued trying a few more ways of asking the same question.

I ended up telling X, that if Manager or President asked, I would have a conversation with them  to explain my reasonings. There were a few more sentences exchanged where X demanded and I skirted the questions. It ended with X in a huff. I assume it is because for once, X didn’t have all the information desired.

A conversation (or interrogation) such as the above can be very disconcerting. This is  particularly true when someone is demanding and impolite. The particular incident with X is by far the worst and most uncomfortable that I’ve had, and it wasn’t that bad.

Since the accounting job with X, I have had a job interview, networking events, and a few jobs. My hair covering hasn’t really hindered me. One interview I did have where I wore a beret with my bangs out (some girls have booby cleavage, I have hair cleavage) I didn’t get the job. I don’t believe the hair covering, although potentially confusing, had anything to do with me not getting the job. It is far more likely that the determining factors were my awkward manner and the several double thumbs-up which were invariably accompanied by a goofball, open-mouthed grin.

A year and a half after the most awkward interview of my life, I had the best. I was applying for a CA articling position in Winnipeg. I ended up meeting up with my interviewer in Vancouver. I let him know he could spot me by the grey headscarf (I’d finally worked the headscarf issues out). I was easy to spot, dressed in a grey blazer and charcoal skirt that reached the middle of my calves. As previously stated, it was the best interview of all time because nothing was said about my head-scarf, nor were there any awkward stares. The interviewer and I got along famously. Very little of the job or my qualifications were discussed (though of course they were slid in there somewhere.) it was simply a 45 minute conversation with a man who could give me a job. The interview ended with us setting a new contact date and Interviewer saying, “You are not the stereotypical accountant, you’d fit in really well with us. We have someone moving on after tax season likely. We should keep in contact.” My mode of dress had nothing to do with whether I was stereo-typical or not. I am generally perceived as bubbly and outgoing. I’m not quiet and no one sees the introverted tendencies during an interview. In a field where people feel they can retreat into an office (so not the case) having someone who is articulate and comfortable in different situations is a great benefit. Saying I wasn’t stero-typical was a great compliment. In the end, I decided not to pursue a job in the city not-so-affectionately refered to as Winterpeg, ManiSnowba.

My personal thoughts  and recommendations on the touchy subject:

I prefer to wear something, to interviews, that is easily recognisable as a modesty covering.

For me this means a head-scarf and hiding my bangs. My scarf is wrapped in a way that most closely resembles Spanish Hijab. While this isn’t the way I may cover at work all the time, it is fairly obvious to people when you first meet them that this isn’t a bad-hair day nor is it laziness on your part. I will also take out the lip and tongue rings. This can get very confusing for people when they see someone donning modesty attire while sporting facial piercings

The employers (or other employees) are typically more afraid to mention your head-covering than you are of them asking.

In Canada the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the freedom of religion. These days, in this part of the country at least, to be insensitive to rights covered  in the Charter is now as bad as segregation or enforcing a glass ceiling. No sane interviewer is going to ask you why you’re wearing a headscarf. They will make an assumption. You need to help them make the right one.

We think people are looking at our head-coverings or high-necked tops more than they are. Employers and colleagues, in most parts of the country, are particularly careful about asking a question that would make you feel like your Chart Rights are being infringed upon. They presumably value their job and being named a defendant in a human rights trial is something of a career killer.

The hardest time or way to transition from uncovered to covered is at the same job, and without warning.

If you don’t chat with people at work and slip in a hint or two about your decision to cover your head, they will likely be more inquisitive. If you feel like you need to have a conversation with someone, make it your direct supervisor, if possible. Keep it brief. A simple, “As a matter of modesty I will start covering my hair in public,” should be ample.  If you wanted to be more specific you could say, “As a matter of modesty and religious observance I will be covering my hair in public.” Neither of these explanations state you will be covering, “at work,” but rather, “in public.” This is an important distinction. The former emphasises a work-appropriate dress decision and latter a life decision. An employer could argue that if you were just covering at work, then the head-covering could fall under the dress code and you could legally be asked to remove it. You want to avoid that awkward situation. Be specific and be brief.

If you’ve talked to your supervisor prior to showing up with your head covered you’ll have an ally. If someone asks you a question and you don’t want to answer you can tell them you discussed it with your supervisor. That should be the end of that.

Resistance is not futile.

Look for a future post when it comes to school and religious observances entitled: Do you want a note from my priest?

Generally, if you’ve briefly explained your mode of dress you shouldn’t have a problem. If you do your first stop should be your supervisor or manager. Don’t jump the latter. You want to be sane and rational. The worst thing for you is to look like your going on a rampage or you’ve got a vendetta. Before you go to your supervisor or manager check your employee handbook. If they have a policy for grievances use that. If you are in a unionised environment, contact a union rep to ask about the appropriate process. If you don’t have a handbook, or the handbook doesn’t have a grievance procedure, or you aren’t in a union keep reading.

Please be aware that beyond my personal working experience and business degree I am not an expert in the law. This advice does not take the place of legal counsel and I will not be held responsible for any problems arising if you act on my advice. I think it’s good advice, but I can’t know the specifics of your situation. In school, they teach us to cover our behinds, and now that I’ve done it, let’s continue.

Remember that if someone was joking, and you feel uncomfortable, it’s ok to lodge a complaint. Just because they thought they were being good-natured about it, doesn’t mean you need to keep quiet. In this kind of situation, a resolution is usually quickly and amicably reached.

If your issue is with your supervisor or manager or they wont do anything about it, you’ll need to find a third-party. If your company has an HR person or Ombudsmen these are great options. HR employees are typically more trained to handle sensitive situations. Ombudsmen are the professionally unbiased. They look for the best solution for all involved. Contacting HR or the ombudsmen is my personal preference to talking to your supervisor’s superior, particularly, if no prior relationship between the two of you exists. If, however, you are known to and comfortable with your supervisor’s superior, do contact them.

In cases such as these, a face-to-face sit down with your 3rd party is going to be the most appropriate. It may terrify you but it clearly demonstrates the importance of the issue. Send an email, or stop by and make an appointment for a quick meeting. Simply ask for a meeting to discuss an employee issue. You can also say that you want to discuss the matter personally rather than through other means. This will allow for you to be vague without your 3rd party being blind-sided. Setting up a meeting means your will have a time where you won’t be interrupted. If 3rd Party knows the meeting is about something sensitive, they are more likely to get to it sooner. Hit that “urgent” option on your email if you need. Again, don’t be scared. It doesn’t do your employer any good to have one employee violating the rights of another. It’s bad for business. They will want to deal with it quickly.

During this meeting, take your time. It’s okay to be nervous. Remember, you’re uncomfortable and you have indicated that already. A reasonable person will let you fumble for your words a bit without being outwardly frustrated. You can jot down a couple of talking points in your notebook to help you keep on track. (I have ADD and do this as a daily coping strategy. People think I’m being hyper-diligent. I’ve never had anyone make me feel bad about it.) Make sure you have two or three separate instances where the individual(s) in question have been inappropriate. This helps your 3rd Party see that there is a pattern and not an isolated incident. When talking, avoid personal or emotionally weighty language. Again, be specific and to the point.

Not: “So-and-So is always attacking me. They’re rude and vindictive…”

Try: “So-and-So has made unprofessional comments about my religious beliefs. A few of the comments they have made are: [Try to get three that you can remember well. If you have difficulty remembering this won’t be much help.] I feel the comments made by So-and-So are unprofessional and make me extremely uncomfortable.”

If you’ve taken any measures to deal with the problem before coming to visit 3rd Party, briefly explain them. Now is the time to suggest a reasonable solution if you have one. It could be as simple as you wanting So-and-So notified that their behaviour is inappropriate. If you want your privacy protected (sometimes this won’t be possible, so be prepared) make sure you state it. The obvious may be just that, but it never hurts to point it out. Do not ask for So-and-So to be fired. This may come to pass, but this can seem like you’re going for the jugular.

Be prepared for the need to check in a couple of times with 3rd Party. Except for in extreme cases, employment law dictates that employees be warned, and given the time and tools to correct their actions. This may be a process. It will be difficult for you to give them the benefit of the doubt, but do try. You can make an appointment with 3rd Party for your next check in. Again, no fear.

If you try talking to 3rd Party and still nothing is getting done, try Superior 3rd Party. Go up the chain, making sure you give appropriate length of time for action to be taken. A month is probably enough, but use good judgement here.  If all company avenues prove fruitless you may need to take a bigger step.

As I’ve said before, it is likely that it will be handled to your satisfaction within the company. The next step is a big one. It’s time to contact the Canadian Human Rights commission (or your country’s equivalent.  Below is an excerpt from the CHRC website:

Resolving Disputes

The Canadian Human Rights Commission provides dispute resolution services in cases of alleged discrimination by federally regulated organizations, including employers, unions and service providers. Allegations of discrimination are screened to ensure they fall within the Commission’s jurisdiction, and inquirers may be referred to other redress mechanisms, such as a grievance process. If the dispute falls within the Commission’s jurisdiction, the parties are offered services to assist them in resolving the matter without filing a complaint. If the matter cannot be resolved and the inquirer wishes to file a complaint, the case may be assigned to a mediator or an investigator. Ultimately, the Commission may ask that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hear the case. Throughout the process, the parties are encouraged to look for solutions by participating in alternative dispute resolution.

While the subject of today’s post is serious, don’t look at any of this as a barrier. I’ve been covering for 3+ years. I have a driver’s licence with my hair covered, and soon my passport will be too. For 98% of all occasions, you will be respected without question. Be Brave. Covering your head is only scary for the first little bit. Wearing shoes or a long-sleeved skirt isn’t scary. Eventually your head-covering will fall into the same category.

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Yes, I’m a Prude

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It is always meant as an insult or at least a light-hearted baiting: “You’re such a prude.” Well, yes I am.

How do we embrace our modest inclinations when all around us it isn’t cool or even normal to be a prude? Besides growing a thicker skin or simply learning to stick to our guns is there anything we can do? I’m an optomist. I say yes.

What is a prude?

Prude: One who is excessively concerned with being or appearing to be proper, modest, or righteous. It also go on to give us some history.

Being called a prude is rarely considered a compliment, but if we dig into the history of the word prude, we find that it has a noble past. The change for the worse took place in French. French prude first had a good sense, “wise woman,” but apparently a woman could be too wise or, in the eyes of some, too observant of decorum and propriety. Thus prude took on the sense in French that was brought into English along with the word, first recorded in 1704. The French word prude was a shortened form of prude femme (earlier in Old French prode femme ), a word modeled on earlier preudomme, “a man of experience and integrity.”

Why is it bad to be a prude?

It seems that if you are called a prude you are accused of being self-righteous or prime and proper. They somehow forgot the modest part. Modesty today is something strange and misunderstood. No one likes one who has an inflated sense of self-worth. We’ve all come across the guy who can’t stop telling you about what big “deals” he’s working on and how great his new Mercedes is. But modesty isn’t an inflated ego, it is a quiet understanding of your own value.

It’s all about education

If you decided that being more covered than the crowd is where you’re headed, you’ll need to prepare yourself to be constantly educating people. This is particularly the case if you are easily identified as in the case of head covering. The idea that is most difficult to get across is that you are not ashamed of your body. Most of the West considers baring skin to be the clearest signal of confidence. It is, therefore, very confusing to hear the opposite. The best way to deal with any questions regarding your modesty, if you feel like you want to be an advocate/activist, is to be blunt, honest and unapologetic.

It is my experience that it is common to be asked why you don’t show your beautiful hair, etc. The best response is that it is your hair, and your business. (put your own spin on it) If you are so inclined you can use my favourite line (which I only use around the girls), “I look really good naked but you don’t see me running around without my clothes on.” You will learn your own mantra. It will evolve.

And what about behaviour?

You may find there are certain things that make you uncomfortable: discussing female specific issues in mixed company, listening to the sexual exploits of your friend while in mixed company and your husband is present (some girls have no tact) and unrelated men feeling like they can invade your personal space. You might not particularly like having one on one time with male friends. For one, they’re boys. They like and do boy things. I don’t. You might not  like the idea of bonding with a man who isn’t your husband.  There are many things that haven’t been mentioned that can make you feel uncomfortable. As a prude, you confidently declare your boundries. Eventually people get used to the idea and they develop a kind of  respect.

What does it mean to be a prude today?

It means you are concerned with appearing proper, modest, and righteous: acting in an upright, moral way; virtuous. It means you adopt the historical meaning of the word prude to be its current definition. You see prude as a synonym for wise.

Or perhaps you’re not a prude but prudent: wise or judicious in practical affairs; sagacious; discreet or circumspect; sober.

You are not self-righteous: confident of one’s own righteousness, esp. when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.

And me?

Many people now know that they are to wait for an invitation to hug me, men need not apply. I do have a male friend or two but I am simply more comfortable meeting them in a public setting and prefer that it not just be the two of us if it can be helped.

I aspire to be prudent. I claim the label of prude for myself with pride. I have chosen my prudish path for myself. I am not ashamed to tell people that I am a prude.  I am happy to be different.

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Fashion Friday

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Another Day at the Office

Ok, so my head covering seems to be most of what I’ve been talking about recently but it is the most obvious thing about me to the casual observer.

Dr Y, one of the other drs at the office said to me, “You know, I keep thinking I just want to know what your hair looks like.”
“…Like hair,” I shrug.
“I keep telling my daughter, whose 13, that its more intriguing when your more covered up. But she’s 13. This really proves the point though.”

How nice is that?! This is one of the drs that I don’t work with that much. She stopped me to make a positive comment about my mode of dress (I just can’t think of a better term/word). It was really nice to have someone who follows the prevailing styles of the day reaffirm the idea that coverage is a wonderful thing. She may not cover-up to the extreme that I do, nor expect that of her daughter, but perhaps that makes it even better.

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