Posted on Monday, July 13th, 2009 at 3:04 pm
Author: Renee Martin
Today we associate the veil strictly with the Muslim faith, forgetting that it has a rich tradition in Christian theology as well. After all, I Corinthians 11, verse 5 states: But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
When the Obamas visited the Vatican, as a sign of respect, Michelle Obama donned a veil. The veil is no longer necessary to attend mass, however; it is seen as a sign of respect if one is in the presence of the Pope. Each first lady that has visited the Vatican has honoured this sign of respect by donning the veil, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.
The veil is a very complex article of clothing, because it is filled with meanings that are both religious and secular in the sense that it promotes the patriarchal oppression of women. The leaders of the faith, regardless of denomination, have historically been male. Feminists have battled hard to reclaim the divine feminine in Christianity, however, such attempts continue to meet with great resistance.
The Bible is considered to be of divine inspiration and therefore its texts that address gender in a purely hierarchical sense are used to defend the role of man as ruler. For example, I Corinthians chapter 11 verses 8-9 state: For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. In this, we can clearly see that the order of importance is God, man and then woman. Each gender is given a specific role to perform.
Though the Western world has a foundation that is based in the Judeo-Christian church, attendance has been dropping for decades. In an effort to appeal to younger congregants, to infuse the church with vitality, some compromises have been made. Many denominations have eliminated a strict dress code and it is not uncommon to see people arriving for Sunday worship in jeans and t-shirts.
The Catholic Church has been slow in keeping up with the modern construction of the world. It still advocates abstinence and is strictly against any form of birth control other than the rhythm method. While these prohibitions apply equally to male and female, because women are the ones that bear children, they form the basis of genderized oppression.
When one understands that the position of the Catholic Church is based in texts that are necessarily anti-woman, it is clear that any and all traditions serve to promote the proliferation of patriarchy. The wearing of a veil in the presence of the Pope promotes male headship. The Pope is an authority figure and has historically been male with the exception of one female (note: the existence of a female Pope is still hotly contested today). The Pope represents a direct ambassador to God and if woman is forever denied the ability to perform this role, and is forever placed in a submissive position, womanhood can never be understood as an equal being.
Michelle Obama certainly had the choice whether or not to follow tradition and wear a veil. However, as a woman who is under the constant attention of the media, a decision NOT to wear the veil would immediately have brought about censure.
Unlike his wife, Barack had no such decision to consider. Again, I Corinthians Chapter 11 verse 7 states, For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. Therefore, though the Pope is a religious figure and Obama is a politician, they could meet as equals. This relationship is further complicated by the fact that neither one of the Obamas is Catholic. The famous saying is “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” however, should it really apply when conformity means debasement?
In the West we tend to understand women’s physical liberation as the ability to reveal the body, and yet this can be just as restricting as social pressure to veil. Until women are given the choice to do either without the decision being stigmatized, both options are repressive.
Michelle is not inferior to her husband, nor does she hold a second place standing to her husband in their marriage, but donning the veil to comply with tradition symbolizes the opposite of this fact. We have become so accustomed to honouring hierarchy that we do not realize that in so doing we expect each person to pay a personal cost for the categories that we have legitimized. The Pope may be considered a religious figure but in actuality he is nothing more than a man; a corporeal being that will one day return to ashes from whence he was created. In physicality, though male, he is deserving of no greater human respect than Michelle Obama or any other woman walking the earth. If respect entails the diminishment of a fellow human being, then the concept that we are all children in the eyes of God is truly false.
Global Comment © 2012 | Design & Developed by : Slate