Saturday, December 02, 2006

The hijab shopping revelation

I've stayed in the house for the last three days, feeling iller and iller. As the barking sealion cough was getting worse and I had started running a temperature, I ended up making an appointment to go to the emergency drop in doctor's surgery in Harringey. Getting there was pandemonium due to the Arsenal/Spurs clash at the local Emirates stadium, but I eventually got my prescription for Amoxycillin and headed back down Green Lanes. It was a cold night, and I was bundled up in jumpers and a turquiose pashmina wrapped round my throat as I negotiated the busy streets, pounding past the greengrocers, the bread shops, smelling roasting lamb from the kebab resturants, glimpsing Christmas tat in the pound shops, jewellers piled with golden chains, pawn shops with even more of the golden chains on display...I stopped to buy mangoes, then as my ears were freezing, stopped again to take off my big blue scarf and wrap it round my head tightly, covering up all my hair and tucking it into my jumper, under my coat, like a hijab.

Walking back home it was a revelation. Instead of running the gauntlet down *Blackstock Rd, negotiating all the young men who hang around the coffee shops and mobile phone shops most of the day and evening, instead of the usual hisses and clucks and ''hello sweetheart''s I was treated with instant respect. They just got out of the way. In the halal shop where I stopped to buy a hot spit-roast chicken I was let through the door first, and served first. And I got a much bigger chicken than the non-Muslim Irish man who was in the queue after me, for the same price.

My final destination was the Turkish shop where I am mates with the man who runs it with his family. He remarked on my change of appearance. I explained. He looked cross.
'I know those boys, I didn't realise they give you problems,' he tutted. I said it wasn't a problem, just a nuisance, as I didn't especially like getting back-chatted by random youths every single time I went out for fruit or the papers. I explained that it wasn't me particularly; they said ''hello lady'' and blocked the path of every woman under forty who had uncovered hair and was without a male escort. They were just being boys, I supposed. But it was annoying at times. Sometimes in the evenings it was a bit threatening, though I knew they wouldn't touch me, just crowd the pavement whispering inanities.

''They think you are a Muslim lady now, they are respectful now'', he said, ''but they should have good manners to every lady''.
I said, well, never mind.

But I liked wearing my headscarf today. I think I'll wear it again, I said, when I want a hassle-free shopping experience. Then I bought some whisky, to make a hot toddy with, and we both laughed, because today I felt like I had the best of both worlds.

* edited because it was/is minimal in Green Lanes, it's Blackstock Rd where it is noticeable and to which this story mostly refers


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely little story. When I got to the end I became concious that I was smiling, I think because of the humanity and simplicity of it.

December 02, 2006 5:56 pm  
Blogger Lucy Diamond said...

Hi Rachel,

I used to live near Green Lanes - various addresses including Wightman Road, Mattison Road and Burgoyne...wish I'd known about this back then!

Sue x

PS Hope you have recovered your lost 3000 words...been there, and felt like taking to the pc with a blunt instrument. Am gutted on your behalf!

December 03, 2006 9:59 am  
Blogger Greg said...

Rather sad that by appearing to be something you're not, you can avoid "nuisance" on the street.

December 03, 2006 11:15 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Yes, but stegbeetle, I didn't realise it looked like hijab until I got treated totally differently. If you read the post, I was trying to keep my head and ears and throat warm, because I have a chest infection! I realised by the reaction that they thought I was wearing hijab.

The thing is, I walk up and donw that road every day, and yet with my head covered - by accident - I got treated totally differently - and it was a very noticeable and interesting difference. And it was very pleasant. It made me realise how much I blank out hassle when I go about my normal business, just because I am so used to going up and down that road. I only noticed it when they didn't hassle me - and the only explanation for that was that I had covered my hair.

It makes me realise how daft the whole thing is. As the shop keeper said, they should be respectful to all women - what has a head covering got to do with anything, when a woman who you do not know walks past on the street going about her business ?

December 03, 2006 11:48 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such an interesting tale Rachel. You might be interested in the start of my novel and the ensuing comments, kind of a similar experience that the main character has, with a bit a twist. Anyway it's on my blog list - maybe your coffee break? Nice to see you again -

December 03, 2006 11:52 am  
Blogger kris said...

I wish someone, maybe the shop owner will, tell your street jerk-offs that misogny is optional.

I really get sick of the argument the white middle class know nothings put up: - "As a liberal, I support a woman's right to wear a burkha".

Great- but while you support it, you accept and support the otherization of women, and positively encourage the treatment you get everytime women have the temerity to walk down the street "uncovered".

I don't think this is a "lovely little story". I'm fuming that my rights are being sold down the river for the sake of "good relations" with the New immigrant muslim community.

(What has been lost in the recent debate is that Muslims who've been her for some time don't have integration issues, they have jobs and have just gotten on with it.)

And to your cyber-stalker, the little inadequate, issues with women, saddo muppet man- well he can get stuffed too.

December 03, 2006 12:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a non-Muslim, non-headscarf wearing white twenty-something female who also lives in Haringey, I must say I am used to being treated with respect on a regular basis (shock! horror!). If you treat others with respect it will be returned to you, regardless of whether you are suddenly a bit Muslim-looking or not.

I don't recognise this Haringey you are speaking of at all, I must say.

December 03, 2006 12:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kris said: "I don't think this is a "lovely little story". I'm fuming that my rights are being sold down the river for the sake of "good relations" with the New immigrant muslim community."

Oh please, what 'rights' are these you are talking of that are being 'sold down the river'? Put down your Daily Mail man and start developing your own thoughts!

December 03, 2006 12:33 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

you posted...
'As a non-Muslim, non-headscarf wearing white twenty-something female who also lives in Haringey, I must say I am used to being treated with respect on a regular basis (shock! horror!). If you treat others with respect it will be returned to you, regardless of whether you are suddenly a bit Muslim-looking or not.

I don't recognise this Haringey you are speaking of at all, I must say.'

If that remark is directed at me, can you please answer me this?

In what way is walking down the street to the shops where I am on good terms with all the shopkeepers not treating people with respect?

On the other hand, walk down the top of Blackstock Rd minding your own business wearing a winter coat and flat boots and carrying a shopping basket and quite often you will get a certain amount of hassle by groups of youths. Go and try it out.

I would like everyone walking down my street to be treated with respect.

December 03, 2006 12:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a shame Kris's bigotted little comment didn't provoke as quick (or any) response from you thus far.

December 03, 2006 1:01 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Jeez, give me a chance Miranda...I publish in the interests of debate, I don't endorse all comments.

FWIW I don't feel like my rights are being sold down the river for the sake of good relations with the Muslim community, but as I have said that at least 25 times on other posts on this blog over the last 16 months I thought I'd let Kris' comment provoke reaction amongst this blogs readers rather than try and answer every single comment myself as if I am the oracle on everything.

I picked up on yours as you seemed to be implying I, personally, don't walk down the street treating people with respect, which I thought was pretty odd. Given that is not me blocking the pavement and saying 'hello darling' when random members of the public walk down Blackstock Rd!

December 03, 2006 1:09 pm  
Blogger kris said...

MC said: "Oh please, what 'rights' are these you are talking of that are being 'sold down the river'? Put down your Daily Mail man and start developing your own thoughts"

MC, don't be faked out by my profile picture, Roy Keane aint here. I am a woman and a lesbian and am well within my rights (today- but keep chipping away, pal and you may as well just hand over the keys) to comment on the gauntlet of shite I and others have to deal with on a daily basis-mostly from young men of "faith".

- deal with it.

December 03, 2006 1:51 pm  
Blogger kris said...

Miranda said: "If you treat others with respect it will be returned to you, regardless of whether you are suddenly a bit Muslim-looking or not".

Ahhh, the old blame the victim argument. Very learned.

Ok, YOU haven't experienced misogny/racism- well done. I and others have. As to MC, get a grip.

December 03, 2006 1:54 pm  
Blogger kris said...

Guys, Rachel described the gauntlet of crap she has to put up with as an uncovered woman walking down the street

Turn the tables: - What would happen if gangs of young, white women were hanging around on street corners flipping shit to Muslims?

The problem would be sorted- that what would happen! But hey, women are supposed to put up with low-level harassment on the basis on their race and gender.

Have a word with yourselves!

December 03, 2006 1:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kris (" ... the gauntlet of shite I and others have to deal with on a daily basis-mostly from young men of "faith")

And has no-one encountered "the gauntlet of shite" from young men (and not so young men)of no particular faith? You know they have.

Or is it just these particular young men of this particular faith that you object to?

December 03, 2006 5:47 pm  
Blogger kris said...


Funnily enough, everyone else appears to have gotten over it. But hey, that's just MY experience.

December 03, 2006 7:23 pm  
Blogger kris said...

Joop, On reflection, your comment is supremely smug. Like I must be SO racist that I only see the men of faith who harass me and my friends- and the supposed others who also harass, we'll I must conveniently forget their ethnicities?!

Believe me, get flipped shit for being a woman or a lesbian and you have no trouble remembering who your harassers are.

December 03, 2006 7:39 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Being fair, I don't get it anywhere else apart from the particular area I described - and where I live is pretty mixed, and I like that.

It is like those young guys have 'staked out their turf' on that part of the street - unfortunately, that is where many of the shops are on the way back from the tube. I usually go the back way if I don't need to pick up groceries. But as I shop entirely local, I'm up and down that road several times a week, often 2 or 3 times a day.

It's worse in summer and on Friday evenings. And the local shopkeepers - all of who know me as that's where I buy all my meat, bread, veg, tabs, wine etc - are all unfailingly polite and chatty. And they're all Muslims.

It's these flipping youths and their lurking about in gangs outside 'their' coffee shops
( which are woman-free zones). To be honest I'd feel just as uncomfortable if they were from the local college or school. It's uncomfortable getting backchatted by 20 year olds when you are a 35 woman who is simply going to get milk. I switch off from it now and barely notice it - the big shock was the total attitude change when I had a headscarf on.

I agree with my Turkish shopkeeper friend, those youths are a pest when they posture and hang around in gangs and block the pavement and they should be respectful to women going about their business. It's bad manners.

I thought they were just like that to everyone. That was the point of the blog post - to discover that they weren't.

As to the chicken in the butcher, I was back today and I said 'hey, you gave me an extra big chicken yesterday' and he said, 'well, sometimes you are lucky!' . So that explained that. I think.

December 03, 2006 8:15 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Rachel, I just wanted to wish you a rapid recovery from the lurgy.

December 03, 2006 8:53 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thank you! the antibiotics are working.

December 03, 2006 9:01 pm  
Blogger PbPhil said...

Interesting story Rachel, as ever all to do with perception, as in the theme on my blog (many thanks for your post!), different people different there actually a correct perception?

Fundamentally I believe everyone has a right for respect from another human being, but being human beings we quite often get it wrong. I got it wrong yesterday and I'm ashamed of it today. A trivial incident where iI was disrespectful to another person because they had been horrible to another individual.

Two wrongs don't make a right....

One further thought...

I came to London 18 years ago, I brought with me a guitar and a bag of spuds, I used to travel between Leicester Square and Covent Garden or Picadilly Circus on the tube because I didn't know how far apart they were!. Yes I'm Irish...

I lived in Lausanne Road near Turnpike Lane and I had my first racial experience that same week I arrived. I was walking down the street beside the little green opposite TP Lane tube, heading back from the tube station sometime during the day. A black guy was walking towards me and he dropped his shoulder and deliberately bumped into me sending me flying......

I was minding my own business and at the time I didn't know why he'd done it, I angrily asked him why he did that, he laughed and kept on walking.

Nowadays I'm older, shorter fatter and hairer in the wrong places (I regularly check for folicle sproutage from the ears...thankfully no signs yet!).

Back then I was just a guy from a small Irish town whose population was totally white....apart from one mixed race kid....but thats another story.

Sure we knew about racism but had no first hand experience so it wasn't real for me until that time in time.

So its all about perceptions, time changes, but attitudes don't, perhaps they just shift their weight from one foot to another for a time!!

December 03, 2006 9:33 pm  
Blogger Greg said...

I realise you weren't deliberately going for a hijab-like look, Rachel. I just find it very saddening that only by conforming (accidentally) to their view of how a woman should appear can you avoid "nuisance".

December 03, 2006 9:33 pm  
Blogger Greg said...

Perhaps, to make my meaning clearer, my post should have ended
"...can one avoid nuisance."

December 03, 2006 10:12 pm  
Blogger Gavin said...

Rachel, I must say that I found your reaction, and the overall gist of your post on this issue, rather strange, in that you blogged about your experience on a personal level, but unlike other issues you write about which have affected you personally, with this one, you didn't seem to want to examine it in a broader, political sense.

What I'm trying to get at is, you talked about these Muslim youths who are continually "hissing and clucking" and being generally irritating to non-Muslim women walking down the street. OK, they're not actually assaulting you, but even so. And you find to your initial surprise that, when you're wearing a headscarf and you look a bit like a Muslim woman, the disrespectfulness stops. And so it clicks, after the shopkeeper tells you that they think you are a Muslim, and you quite rightfully say that they should be polite to all ladies.

Alright, I do understand that you were feeling unwell when you wrote this, and perhaps you didn't feel up to making a broader debate out of it. But I read this and I thought to myself, "Where is your sense of outrage here? Where is any sense of anger, any sense that it is completely and totally unacceptable in the UK that there should be gangs of Muslim youths hanging around, youths who collectively feel that Non-Muslim women are legitimate targets for personal abuse?" Your personal solution, to wear the headscarf more often, while a good solution for you as an individual, could be read almost as an act of capitulation, of resignation, as if you are thinking to yourself "Oh well, that's Muslims in multicultural Britain! You gotta love 'em! Can't expect anything different from them, so I may as well give myself an easy life and just wear the headscarf, if it keeps them at bay".

Your reaction to this connects in a sense with your above post about how foreign policy is acting as a recruiter of Islamic terrorism. Although you don't say so in as many words, you seem to imply by your tone that Muslim opinion is paramount, and that if UK policies offend/anger them, then we are somehow at fault and we must change our policies. Similarly, here you just do not seem to see that there is something inherently wrong and bad about these Muslim youths' attitudes to Western women, that it is their fault, that their entrenched attitudes are inimical to our society, and that the issue needs to be addressed and rectified by THEM, not by you.

I just don't seem genuinely angry and politicised about issues such as Tony Blair's proposals to renew Trident, you can see the issue in a wide context...but when it comes to Muslims intimidating you personally on your own street, it doesn't fire you up, you just call it "daft" (your comment, 3rd Dec 11:48am) and sort of shrug your shoulders, as it were.
OK, as I said, I appreciate that you were feeling a little less than 100% healthy when you wrote this post, so I hope you don't think
I am merely being critical of you. I would be interested to read your broader political opinions on this subject, if indeed you agree that there is a broader issue to be examined.

December 05, 2006 4:14 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

re. my lost sense of outrage...

It's the Turkish Muslim shopkeeper who was angry on hearing about what was going on, and who says he didn't know the boys caused problems, and that they were being respectful that day because my head was covered 'but they should have good manners to every lady'.

The boys are predominantly Algerian. The cafes where they congregate outside, ( and where you never see women) Algerian-run. The cafes are next to the bus top and the shops where I buy my food, which are largely Turkish/Kurdish. I am friendly with the shopkeepers as I shop there several times a week for fruit veg, bread,hot chicken, olives, milk... it's an excellent area for fresh food.

I didn't see it as a 'Muslim' thing to get angry about, because lots of the people going up and down the road are Muslim and we have no problem with each other. Finsbury Park mosque is 5 minutes away. There are therefore a lot of Muslim men who congregate in the street cafes after mosque, especially after Friday prayers.

I saw these youths and their 'hello sweetheart-pavement-blocking-ways' as a neighbourhood thing, a particular gang of youths thing, and a nuisance, no more. I assumed they were crass towards everyone.

It was for me not much worse than walking past a gang of British workmen going 'cheer up luv, it might never happen' or a gang of school boys ( or school girls) blocking the pavement outside the chip chop and making rude comments or giggling at every passer by.

I only really noticed it when it stopped. Like walking past a building site every day, and getting ' cheer up love! Nice skirt darling!' - and the one day you walk past dressed for a funeral, they fall respectfully silent.

Being a woman you get used to low level rubbish going on some of the time, if I got politically outraged about every single instance of youths being twats when I walked the streets of London I would be exhausted.

So I think it *is* quite an interesting story of multicultural Britain. My reaction and the reaction of the shopkeeper was not 'let's tip toe carefully round this MUSLIM sensitivity issue, it was, 'this is bad manners' and bad for the neighbourhood.'

I am not sure, but I think the shop keeper may have had a word. Or perhaps it has got colder, so they have gone inside the cafes rather than hangine about on the pavement and blocking it.

December 05, 2006 9:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came upon this blog by mistake, and I must say this discussion is fascinating.

I wish I could ask for political asylum in Britain. As a liberal in the American south I am definitely an oppressed minority, so I ought to qualify, and I would love to live in a place where the worst thing the teenagers do is block the sidewalk or giggle disrespectfully at passersby. Here, you have to worry that they are going to shoot you.

December 06, 2006 10:19 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Oh, they do shoot , but the Hackney murder mile is a mile away.

Welcome Robert,you can flee here and claim asylum anytime

December 06, 2006 10:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I regret to learn that firearms violence is happening in London. Is this something like bluejeans, McDonalds, and law firm advertising, a toxic bit of American culture that is spreading? Actually, of all the above, I find the spread of law firm advertisement beyond our shores to be the most surprising. Once upon a time weren't the barristers, at least, supposed to be gentlemen, and above that sort of thing?

One of my jobs is to teach philosophy part time at a community college here in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. Our college is a large one, with over 10,000 full and part time students. Many of them are Muslim women, and a fair number of them wear a hijab to class. The contrast between the young Muslim women in their hijabs and the young American women they sit next to in class is striking - in warm weather the Americans will often look like some combination of Janet Jackson and Britney Spears, displaying bare midriffs, wearing tank tops, and be tattooed and pierced in multiple places. One of my best students, a young Somali woman named Khadi, was asked by an American girl why she dressed the way she did. Khadi mentioned this web site:

Without endorsing the view in one way or another, I would say that the argument the young Canadian woman makes on the web site is not without some logical and rhetorical force.

December 12, 2006 6:40 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it odd that you decided not to look deeper into this issue and work out why some young Muslims feel hostility towards non-Muslims and show respect only towards fellow Muslims - for example young Muslims may feel bitter due to the constant demonisation of them they see everywhere and vent their frustration in the way you have described. And when they see someone they perceive to be another Muslim they are extra respectful towards them as a show of solidarity.

Tbh I don't get your point at all with this blog - there is no intellectual discussion as to why these youths are behaving in this way and it comes across as just another chance to demonise the usual suspects. Bloody pesky Muslims, eh?

December 14, 2006 7:57 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

John B, all I can say is read the blog - which you haven't, by the looks of this comment.

If you read a few of the Blog Best Bits and you still say this, then I will have to say I think you are trying to be controversial, with no proof to back up your position.

Or you can email me, and ask me personally what I think.

I'll tell you, just like I have told everyone for the last 16 months since I began writing,

Peace be with you

December 14, 2006 10:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry, I did actually mean 'I don't get the point of this blog entry' not the point of the blog itself which I admit I have not read a lot of.

I'm just tired of all the 'Muslims ate my hamster' stories these days, and I thought you were adding to them, that's all. Apologies if that's not the case.

Peace to you too.

December 17, 2006 11:53 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this whole experience very amazing... I don the Hijab and I have done so for over 2 yrs now (I'm 23 yrs old).

Of course I have to admit wearing the hijab has its perks: never have to worry about bad hair days, keeps you warm during the cold season and even keeps those pesty boys at bay. (I say all of this with humour!)

However, ppl are forgetting that even muslim girls who do not wear hijabs are hassled by the same boys, and by all boys from different shapes and colours. I too saw and felt the difference before and after wearing the hijab, it is sad that there is such a difference, yet that is how certain ppl are.

Even if it were for a part of the day, its very nice to hear that you stepped into a different world.... to an extent- the hijab world!

May 05, 2007 5:56 pm  
Blogger City Hijabi said...

Hi, I just thought I would commet on how I viewed your piece. I put on hijab aged 23 and have been wearing it for 4 years. As someone who has experienced life "before and after" I can assure you of several things from my own experience:-

1) Pre-hijab all types of men would stare at me, ask me out randomly on the street, propose to me, hassle me and 1 even stalked me. Race made no difference- it was all men

2) Post-hijab I gained the same respect you mentioned and it was a relief. All men treated me in an opposite fashion to the pre-hijab period. Because you had an experience where your appearance altered the way you were treated I would like you & all women to consider- regardless of your religion- how women SHOULD be treated...We all deserve respect despite our appearance.

As a professional hijab-wearing woman now I am respected, I am seen as intelligent, my opinions are sought and men look at my face/eyes when talking not elsewhere. I feel safe and protected and have a dignity and self-worth that came from being covered. Women SHOULD be able to walk down the street as you did and NOT be harassed but the real world is an unsafe place- the day I put on hijab I felt protected and my self-esteem grew. All women should try it and I'm glad you got a taste of it x

April 26, 2009 1:34 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

to all d above ppl
u hav expirienced or listened to those who hav expirienced wearing head-scarf.there is a suggestion to all of u to just expirience reading THE HOLY QURAN only once.i can't force u to do so,becoz ISLAM does not allow force in religion,but it is my earnest request to all of u that jus give it a try and just read it once.and then tell me how u feel....
also about d expiriece of racheal,i wud like to add that it is mentioned in THE HOLY QURAN, that if a boy sees a girl(muslim or a non-muslim)or a girl sees a boy ,u should lower ur gaze,u cant even stare at a boy or a girl and think bad thoughts about him or her(sexual).so commenting a bad(sexual)comment to anyone is not at all accepted in ISLAM...
u would say then why those few muslim guys did so?the fact is that"as a bad or drunk driver can hav accident even driving the best car in the world-like BMW or FERRARI,but it wont be the faulty making of these best cars but the driver is not good enough to handle it"
thus,in the religion which even prohibits staring at a girl or boy with bad thoughts,it can not at all allow such a thing which had happened to only shows their lack of commitment to ISLAMIC values and religion......

August 13, 2009 11:59 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home