Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Ogre at the Grocery Store

I saw the strangest thing last week at the grocery store. Okay, maybe it wasn't so strange, I hear it happens a lot actually, but it was the first time I ever witnessed it.

I was walking towards the store. There was a tall girl in the parking lot guarding a 24-pack, wearing a t-shirt and shorts (temperatures were still soaring past 90F last week). There was also a young man leaving the store, himself carrying a case of beer. So while I'm walking, I see this guy who is between me and the store, and I see him looking... at that girl.

And you know, it was not a casual look. He looked her up, and down, and back up again... and down again. I was disgusted, absolutely disgusted. I can only assume she wasn't aware that he was ogling her... but from my perspective it was so overt, so impertinent, my distaste was overwhelming. I've seen dogs eye steak with more tact.

I think I probably have some men reading who aren't surprised, maybe you all are more aware of this behavior than I am (probably are.) But I bring it up because I'm not exactly the world's biggest hijab advocate. I'm not aware of anyone looking at me that way, but seriously, how can anyone in this society suggest that men, in general, are so well-behaved that women are "free" to dress however they like, according to their "comfort?"

How could any woman be comfortable under such a repugnant gaze? Is it freedom to feel like a piece of meat? I know some of you have commented on my other blog and made excellent points, and this post is geared in that general direction.

After this experience, I don't see how anyone in a Western society can legitimately argue that women are not viewed merely as sexual creatures. I'm not talking about a girl at a bar, a girl who is flirting, putting herself out there so to speak, a girl who has dolled and dressed up to get any attention, she was in a Food Lion parking lot and this random guy (who I could add was well dressed, not a "bum" off the street) is looking at her for no other reason than to gauge her sexual potential.

I felt dirty after watching him do this, and he wasn't even looking at me! So how can anyone after that say hijab is bad? If a woman is covered, I can't really imagine how she could be looked at like this poor girl was, and more likely wouldn't merit a second glance from a guy whose head has retreated into his pants.

And no, I don't think all men are like that, but if I ever had any doubts about women covering to avoid being viewed in a sexual context... they're gone. Shattered by the rotten stench of that "ogre."


MyHijab said...

I was once at the local park with my daughter. There was this very young girl there with her two kids. She could not have been older than about 18, but they were both calling her mum. She was wearing this really, really short skirt, and a midriff bearing top, pushing her kids on the swing.

Now on the other side of the park were a bunch of guys, between the ages of about 16 and 23. They got closer and closer until they were only about 3 metres away.

One guy, a young one, gets up and walks around so that now he is behind the young girl with the kids. He is standing right behind her.

He lifts his phone so that it is level with her legs, and takes a picture with the camera phone. Just like that. Actually, he took 2 and 3 pictures.

She had her back to him so she didn't see what he did, but I saw, and I couldn't believe it. I told the girl. She went all read in the face and started yelling at the guys. They laughed and walked off.

She said she felt violated, obviously. But I couldn't help but think that this happened because of the way she was dressed. SHe was not able to choose who saw her body. It was for public display and she couldn't do anything about what happened. Its like taking a pic of a tree or flower or building. It is public display.

The guy got a pic of her legs and backside. If she was covered, this would not have happened.

He had pictures of her without her permission of her body on his phone. It makes me sick to think about it.

So there are really sick guys out there who get their jollies from looking at a girls legs and backside, no matter how many people are out there that defend themselves by saying that things like this just don't happen.

Because they do.

Now there are some people who are going to say that they can still dress modestly without the hijab. Sure you can, but not as modestly as you would if you were wearing the hijab.

I talk from personal experience.

The hijab on our heads reminds us all the time that we are to dress modestly and act appropriately. From day to day it is so easy to forget how we should dress and act. The sleeves get shorter, the neck line gets lower, the shirts get shorter, one quarter of a centimetre at a time. It's unnoticeable until you realise you keep hiking up the neck of that shirt because you can see your cleavage. Your long sleeves become 3/4 length sleeves and then short sleeves. And you don't even notice.

But hijab reminds us. Every single morning it gives us a reminder.

Im waffling I know, but I feel strongly about this. I am even going to dedicate a whole post on my blog to it !

Salam sis

Amy said...

That was a great comment sis!


I'll keep an eye out for a post on your blog. Hijab is one of those things I've been really reluctant to post about but the extent to which Lynn has opposed it on my other blog, and after this particular experience, I found it necessary.

And I don't mean to say that women who aren't in hijab are therefore being immodest, but this poor girl wasn't dressing for attention, was just casually dressed without anything too tight and still she got that look...

The woman in your post... yeah, I bet she felt violated. Really, the nerve of those kids, though.

I remember this one scene in CSI where the older CSI person and the cop bring in this kid who basically likes to film underneath girls' skirts, and they were interrogating him and she walked away and bent over at a table to write something down, and he's staring at her butt. She was wearing long pants that were just snug in the rear and she was so offended by it... but I can't help but think, maybe this points out to you (even though it's just a tv character) that everybody CAN look and you should dress according to that awareness.

Thanks again for the great comment!

MyHijab said...

That's exactly it..anybody CAN look!

And of course, it does not mean that those without hijab are purposefully immodest...but in my experience, without hijab, you tend to kind of forget.

really, i feel so sick i can;t even think properly.

aarrgghh! nausea

Amy said...

AA -

Maybe it's worthwhile pointing out in the circles where we (as Muslims) are trying to educate the public about Islam, that "hijab" is more than a headscarf, and in this case I think some people fall into the trap, when they are critical of it, to say that a headscarf doesn't change anything and it's true that just wearing a scarf doesn't mean everything else is modest.


Hijab does imply loosely covering the entire body (except face and hands) and that certainly makes a difference. Aside from not exposing skin, fabric shouldn't even cling to it to make obvious what it's covering.

I've just recently learned the importance of covering my chest entirely with the scarf (something I wasn't always particularly careful about) when I realize that some of my blouses are more snug than they ought to be to just make sure I'm not being 'suggestive.'

zainab said...

I see this kind of thing ALL the time and its really sick.Some woman have no problem with weird,strange men ogling them and undressing them with their eyes.Even though the way some women dress it doesnt take much imagination,they're practically naked.They like the attention.Gahhh!

Consider This said...

Respect, not biology, is the crux of the matter. The problem is not how a woman dresses(though I agree some looks are deliberately provocative) but the attidude of the person doing the staring.

Now I think a lot of this attitude is cultural in origin. I live in Brussels which is a very mixed place and for whatever reason you find yourself getting stared at less by men from some cultures than of others.

I don't think the biological argument for men being sexual predators stands up.

Though men might be naturally inclined to stare at women like a piece of meat, they can be taught, or believe, indeed, that it is rude and disrespectful to do so. Teaching them this is a question of culture.

Just check out Danish men. They are totally egalitarian.

Plus, I don't really understand why Islam insists this is the woman's problem.

At the end of the day there are strict laws against sexual harrassment, rape, etc which will punish a man who acts on these instincts.

I don't believe men have so little control over their penises that they would risk prison for satisfying their desires in any greater numbers than they would commit murder.

I believe that those who advocate modest dress as protection against male molestation are actually making life worse for women who dress more liberally and not expressing sisterly solidarity. What all women should act together to demand is that MEN BEHAVE THEMSELVES:

Later :)

Amy said...

To "Consider This"

I really disagree with you, on a number of points. To start with, I have seen men from various cultures looking at women that way... but most frequently I see it from the group that makes up the majority of the population--white men, American born and bred. The second group I see it from the most is African Americans men--also American born and bred. And then third I see Hispanic Americans. The reason for the difference is by the percentage of the population. The problem is that in American society where I live, which claims to be progressive and open and enlightened and what have you, and that's where I am seeing men leering this way.

I don't see the same behavior from practicing Muslim men, however. Which brings me to my second point, that Islam does not make this out to be the woman's problem. In fact, before the Qur'an tells women to cover, it tells men to lower their gaze. And truth be told, from the practicing Muslim men, I do see that they are more modest when dealing with women--they don't leer and try not to stare.

On the other hand, the American woman who tries to make herself the property of no man, she in fact opens herself up to every man. My body belongs to me, and I'll show it to whom I please! And I don't please to show it to any old Joe on the street, so I won't.

I think that shows a higher level of respect for my own body than by some of my counterparts who aren't subtle about showing off every last curve and bump on their silhouette.

So Islam, while suggesting that women cover, FIRST DEMANDS that men lower their gaze.

Anonymous said...

Do you blame women for being raped? It is a very open and progressive, and just because you are uncomfortable means that anyone is doing anything wrong. American society is so open, that we allow everyone to express themselves in every way imaginable, including clothing. As far as being there is absolutely nothing wrong with being sexually attracted to a person, it has to do with actions. You are the determinant between good and bad and you know what your conscience tells you to do. In complete honesty, I'm not Muslim and really try to not judge because I would like to same respect, but I don't understand the whole complete covering of your seems like it would be restricting...I dunno...

I've been reading your blog trying to gain perspective on a woman, about my age, who is new to Islam. Is it a hard transition? Do you miss things about the way you used to live? I'm so fascinated by what appears, to me, to be a beautiful, but confusing religion...

Anonymous said...

What you may not know or understand is that some women don't really care if some guy is looking her up and down, that's his problem, not hers. Hijab does not stop the stares, the looks, the comments. It is said that 80% of women in Egypt are sexually harassed and that includes woman wearing Hijabs.

You can wear Hijab and cover your boobs with a scarf, it’s not fooling anyone. Men or women all know what’s under the scarf, or abaya. Men can give sexual comments or give looks to a female who are half naked or covered up to the point of nothing showing at all.

Every single person has a different idea of what is sexual. And every person has a different idea of what modesty is. Wearing a short sleeve shirt and shorts if you are a female does not mean a female is not modest, not every woman wants to walk about with only her hands and face showing.

Those of us that grew up in the west we are comfortable being able to wear what we want when we want. The onus is not on the female to cover up; the onus is on the men or females who are rude with looks or comments to act appropriately.

Blaming the victim is not the answer.

Amy said...

Blaming the victim for what? Is looking a crime? I didn't think it was.

I wear hijab, anonymous, though I think you do not (though I'm not sure if you are male or female anyway.) But I will tell you that wearing hijab actually did change the way men look at me. Do people stare? Sometimes they do, out of curiosity or whatever reason, but they do not stare sexually, at least not typically if I'm covered properly. I'll admit, sometimes my jeans are too tight.

I've noticed much more appropriate behavior from men when I am properly covered than otherwise. And I know many others who have told me they've had the same experience.

Modesty here isn't so subjective. We're talking about modesty in dress.

My body is my own, and nobody has the right to just look at it.

Anonymous said...

If you want to see "control and respect" from "muslim" men, try visiting the middle east... especially places like saudi arabia. For a man to look at a half naked woman like a piece of meat is one thing - what's scary is a man looking at a woman fully covered in black, head to toe, like she is a piece of meat.

It takes two to tango and the issue is way deeper than simply a matter of what the woman is wearing. The world has a long history of blaming women for men's weaknesses. I say both genders are equally responsible. Intention is the biggest player here - from both sides.

Besides, not everyone thinks sexuality is something icky and disgusting. It's human nature for women to attract men, and men to check them out. Why is that gross? Haram, perhaps, yes. Forbidden, yes. but that does not mean it is hateful and disgusting.

It is simply a natural biological impulse a muslim must strive to overcome. Not repress and squash, but find a balance.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the post above me.

Having visited the middle east on work.

Saudi men will ogle a woman way more than any man in the west would.

My comment would apply to general population there.

They do it, because they believe it is their right, to do it.

I say checking out someone is natural. That is how we find potential mates anyway.

Given the discussion we had about the prophet raping his wife the jewess right after he killed her father and husband.

I am surprised you make this post.


Amy said...

Algebra, you could not possibly be more mistaken.

Firstly, the Qur'an explicitly tells both men and women that they are to lower their gaze when looking at the opposite sex. Your position absolutely cannot be defended Islamically, as you should know. Just because someone does it in the middle east doesn't make it legitimate in Islam, and that's just about the worst way of trying to discuss Islam, by holding up ignorant Muslims as the pillars instead of the teachings of the Qur'an. You should know better.

Whether "checking people out" is natural or not isn't the point. It's natural to eat when hungry, but yet Muslims fast. And so do Jews. Sometimes it is important to curb our inherent natures, and the Qur'an is quite clear on the matter of ogling, that it's wrong. Islam allows ways for a man and a woman to observe, in private, the physical characteristics of potential spouses, but only for the purpose of marriage.

As a woman, I don't give any man off the street the right to ogle me as a "potential mate." He does not have the right to take visual advantage of my body.

Also, I made this post years ago. Years, algebra. Not resultant or subsequent to any discussion on the Whyislam forum.

Not to mention that you should be morbidly ashamed to repeat such an awful slander. As I clarified numerous times, the Prophet (saws) NEVER raped anyone. And his "jewess" wife is an honored woman in Islam who CHOSE to marry the Prophet (saws), even though she was forced to marry her previous husband. Think about that.

Anonymous said...

I'll write anonymously since it appears to be such a rabid topic.

I like wearing the hijab. In my considering conversion to Islam, I think it lends a semblance of prayer and spirituality to the everyday.

The topic bothers me because it's the hatred put forth by the most conservative women (and misogynistic men)that I find truly disturbing in just about every religious organization I have looked into.

All things related to prayer should be devoid of this emotional, passionate level of negativity.

I feel badly for the women who say they feel such disgust, revulsion and speak so venomously against even short sleeves in public.

I wonder if they were so conservatively raised that, socially, they were unprepared to avoid trouble at a distance and suffered because of their naivete?

It seems they are doomed to take this negativity with them whenever and wherever they pray. I can imagine how difficult it must be for them to focus on their prayers when a woman beside or before them is not conforming to their standards.

These same women, so full of hate, judgement and discomfort around men, are, tragically, usually the ones who have unconsciously allowed themselves to grow a barrier of fat between them and the world, to protect themselves against drawing any man's eye in the absence of their husbands or protectors, so they don't have to deal with them.

And as they gain weight, they hate the thin women in slightly more revealing outfits even more & hide their jealousy behind self-righteousness.

So sad, that in Islam, the barrier they have grown also affects their ability to kneel or perform the sujud -- so they are sitting in chairs, physically unable to participate fully in these special acts of prayer.

The Qur'an just says that a woman should dress "modestly," but it doesn't say what that specifically is. I do recall being told that women were "not to dress as a man."

Yet some of the women most critical of baggy pants under shorter skirts at the mosque wear men's over-sized shirts as tops because they can't find women's clothing in their sizes.

There's just so much pain and self destruction in their hate. So much attack and defensiveness.

It makes me uncomfortable because often they will point out other women and expect me to participate in a discourse behind the other people's backs - sometimes even during the Imam's Khutba.

This certainly can't be a positive prayerful experience for the less conservative Muslims around them who, I'm sure can feel the judgements cast on them by the looks they are given.

Doesn't the Qur'an say to leave all that backbiting & gossip outside? To leave the judgement to Allah on the day of reckoning?

I pray, if these women read this, that they may look past any perceived insult from my post, look head-on at their inner hurts, examine how they talk about the subject and perceive the strength of the language they use as a sign that they do have a problem in their own hearts.

I pray then that they are able to let go of at least some of the emotionality of their observations.

As I said, I LIKE the headscarf hijab & agree that it brings the wearer a deeper measure of respect with men who are raised to respect it.

I would love to wear my hijab everywhere if I could wear it covering my head and chest, but still wear short sleeves & knee length pants in the sticky heat and humidity here.

I'd like my hijab even better if I could skip the cap and not worry if a few strands of hair stuck out.

The saddest irony is that, because of the expectations and retaliatory behaviors of the most conservative proponents of hijab, it is likely that, if I do become Muslim, the only place I will wear my hijab is in the mosque.

Amy said...

Anonymous--Thanks for leaving your comment. The post is several years old and it's talking about a man behaving inappropriately by ogling a woman, and how I am disgusted at that. I'm not disgusted, nor do I have any hatred for short sleeves.

You seem like you have a lot you want to say. Have you considered getting a blog of your own? I'd love to read more of your thoughts.

The Qur'an does indeed offer specifics about how women should dress--it says more than "dress modestly." But that's not a reason to backbite and gossip as you rightly pointed out.

And I frequently wear hijab without a cap and yep, sometimes my hair slips out. So I just I slide it back in and get on with things.

I'd love to talk with you more, and hear more of your thoughts about hijab and such. Please email me--my address is

I hope to hear from you.