Monthly Archives: August 2010

Summer Vacation

I am on vacation this coming week so my Monday post may get lost in the bliss of not having any responsibilities, sleeping in and running around the Lower Mainland sampling many diverse cuisines.

Enjoying summer’s last hurrah,
Canadian Undercover.


Cultural Modesty Standards

This entry is from the Live Journal community Modest Style and is reprinted with permission from the LJ user “hotcoffeems.” (Thanks again!)

This entry and the comments were facinating. This was one of those modesty issues that had never occured to me. What if I went somewhere in the world and my way of dressing was the same as a group with an opposing political or religious view to my own? Would I change?

Minimal editing has been done for context. Comments do not have usernames attached as their permission was not saught.

The entry was entitled: Changing Styles of Modest Dress

I’ve been hijabi for a while now, here in the US, from religious conviction.I just returned from a three-week trip to Algeria. While there, I got engaged. My fiance is a Kabyle.

Of note: In Algeria, there is a fairly sharp distinction culturally between those of Arab and those of Kabyle descent, particularly with people who are tribally identified as Kabyle (as Billal is). This extends to manner of dress. Women of more Arab tradition are the ones who wear hijab as we know it here; Kabyle women almost never cover their heads, although some older women wear a kerchief that leaves the neck exposed. Some of them actually wear quite-fabulous traditional Kabyle clothing; it was nice to touch down at Houari Boumediene Airport and see this, I was going, “OMG! Lookit the clothes! How cool!”

Actually there’s a wide spectrum of dress style in Algerie, from Western, often-revealing clothing, to full niqab. This in a country where 98% of the population is Muslim.

But: Wearing the hijabi style I’ve become accustomed to in the US in Algerie marks one as of the more conservative Arab tradition. Hanging around my fiance and his family and friends, it would have been inappropriate for me to do this, so I didn’t, only covering my head for prayer. I did continue to dress modestly, just not with full headscarf. Especially with older members of his family, it felt like a matter of respect, given the sometimes really contentious rift between Kabyle and Arab (of note: my fiance is a veteran of Algerie’s Civil War; he has strong feelings against the conservative “arabiste” style of Islam, for good reason.)

I have found that basically when we marry, I will be considered also tribally Kabyle. And the likelihood, right now, is inchallah I will be moving there, not him moving here.

So the thing is, I’ve had to kind of recalibrate my notions of hijab with certain cultural mores, because it’s a cultural identity issue. Given the amount of thought I’m putting into this, it’s not a matter of “hijab on, hijab off” fashion or convenience. It’s interesting though, because I *am* having to rethink my expectations.

Has anyone else had to adjust and adapt their modest dress conventions for cultural or identity reasons? Did you have difficulty doing so, or reconciling it with your religious beliefs? I don’t feel I’m compromising my religious beliefs, especially as my fiance and his family are just as good Muslims as anyone else, but it’s a rather jarring adaptation to make, mentally. But still, it has become part of my self-identity living in the US as a Muslimah, so it’s giving me a lot of food for thought.

I’ll share  my own thoughts in Part 2 next week.

Some comments on the entry:

These have been removed. It was pointed out that I only asked the poster of the original entry and not the posters of the comments. I appologise if I violated anyone’s sense of privacy or security. It will not happen again.

    You’re thoughts?

Please be Quiet

Last week I went to dinner with sister-in-law, SIL1, KL, a lady I’ve known for several years and KL’s current man-friend.

I was “hangry” beyond sanity, so a little extra sensitive, snappy and sarcastic. I have to try to avoid being snide all too frequently, if I’m “hangry“, the filter goes out the window. So KL touches on a topic that I would think she knows is off-limits for me. Keep in mind if a slow-moving animal crossed my path I might have tried to take a bite out it.

“No-no topic.” says KL.“Can we not talked about this in mixed company please!?!?!” I aggressively snapped.

“Umm..ok…” snickering commences. And continues.

“I’m sorry are you done or should I leave?” Trust me, this wasn’t said with any less volume or force than the last sentence out of my mouth.

Tad more snickering.

Ok, I could have been kinder, even if I warned them I was hungry and cranky, I could perhaps not have been so snappy. But honestly I couldn’t figure out why I was being laughed at.

Later that week I thought I should really say something. I popped over to her place on my way out and said that I was sorry I was so snappy at dinner, but honestly, I have certain topics that I prefer not to talk about in mixed company and she snickered a bit and then asked why.

Fair enough.

While I couldn’t give her a concrete answer as to why sex, matters of gender-specific hygiene and health issues are all off-limits I had a couple that I thought should suffice.

  1. I don’t want to talk about sexual things in mixed company because causing those kinds of thoughts in other men – Not Appropriate!!
  2. When it’s a single gender group, I don’t care. Have at ‘er!
  3. Men should show some respect. I don’t need to hear that BS. They can talk about all the conquests they’ve made when I’m not around. It’s not something I need to hear.
  4. Specifics about sexual escapades shouldn’t be shared across genders. (I don’t even really want to hear about them, but that’s another conversation.) I don’t want my husband hearing about the specifics of some other woman’s sex life. Beyond Disrespectful!

She didn’t get it. The thing that really surprised me was how she couldn’t see that making someone uncomfortable was disrespectful.

KL is an outgoing, friendly type woman. She is currently doing graduate work in a male-dominated field. In her undergrad, she was the only woman in her programme. She also tends to push my buttons and talk about topics I consider inappropriate. She admits that if I mention I’m uncomfortable she might think its funny and just push my buttons. I suppose that’s where the snickering comes in.

There isn’t a topic that is off-limits in terms of mixed-company for KL because she wants to treat “men and women equally.” I couldn’t understand how refusing to talk to a man about something like birth control isn’t treating them equally.

She asked if I would stop talking about something if someone asked me to. Yes. Even if I thought it was ridiculous? Duh, it’s the polite thing to do. No, I don’t think it’s irrational. I don’t think I’m being irrational. I think it’s common decency and respect.

What am I missing here?

Why I couldn’t make her understand is beyond me. Why she thought that I was being rude by asking her to stop, I can’t figure out.

Insights are most welcome.

Questions for You

It’s been a crazy week and I’m getting around to posting rather late in the day. I thought I’d ask you all some questions and I’ll write the post explaining where all these questions came from this coming week.

  1. Do you think it’s rude to tell people you are uncomfortable with certain topics of conversation and expect them to avoid those topics?
  2. Do you have certain topics that are off-limits in mixed company but are ok in a single-gender environment? With all people?
  3. How would you explain to a more “Liberal-Thinker” what your reasons are for not wanting to talk about certain things? Can there ever be a “logical” explanation?
  4. Have you ever dealt with people who become blatantly rude or refuse to accommodate your personal concerns (that aren’t involving dress)?

Husband Says, “Eh?!”

The question was asked: “What does your husband think of you covering yourself?”

I was married for 3.5 years before I finally started covering my hair in public all the time. We have never had a huge conversation about. We have never had a big argument about it. It seems we’re not much for talking. That’s only partly right.

I talked about it quite a bit with my now Godmother in terms of theology and personal piety. As my husband could be categorised as “Non-Practicing,” theology wasn’t the first thing I thought he’d want to discuss. So my not-yet- Godmother, YN, during our weekly chats about all thing, would also talk about me wanting to cover my hair and all my anxieties surrounding it.

I made my decision and sat on if for a few days. I finally mustered some shred of courage. “Husband,” says I, “I am going to cover my hair . . . . all the time.”


“What do you think?”


Yup that’s right. His entire response, at the time, was pretty much a half-hearted grunt. It was somewhat disappointing to not get some questions or an, “Ok, whatever you want.” The benefit was I knew he was aware, and I didn’t have to talk a lot about it when I was still feeling extremely awkward about the whole deal.

The only other comment he made, I believe within the first year, was referring to my covering as my “hair-shame.” I let that one slide. I wasn’t going to deal with it. I think I said something about it not being shame or I liked my hair but I wasn’t going to get into an argument. I was a bit hurt but I knew he was making an off-handed comment because he was confused.

As time has passed he has come to recognise that covering my head is as much a part of me being dressed as puting on a shirt. If he brings friend’s home unexpectedly he will open the front door and call in to make sure I’m dressed. He might not get it, no matter how much I tell him, but he has developed a respect for it.

I know he appreciates that I’m not running around with it all hanging out. He has made comments about scantily clad women being unattractive. Husband is confused by some of his friends finding the amorous and under-dressed as highly desirable.

Modesty : It’s Shades of Grey

Interesting fact: When women started wearing the male-inspired doublet pictured on the left, many considered it immodest. The one pictured right was exclusively a female styled garment preserving the very definite gender differences. It didn’t matter that a very large portion of cleavage was showing. (Both portraits are of Elizabeth I at different points in her life.)

There are many different interpretations and definitions of modesty. Many books have been written. Debates have raged. Over time interpretations and definitions have changed and evolved.

As far as I’ve seen thoughts on modesty can fall into two basic categories: Coverage and Attitude. You can ascribe to either or both. Coverage, of course, is mostly concerned with clothing. To what degree should someone cover themselves? How tight or loose should a modest garment be? Attitude is a catch-all for everything that isn’t clothing.

Coverageis less simple than it may seem on the surface. It becomes more complicated when you are trying to develop a personal standard as opposed to following a community standard. For me coverage does mean avoiding clothing that is too tight or too tight for a certain situation. I wear skirts all the time. I don’t own pants. (Read my entry Put Some Pants On! to find out more.) I am covered to the knee, generally my elbows are covered and you won’t see my cleavage. I cover my hair in public, but bangs are seen fairly often. (I suppose this counts as cleavage, albeit, hair cleavage.) This is true for every time I step outside my house or there is an unrelated man in my house.

I am currently undecided about my swimwear situation. Before I started covering my hair I had a one-piece swimsuit that is commonly worn by fitness swimmers. I haven’t been swimming in three years or more. (I plan on a post lamenting the disappointing shopping trip.)

I decided on my personal standards after much research and experimentation. It was easy for me to decide to adopt something close to the Tzniut rules on dress. Being an Orthodox Christian, we commonly hear about our Jewish roots. There is respect for what came before. It is hard for me not to respect something that has been around for such a long time. The reason I don’t follow the Tzniut dress code exactly is not a fully formed decision. I think it is more a matter of ease and comfort. I cover my elbows because I feel more secure. I’m not sure why I feel more comfortable exposing my knee caps than my elbows. It just came to be that way. I don’t work to cover my collar-bone but the majority of my shirts nearly make it. My chest is fully covered, so I’m happy. Deeper necklines are easily filled with a scarf drapped overtop or a high-necked shirt beneath. I haven’t worn a turtle-neck in years. The one thing I am conscious about is bringing too much attention to my chest. (I’ve never been considered small) One thing that can make you look like you have a ski slope is a single coloured, turtle neck. No Thanks.

I have facial piercings and don’t feel these are immodest. I think people are just a tad confused. (post on piercings coming up!)

Attitude is an all together different matter. I swear, have been known to drink and am painfully blunt. These could be considered immodest. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. Though I wouldn’t whole-heartedly agree either.

What I do attempt to avoid is talking about certain things in mixed company. Things like birth control, the female cycles (other women’s as well as mine), hygiene (such as waxing), etc. The basic rule of thumb is if it is gender specific or sexual in nature then it is not something to be discussed in mixed company. When it’s ladies only, all bets are off.

These are my personal guidelines. I tend to struggle more with the attitude more than coverage. Attitude is easier to slip up with than coverage by far. It’s all a process.

What are your thoughts?