Last night I attended a talk held at the University of Windsor given by Dr. Shahnaz Khan. The topic of the presentation was entitled: Veil Talk: Examining the Many Facets. Dr. Khan is the author of Aversion and Desire; Negotiating Muslim Female Identity in the Diaspora and a professor in Global Studies and Women’s Studies at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
As she was discussing how the veil takes many forms and waiting for some technology to catch up with the presentation she took questions from the audience. A man criticized her for confusing all these Westerners. He said that what she was showing the group were not in fact veils, that there was a difference between veils and head coverings. He told her that He Would Now Teach Her That Difference.
It was an unbelievably arrogant and dismissive comment. Dr. Kahn is an expert in her field. She has written and lectured on this topic for many years. She had just finished describing and showing pictures of some of the many ways women veil and explaining that where a woman lives has much to do with the form the veil takes and that there are many reasons why a woman veils. She showed pictures of hijab, niqab, burka, obaya and chador and as all are used to cover a woman’s body they come under the category of veiling. She discussed the relationship between veiling and class — in the past, veiling beyond a head covering for protection from the sun — worn by both men and women — was practiced by upper class women. Those involved in physical labour were unable to work effectively with their movement restricted. We were much too polite to him. Instead of telling him where to go we rolled our eyes at each other, grimaced, and groaned. The idea of waiting for one person to finish talking before speaking should have been replaced with heckles and boos.
A few minutes later another man criticized her for not taking the talk to a different level — that we need to go beyond the talk she gave. Her response was that his idea is a different talk than the one she gave — an idea for another day. Judging by the number of people in the room who turned up for her presentation I’d say there was an interest in the talk that was presented. Not to say there isn’t more to say — but we have to start somewhere.
The first man tried taking the floor a second time at the end of the presentation but the moderator cut him short with her closing remarks — several times. This man did not want to stop — he was determined to re-educate the group. Dr. Kahn handled it all beautifully. It looked as though she’d dealt with this before.
Some of us were saying that it was really wonderful that these men turned up to tell us how to talk about women’s bodies. Because, you know, how could women do that on their own?