Sunday, March 07, 2004


Thank God for the royal family.
With the exception of the religious (bless their hearts) the professional (your basic fireman, policeman, fry-cook, squillionaire baseball player) and the environmentally challenged (that's us!) hats are clearly under suspicion... though actually over, or poised atop, exceedingly little.
Nobody (with the possible exception of the Queen) wears a hat - a proper hat - any more.
I'm just old enough to remember my father sporting a Fedora on his way to work in all seasons; my grandma had a hat (and bag and shoes) to match every outfit she possessed; and our pre-school picture books revealed adults wearing hats for virtually everything save sex and doing the dishes. You could identify a person by their hat. (Neat, eh? Those were the days when NOT being identified had yet to be understood as a human right. Or even a desire.)
Up until I was six or seven, I wore a little hat to church on Sunday. (Also gloves - and a small handbag in which there reposed a dime, a hankie and a hair comb.I remember wracking my brain trying to think of other little necessities to place in my purse. I've figured it out now,as my right shoulder - significantly lower than my left - bears mute testimony.)
But sometime in the sixties, general public hat-wearing went the way of the spat, the girdle and the suspender. Loose, free and easy went the thinking I guess - personally I never thought about it much.
But there was a headcovering that stayed; a headcovering that served many a purpose from concealment to protection and, so the thinking clearly went, transformed the wearer into something between Grace Kelly in a sportscar and Audrey Hepburn in a... well... in a sports car.
The scarf!
My mother wore them everywhere. Over curlers to conceal the fact hair curling was taking place, then over her curled hair to protect the integrity of those hard-earned curls. The style was Babushka circa 1901 - folded into a triangle, then knotted under the chin. I'm sure there were supermarkets stretching north of the 49th, south of the Mason-Dixon, side to side and everywhere in between, where not a single patron regularly grocery shopped un-scarved.
But as with the hat, at a certain point (possibly around the time hair curlers went the way of the hat and the spat, and so on...) scarves slowly slipped from our heads - only to reappear briefly in the 80's, tied or draped about our necks in a series of elaborate styles that required a video 'how-to' to perfect. (Luckily, the artful scarf soon joined the shoulder pad - another observation, for another time - in the dustbin of fashion history.)
But now the scarf is front and centre again. Topping the headlines - front page news, and the possible cause of rioting in the streets of Paris, where schoolgirls quietly observing their faith are being summarily ordered to remove the head-covering.
Or else.
Why the French have chosen to force the non-wearing of religious ephemera (crosses, stars of David and other religious-type jewellery over a certain inoffensive size also having been banned) to vouchsafe the 'principles of secularism and equality' loses me somewhere in the translation. I don't know if my high-school French could ever have been equal to the argument, because it appears as if it's not really about overlarge personal demonstrations of religion - it's about Muslims... it's about the headscarf. And so, ergo, QED - it's about girls. Potentially some of the most vulnerable individuals in any population.
I have no affiliation with any church - and no love for religion per se. It seems on all sides and all faiths (with the possible exception of Buddhism, though an exiled Tibetan might disagree) to be at the centre of all the agony and strife, misery, madness and killing in the world today - and pretty much always has been.
But those little girls.
Those girls whose religion - certainly at school-going age - is not a personal decision, right or choice, are being flung onto the front lines of a vicious adult confrontation. Whatever they believe - even whether they believe, or are mature enough to understand the argument, is unarguably still the informed and conscious choice of an older person.
I hope and wish and pray that some day, every little girl has the freedom to choose to wear, or not to wear a symbol of her religious affiliation. And that her family, her culture and her country of origin will make no choices on her behalf, or punish her for those choices... or even for making a choice - any choice - in the first place.
But until then - I suggest we all choose to take up the headscarf - for a day, or a month, or until a piece of triangular cloth no longer poses any threat whatsoever. Let's tie one on and show them choice. Let's show them freedom.
Let's show them support.
As Princess Anne is my witness, I'll never (or more acurately, until this gets sorted out) go scarf-less again.

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