Monday, March 7, 2011

Headcovering: The Great Debate (or "Why Can't We All Play Nice?")

I’ll start this post, which deals a bit with the conflict inherent in most headcovering “debates” by saying I’ve really appreciated all of the headcovering comments that I’ve gotten so far. It’s been really interesting to read the comments from those who cover and from those who don’t and no one has fallen into the typical (unpleasant) comments that are so often found on either side of the debate (Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!). But since I’ve been covering headcovering this week (don’t worry I only have a couple more posts on the subject! Headcovering Week is almost over!) I thought I would address the debate itself and the pitfalls that go along with it. This post is the result:

There is one thing that I don’t understand when it comes to the great and unstoppable headcovering debate. It comes in the form of a comment that always comes arises and that always strikes me in a negative manner because it really adds nothing, other than bitterness, to the conversation. It goes something like this:

“I don’t need a headcovering to help me pray better. In fact I feel that I’m called by God to pray with my head uncovered. I think they’re distracting and I would be able to focus less with a cover on my head. Besides, it’s just a cultural symbol of women’s oppression and who would embrace that anyways?”

Sigh. Of course, you seldom get every point here in a single comment, but this sums up the argument that is bound to come up and you usually hear at least a few of them.

First off, the “I feel called not to cover” has always confused me. The first time I heard it I thought that the speaker was being sarcastic, but then I realized that she was genuine. I guess what it comes down to is that I don’t understand why God would “call someone not to cover.” I believe that many women don’t feel the call to cover, but why would God call someone not to do something that is mentioned specifically in the Bible as a good thing (again, I’ll add the standard disclaimer of: while not required). Let’s put it another way.

Have you ever heard someone say: “I feel called not to pray the rosary”? I know that I haven’t. You may not feel called to the devotion of praying the rosary, but would God specifically call you not to pray something that is a spiritual aid for so many? That’s why this response always confuses me.

The comment about covering as a “cultural symbol of oppression” may be the easiest to respond to. While women in some cultures cover as a sign of submission to man, Catholic women cover as a sign of submitting to God (in most cases at least!). I think this comment is a combination of indoctrination in feminist thinking and a lack of education about why Christian women cover.

Sadly think this type of comment is sometimes a response to people who insist that women are required to cover (and let’s face it, forcing women to cover isn’t going to help spread this wonderful practice, because the knee jerk reaction for most of us to being forced to do something is to resist it). On the other hand some of us who cover (and I’ve fallen into this trap before) are more likely to insist that it’s required after hearing the practice torn to shreds by people who hate it. In our over-eagerness to prove that the practice is good, it can be difficult hard not to push too hard.

So my resolution of late is to always remind myself, in these debates, to be more kind even than I feel is necessary. Even if I find myself repeating the same points, over and over again (usually that no one is saying that its required, which seems to be the basic assumption in most arguments against it… even when no one in the conversation has made the claim). Perhaps by kindly uncovering the reality behind this devotion we will eventually dispel the myths that surround it and make the subject a little less contentious.


  1. I don't even cover (Exempting the EF mass and one OF Mass) but the comment, that is not even an argument, that always comes up is the "people didn't wear veils, they wore hats." That comment, and its variations bothers me a lot. It is like saying the history of 'veiling' is restricted to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when hat wearing was fashionable. Also the poor did not always have hats, and they would have to wear veils I(mostly scarfs, shawls or lace they made themselves), and there are ethnic groups that always wore 'veils.' Yes, the white women in the cities and suburbs wore hats, but those in the country or on ethnic ghettos did not always.

    Not to mention the comment is always in reference to the word veil, as if the verb "veiling" can't include wearing a hat.

    So for me, that comment always seems so bitter, but I don't know why the speaker is bitter.

  2. I guess what would both me most about such an "argument" is the insinuation that anyone who would wear a veil must either be oppressed or in denial about being oppressed. Such a blanket assumption sounds insanely egotistical to me.

    Add in someone who is a SAHM and her husband just must keep her in chains or something!


  3. You're right,'s not the subject matter that is contentious, it's the people who can be. :)

    Your posts have had me thinking a little about the subject. I admit that I don't feel strongly either way and that, in general, I really dislike having anything resting on my head at all, even soft headbands.

    Anyway, I do understand the call that you have because I feel similarly in other areas of my life. I feel strongly about the headship of the husband in the home. That drives other women crazy... because they don't understand it in context. It has been misunderstood at times and has upset people. And there are a number of other positions I hold, particularly regarding the Mass, which would highly irritate a feminist. So I do get your position and I'm not objectively opposed to it.

    Having said that, I confess that covering outside of church has me a little baffled. I don't say this in a critical way... it's just my spontaneous reaction when I see it... but the fully covered look reminds me of muslim women. And they do not cover for the same reasons you do. The public message can certainly be a little confusing, especially since muslim practices are so much in the spotlight these days.

    Covering at church makes sense. Covering in public does seem like it could stem from a misunderstanding of a woman's role. We are not religious sisters nor do we believe as the muslims do... and yet daily (non chapel) covering does send a message which is not necessarily a positive one, even to women like me (and I hold some pretty unpopular positions about the role of women in liturgy and in the home).

    Again, this isn't a criticism of you... just thoughts to add to the topic. I have known very few women who cover outside of church. of those I have met, most have been in marriages that made me with husbands who do not allow their wives to express their opinions without an invitation to do so! And who do not allow their wives to wear clothing of their own choosing.

    I think if this is mostly a matter of style, then I don't have a concern. But if a woman is covering outside of church for other reasons, it might be prudent to speak about it with her spiritual director just to make sure she is not following her own fears, pride or misunderstandings instead of God's will. I say this only based on my own experience, not because I know anyone's head or heart.

    And I don't think you are messed up, Cam. You are unlike any of the women I have met before who take this position. I don't bring it up to judge anyone, just to maybe help identify a reason why some might get upset.

    A good friend of mine has a sister who married a Pakistani man. She is an American doctor with a vibrant personality. After a decade of marriage, he decided to become serious about his muslim faith. He has insisted that she convert from her Catholic faith or he will take her children away to Pakistan. She has done so and has been adding layers to her American clothing at his request... and now is covering her head. Not for the same reason you are... but because she is his property.
    It is a confusing message in this culture and your own efforts to pursue sanctity and humility will be misunderstood even by good people.

    (I am posting anonymously only because of the last part about my friend. It's unlikely anyone would make the connection, but I just don't want her to be identified by my name.)

  4. jilly-I posted the other day about hats but not for the reason you are talking about. I hope it didn't come across that way! I just thought it was interesting to talk to someone (my MIL) who attended the Tridentine "in the day" and had to cover. More of a history and cultural lesson for me. I thought it was funny to imagine myself and all my lady friends showing up to church in hats. It made me giggle because it is so out of fashion right now and we'd look and feel funny. scarves or veils would be much more our speed.

    You're probably not even talking about my post I just want to make sure no one (Cam) thinks I was bitter or something. Far from it! I just thought it was a sweet conversation to share.

  5. I don't know, maybe someone could feel called not to cover, because it's not appropriate for this stage in their life, particularly if they feel deeply that it's a "symbol of cultural oppression" or what-have-you. And God isn't asking this of them. Or the "call" could be a sense of responsibility in "righting a wrong", the writer perceives not covering as an assertion of rejecting the oppression of women. I guess the way I do things is to cover when it won't be obvious (hats like berets during the winter are a nice way of doing this), or when it's the norm. Otherwise I just don't make an issue of it. Maybe that's not doing what God is asking of me, but I guess it's better than not heeding the call at all.

  6. I'm glad its gone so well for you here in comment land :-) I snuck my headcovering bit in a post the other day and haven't gotten any comments at all lol. In midst of comment lull though so not surprising. Is better than neg ones anyway. Silver lining :-)

    On the subject though... a friend of mine shared a post by a friend of his on the subject awhile back but I never could read it (was protected). Its been bugging me ever since though. Is the feminist view of it (or written from a). Part of me (a large part) is afraid its biased against and full of comments like you put up there... but I suppose she could be feminist in other ways (dh & I both consider me one, just not in the way its used here) and have a nice post on the topic. I'm afraid to ask what he meant by sending it to me though lol.

  7. Hi Everybody- All the comments have been great. I'm about to run out the door for a meeting but I wanted to tell Melody really quickly, that I thought her comments were all insightful and that I wasn't offended at all! It actually inspired me to think more about covering (my husband's family has a similar story) and that's always a good thing!

  8. Melody- I am sorry, I was not talking about your post at all, (I am not even sure if I read your post, I will go back and do that now). I was mostly references a certain Catholic forum, where it seems that every time a headcovering thread pops up, someone always says that "the 'veil' wasn't worn, it was always a hat." It is usually unrelated to the actual topic of the tread and comes across as bitter.

  9. Actually, if I saw you about town, wearing a snood, I'd just figure that you were a married Orthodox Jew. A usual sight around here - you wouldn't stand out at all.

  10. Gods not about fighting.If you want to cover then cover.Dont though worry about speculating about why another womans not covering etc.
    Just do what you do and leave others be-full stop:)Focus on self.

    You need to ask yourself,if so sure that it is God that is calling you to cover,then why does it bother you what another woman is doing or why do you need to convince her,justify to her or argue with her etc.

    Again,God's not about fighting or divisions.
    Things that cause this,then one must wonder is it really from God.
    Another point,our psychological and/or emotional issues can often blind us to true bible interpretation.
    This is an EXTREMELY important thing to always keep in mind.Always check to make sure that things are clearly from God and arn't from a misunderstanding or a psychological issue etc.
    Make sure your thinking clearly and rationally and arn't being misguided by your own psychology.Make sure that the way your submissing is true God submission and that you arn't getting confused by your psychology(mind) and taking submission to mean something that it doesnt really mean.
    Sometimes we can mix(confuse) fear or "people pleasing" up with true submisson so be very careful to not allow yourself to be fooled or misled whether from your own mind,other people ,other etc.
    Always,think things through very carefully and clearly.
    Also make sure you arn't just going off personal emotions.
    Life if so complicated and emotions can decieve us.

    If feel sure God is wishing you to wear a headcovering then "go for it"(for lack of better words).
    At same time,don't speculate on others actions or why they do or dont do things.
    We dont know the mind of God or the whys of everything in life.

    Be aware that naturally you are going to recieve curiosity,questions,speculations,misconceptions or unfortunately even judgments.
    That will come part with the parcel.
    Someone down the street might think your a muslim,another might think you have cancer,another might think thats your fashion style etc.Lifes full of "different folks with different strokes".
    Other Catholic women are going to possibly feel pressured by your actions,and/or your going to feel pressured by their resistance to your beliefs on head coverings etc.It all comes with being human.

    Make sure you dont acccidently start think "oh i'm a better catholic then her cause i cover" or "why isnt she obeying God" etc.

    PPS.As women,Moderate feminists arn't our enemies either:)
    Feminists made it possible that we can be on the TV as reporters,commentators etc and be seen as more then a sex/beauty object.
    Femimists made it that our voices get heard and people now listen to what we say as women instead of just beauty objects or patronised to etc.
    Feminists gave us that freedom which all humans deserve.
    Of course feminist actions have its good and its bad like everything.Take and be greatful for the good.Leave the bad and the extremists etc.

  11. Crochet-
    The arguments usually begin when a young woman asks for support and advice about covering, and a few of us give advice and personal antidotes and then get attacked for it. Now once attacked I will explain myself, over and over again, in hopes of helping someone see that this beautiful practice isn't oppressive.

    I don't care if other women don't cover if they don't want to and I think that that is abundantly clear, even in the title of this post which is "why can't we all play nice."

    But honestly, I think that this comment deserves its own response because I would like to address your points directly and that would take too much time in the combox. I'll post a link here when it's done.

  12. Here's the link:

  13. I know this is an older post, but reading it I really just wanted to add that as a woman who covers at Liturgy, as well as a woman who comes from a decidedly feminist background, I had a fantastic "covering" experience with my sister who is an "extreme" feminist, non-practicing Catholic. Coming to Liturgy, at our lovely old church, she saw me in my scarf, saw the church itself and said "Ooh, I want a scarf too! It just seems like the sort of place to cover up in!" She Loved it, and the thought of covering at the Liturgy felt so natural to her, even though it isn't at all something we were raised doing.
    It was a really beautiful feeling for me, to see her understanding!


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