After having spent 3 weeks in Palestine wearing our programme’s vest, long sleeves and and loose trousers I feel completely exposed just by showing lower parts of my legs. I must have reconnected with my feminine me I had left behind. I suddenly feel really uneasy about this reclaimed ‘femininity’ that I show in public. Exposed. Provocative. Naked.
Last week in the midst of the Kate Middleton’s breast crisis I went to an indoor's swimming pool. It was a women only swim hour. To my surprise I found myself surrounded by five ninjas and I was the only one wearing bikini. After a while it became clear that the black dressed nijas are female bodies wearing nothing else but a swim version of hijab - a long black sleeved swimsuit with a very loose maxini on top (an opposition of bikini - I am lacking good vocab here!). Ninja ladies smiled at me and I smiled back proudly thinking how much I actually embrace this cultural diversity and how much the Dutchess of Cambridge royal exposure feels really gross from the perspective of this East Jerusalem YMCA swimming pool. Well, I should have learned from that event.
It’s Sunday morning and I just came back from the checkpoint duty (4.30 - 7.30AM). It finally looks like I am having a few hours off. It’s burning hot and I decide to sneak out to a ‘secret‘ location where I will spend next few hours alone on a rooftop swimming pool with some stunning views over the city. This plan sounds already naughty especially when I juxtapose it with the checkpoint experiences of the past hours, but I decide to do it nevertheless. I am desperate for a break.
I am putting on a dress, putting on a scarf and I am ready to go. I leave my vest behind in the washing machine. I do not realize my sin until I get outside. It's like a 10 minute walk to where I am going, but it just feels terrible! Let’s make it clear - my dress is completely oversized, loose and reaches well beyond my knees, my shoulders are covered completely, I have my hat on, no signs of my hair whatsoever. Nevertheless the moment I step out of my house I feel uneasy and inappropriate. My neighbor will now see my ankle! And a woman passing by will think now that I'm a pervert westerner. I dread the idea that I will have to pass my grocery shop in this naked state being. Obviously it must be all just in my head. Suddenly I am catching myself preoccupied with myself - something completely irrelevant for the past few weeks. No wonder - after having being a moving object for quite some time now. I have turned back into a woman. A woman in public!
I am writing all these, because I just realized that the 'culture of covering' is actually not so much about the modesty as it is about the self - awareness. Covering allows you to park you femininity behind. The first moment I covered myself I felt hot (temperature hot as opposed to hot hot) and trapped. And than, got used to my vest and loose clothes sooner than I realized. And now I like it. It means I do not feel vulnerable at any point, I don’t not feel looked at, I do not attract any unwanted attention. I am judged by my personality not my sexuality. The whole part of me has switched off and it feels all-right. At the checkpoint I saw around 1700 men this morning passing by. Alone. Easy.
And the only moment I feel uneasy is now - on my way to swimming pool when I am about to show my ankle to a grocery seller. And when I recalled I was a woman.
In the ‘culture of covering’, the act of uncovering is not neutral, it means exposing. When you hide your sexual identity you become extremely sensitive to all moments when it becomes visible. I honestly could not care less about my ‘naked’ shoulder back at home. Nor do I find it overtly sexual. Nor does anyone else. Back at home, being a women is an integral part of my identity. Most of the time I don’t even think about it. When I do, it does not make me feel naked or exposed. It makes me feel nice and feminine. Here, my naked shoulder is really ‘naked’. I see it and everybody else sees it as well. Because it requires this act of ‘uncovering’ - and is right away associated with sexuality. The same part of body gets a bloody new meaning.
So no, I am not advocating here to cover all our bodies. I am just thinking its nice to be able NOT to be woman for a while. And than its shocking to reclaim one's neglected femininity back. At home, we don’t get these extreme experiences. We take our femininity for granted.
PS. To all female travelers on their way to Palestine. It’s fine to wear what you like. Tourists here wear shorts and sleeveless shirts. Many Palestinian women obviously do not even wear scarfs, many girls wear skinny jeans, tight tops and high heels. Somebody said its ok for a Palestinian woman to challenge her own culture, but perhaps not so much for the outsider. I kind of agree with that. The more you cover and looser you get, the more invisible you become. It’s up to you to decide.