The topic of veiling is a loaded topic that involves politics, religious, social, cultural and gender norms as well as female repression and oppression. Lately I’ve noticed, mostly on the internet, men insisting that women should veil or be required to veil during church and them calling on women to be more educated about this so called requirement. I’ve also come across young women on Youtube insisting that all Catholic women should be required to veil during Mass. What I find most concerning is the lack of understanding why demanding or requiring women to veil during church as problematic. Or demanding female veiling as problematic in any religious tradition.
What I find lacking in the videos and articles that I’ve watched and read is the lack of historical context for veiling and women’s social status during times of required veiling. I wish, but I believe it’s essential, that these internet commentaries on female veil within Christianity would address the historical reasons for veiling in the Church, preferably, talk about female social status, veiling as a symbol of female submission to men and women not being viewed as citizens or not having any significant role in church leadership. There is also another factor that in a number of Protestant churches, but not in all Protestant traditions, that female veiling is an outward sign of female submission to men. This used to be a factor in the Catholic Church before Vatican II in 1962 that brought many changes to the Catholic Church. With that said veiling theology in the Catholic Church is being redefined by Catholic women.
When men are on the internet telling women that they have to veil within Christianity, Judaism, Islam or in any other religion I find it offensive. What I am most offended about is the lack of acknowledgment by men that female veiling came about in patriarchal societies where women were not seen as citizens or human beings. The reason that the Prophet Mohammad give for female veiling is different than in Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian culture where veiling came about as a symbol of female modesty and honor in male dominated societies. As we move into the context of the early Church St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 that women should veil in the context of worship to signify their obedience to man and Christ, that the veil is the authority of female modesty, authority for women to pray. This is just one interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. This passage is not easy to interpret, confusing and, at most, presents logical argumentative problems. Regardless, men who are in favor of requiring women to veil during church and women who themselves veil point to St. Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians.
St. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 that women and men have equal dignity but separate roles and that female veiling signifies this. The problem with this is that the early Church, and the Church as a whole, didn’t recognize this because the Church was so influenced by ancient culture that viewed women as significantly less than men in both societal status and personal rights. Because of the this veiling and the favorable view of female veiling by Greco-Roman culture, came to be seen as female oppression due to how the surrounding culture viewed women and the Church not rectifying this within her own community and culture. As the Church progressed in age various Church Doctors and theologians wrote on how and when women should be veiled. These teachings ranged from women being required to veil at all times both in and outside of church to veiling only while in church. Many of these Church scholars also wrote on what women should use to veil ranging from only using opaque materials (so that hair couldn’t be seen) in the early Church to approving any material for veiling because veiling is seen as symbol in modern Church. But at the end of the day there were and are always men who condemn women for not veiling at all (modern Christianity) and men condemning women for not properly veiling because they used non-opaque materials or because certain women didn’t take veiling seriously enough according to some male scholars. What it comes down to is men telling women that because they don’t veil or because they have been veiling improperly, that women who fail to do either are sinning and or loosing their honor.
This brings me to my last point that was hashed out with a friend. When men tell women to veil it creates a power dynamic that automatically assumes that men know what’s right for women. Further, it assumes that, some how, women cannot interpret the Bible for themselves without male help or commentary, that understanding the meaning of the Bible is only reserved for men. What irks me the most about certain men going around the internet demanding that women veil in church is that they are so oblivious to the reality that veiling coincides with societal male dominance, female oppression and repression as well as sexism. I really wish men would leave the topic of veiling to women and learned theological and Biblical scholars who can give context to the topic. If men really feel like they need to comment on the veil they should be welcoming of criticism and should be asking women for their thoughts and opinions. I wish that these men would recognize that telling women to veil in church is traumatic for some women. Men need to educate themselves on the historical, cultural, social and religious context of female veiling before making thoughts known that they believe women should be required to veil in church.