Just weeks into this research project and some generalised themes are beginning to appear in women’s responses to Veiled Voices 2020. Many of the thoughts, opinions, beliefs, concerns and questions voiced, in conversations or via the blog, I had anticipated. The enormous spectrum of symbolism applied to the veil ranges from concerns of female oppression, to the celebration of women liberating themselves from expected beauty norms, to appreciation of the freedom of religious expression we all enjoy in the UK. All of which I am looking forward to exploring in the context of changing perceptions since 9/11. But, one statement-like question has arisen far more than I expected and has made me really think and question myself, my motives and the value and appropriateness of the project… ‘But you’re white!’ Often closely followed by ‘Muslim Women won’t talk to you.’
Although not entirely unexpected, I have been surprised that in a conversation about a religious item of clothing, skin colour or race is repeatedly raised as somehow relevant to my suitability of involvement in initiating discussions. Correctly or not, the first half of this statement, ‘But you’re white’, I have understood as a veiled enquiry. One which questions why I care what perceptions of veiling are in the UK, what it has to do with me and my motives for carrying out such research. On reflection, I think in many ways, these very statements are the reason behind the project.
I have always felt that there is some sort of women’s club, a thread that joins us together in solidarity, no matter our race, religion or background. The hundreds and thousands of women I have met across the world have taught me that women will always find things to talk about, ways to communicate and areas to find common ground and support each other. Crafting or creating of some sort has often been at the centre of these conversations, allowing for connections to be made alongside discoveries and intimacies. The more I delve into this project, the more I begin to understand that this invisible thread, alongside my belief in the importance of freedom of choice and expression, makes me a feminist. At the centre of true feminist values are the relationships women have with each other. For women to effectively support, connect and work together for the benefit of us all, we need to understand each other. But the opportunities to come together and learn about each other are often minimal or superficial. I am hopeful that Veiled Voices 2020 will offer opportunities for such connection and questioning.
So yes, I am White; and no, I don’t think it matters! Because, the aim of this project is to learn by working collaboratively. Encouraging conversation, contribution and understanding by bringing all women in our society together to fight against prejudice, whilst celebrating freedom of choice and expression.
With regards to the statement that ‘Muslim women won’t talk to you’, this feels like whole new blog post, one which explores the homogenisation of Muslim women, the blurring or religion, culture and identity alongside the perceived cultural and religious barriers in our society (I’d love to know your thoughts on this!). In the meantime, I am pleased to report that I have already met with many wonderful Muslim women who are interested in contributing to this project. Are there barriers to bringing women together from multiple groups? Yes, of course, but I hope that the thread of friendship will extend, and develop along with the collective embroidery as it makes its journey from one set of hands to another bringing women together.
I’d love to know your thoughts; share them below and join the conversation.