At school I had a couple of classmates who were male Muslims. One thing I noticed was that on wearing the headscarf, my contact with them almost ceased to exist. When we did happen to converse, they seemed very cautious and were more overtly respectful. I thought of my headscarf acting as if it were a physical barrier for those who understood what it symbolized.
It was comforting for me to not have to initiate awkward conversation by ‘telling off’ male friends when they made unwanted advances or comments. Instead, it felt like my headscarf did the talking for me by implicitly suggesting ‘I do not flirt’ or ‘I do not date’. In general, although male attention was not eliminated completely, it was reduced greatly.
I do not think my circle of friends changed much after wearing a headscarf. Because my old non-Muslim female friends were familiar with my personality, we all still got along with each other and were very close.
One thing that I realized after high school was that wearing a headscarf will subject you to a lot of assumptions. Of course, I already knew this, but it was only after I wore a headscarf that I felt the heavy weight of what this actually means. Part of my decision to wear a headscarf was to escape the burden of conforming to societal pressures of what a woman ‘should’ look like. But my extended family and even my sister would call me old-fashioned, a ‘grandma’or backwards for not being as trendy or fashionable as my cousins or other girls my age, and for being uninterested in fashion.
Another belief I think people hold of me after wearing a headscarf is that I am quiet, vulnerable, weak, stupid or otherwise simple-minded. I had an optician’s appointment where the woman, caucasian and in her mid 50’s, asked me if I wanted to take my coat off. It was cold in the room so I said I would keep it on. She looked concerned and insisted that it wouldn’t matter if I took my coat off. I reassured her that I would be okay. She asked if I was worried about showing my skin, made reference to my hijab and asked if I came with my husband. I felt a little angry and upset at her assuming that I couldn’t make my own decisions. It’s demeaning to be patronized and molly-coddled like a 4 year old child.
When people hold such strong assumptions about you, it strips you of your individuality. Sometimes I feel like I have involuntarily molded myself into what others have expected from me. At times, I do feel like going out without a hijab, because I think I will be treated better and feel more confident if my religious background or ethnicity remains ambiguous.
Despite this, the advantages of wearing a headscarf outweigh the drawbacks in my opinion, which is why I have decided to keep it on.