Covered life gives new perspective

Covered life gives new perspective

Ana McKenzie

Daily Texan Staff

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Published: Friday, June 5, 2009

Updated: Friday, June 5, 2009

Spencer Wall

Mary Kang/The Daily Texan

Spencer Wall, fourth-year English and sociology major, talks about her
experience wearing a hijab on Wednesday night at Kerbey Lane Cafe.
Wall, a Christian from West Texas, embarked on a personal experience in
which she dressed as a Muslim woman for a year, starting in April.

I first noticed Spencer Wall in my religion and society class toward
the end of last semester. She wasn’t particularly outspoken, but the
shawl that covered her hair, neck and shoulders made her stand out in
the large class.

I usually gave her nothing more than a completely unconscious
glance. But when she revealed to the class the decision that she made
on April 27, I suddenly became aware of the attention I gave her.

Wall, a 20-year-old sociology and English senior, decided to assume
the characteristics and attire of a “typical” Muslim woman for a year
starting in late April.

She wears the traditional veil, or “hijab,” and loose-fitting
clothing everywhere she goes and does not consume pork or alcohol in
public. She avoids eye and physical contact with men and has adopted
modest habits like walking with her arms glued to her sides or crossed
in front of her to hide her chest. 

I witnessed the looks Wall gets on a daily basis when we met at Kerbey Lane on the Drag recently.  

She’s wearing a hijab splashed with vibrant shades of green and
blue. A long-sleeved, black shirt and floor-length aqua skirt reveals
only a few inches of skin.

 Some who pass us try to be inconspicuous with their intrigue,
limiting themselves to quick side glances. But most don’t even try to
be candid with their exaggerated double-takes or blatant stares.

She passes by a group waiting to be seated, and all of them stare at
the back of her head as she walks away. One guy even rolls his eyes.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” she says when I tell her about the group. “But look around. They’re not the only ones.”

She insists her decision is not a social experiment but more of a
personal learning experience. As a white female from a small, West
Texas town, Wall says she wanted to know what it would be like to be
part of a “noticeable minority.”

“I’m not representing Muslim women or the Muslim community,” she
says. “I just want to know what it’s like to walk in their shoes for a
while.”

Initially, Wall elaborates on her “learning experience” when people
would ask her questions, the most common being “So, where are you
from?” She has abandoned these efforts. Now, when people ask about her
attire, she simply says she is not Muslim but wears the hijab because
she chooses to do so.

This explanation is not entirely untrue, as Wall admits to not being able to leave her home without the clothing. 

“I decided a while ago that I was going to try and not wear the
hijab for 24 hours,” she says. “I couldn’t even make it for half that.”

Wall says she receives different reactions when she wears the hijab.
A man once fell into a display at Wal-Mart because he was staring at
her. One day a group of male patrons at the restaurant where she works
refused to be served by her. The same group called her derogatory
names. But most of the time she said she is just respectfully avoided.

“I wouldn’t say guys don’t hit on me, but they do so in a very
different way now,” she says. “It’s more respectful, less forward.”

The experience has taught Wall to pay attention to smaller details
that would make a traditional Muslim lifestyle difficult to follow in
the United States.

One day at a clothing store, Wall had to ask for a sheet to cover a
gap between the floor and dressing room door so she could hide her bare
legs as she changed. Her job as a waitress presents one of the most
awkward situations as it naturally entails a lot of physical contact
with strangers, which is not allowed for Muslim women, she said. 

Wall has grown to appreciate this sort of privacy and, in some ways,
respect it. Perhaps the most unexpected outcome of the experience is a
newfound devotion to her Christian faith. The Islamic faith requires
followers to pray five times a day, the first prayer being at 5 a.m.
Though Wall has not yet assumed this tradition, she admits she may in
the future, and finds herself praying more often.

“You know we live in a society that is very unconscious of daily
religious activities,” she said. “Throughout this experience, I have
noticed myself becoming much more aware of God.”

Throughout our conversation, I find myself wanting to discuss the
most obvious topic, but can’t bring it up without having to continually
justify myself. Doesn’t she feel constricted and even oppressed by the
practices she is assuming?

Wall’s candidness to discuss such issues validates my impression of
her. She constantly reassures me to ask even the most probing questions
and to present any debate, illustrating a maturity and intelligence
uncommon for a 20-year-old.

“This experience has taught me to respect a woman’s decision to stay
home with her children or wear a hijab or go out and become CEOs,” Wall
said.

She finishes her sentence, as I notice a young woman staring at the back of Wall’s head.

Her eyes momentarily follow the outline of the brightly colored veil
and then quickly move away. Instead of feeling sorry for Wall and
assuming that the attention is warranted by feelings of resentment or
fear, I soon wonder if the girl is instead intrigued by the hijab.

Wall admits to only showing her hair in the most intimate of
settings, and I realize that I’m slightly jealous of someone who
respects something I easily take for granted.

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Comments

44 comments

islamvoice

Thu Jun 11 2009 02:59

You look at me and call me oressed
Simply because of the way I’m dressed
You know me not for what’s inside
You judge the clothing I wear with pride
My body’s not for your eyes to hold
You must speak to my mind, not my feminine mold
I’m an individual, I’m no mans slave
It’s Allah’s pleasure that I only crave
I have a voice so I will be heard
For in my heart I carry His word
” O ye women, wrap close your cloak, So you won’t be bothered by ignorant folk”,
Man doesn’t tell me to dress this way
It’s a Law from God that I obey
Oressed is something I’m truly NOT
For liberation is what I’ve got
It was given to me many years ago
With the right to prosper, the right to grow
I can climb mountains or cross the seas
Expand my mind in all degrees
For God Himself gave us LIB-ER-TY
When He sent Islam
To You and Me

islamvoice

Thu Jun 11 2009 01:44

You look at me and call me oressed
Simply because of the way I’m dressed
You know me not for what’s inside
You judge the clothing I wear with pride
My body’s not for your eyes to hold
You must speak to my mind, not my feminine mold
I’m an individual, I’m no mans slave
It’s Allah’s pleasure that I only crave
I have a voice so I will be heard
For in my heart I carry His word
” O ye women, wrap close your cloak, So you won’t be bothered by ignorant folk”,
Man doesn’t tell me to dress this way
It’s a Law from God that I obey
Oressed is something I’m truly NOT
For liberation is what I’ve got
It was given to me many years ago
With the right to prosper, the right to grow
I can climb mountains or cross the seas
Expand my mind in all degrees
For God Himself gave us LIB-ER-TY
When He sent Islam
To You and Me

Juvy

Thu Jun 11 2009 01:02

I disagree with the comment that Muslim women are not allowed to have
physical contact with people . I am a Muslim female doctor, and by
necessity of my profession, I have physical contact with men on a daily
basis! For purposes of my job I also have eye contact with them. Allah
does allow this (special situations) so that women can be free to
practice medicine if they so desired.

Hera

Thu Jun 11 2009 00:22

I would like to see this woman attempt to go without a hijab in an
Islamic country. Pakistan for example. That is an act that requires
real courage, as some women have been disfigured for life in acid
attacks for not being “covered” in Pakistan and some other countries in
the “Islamic world”. Walking around with a hijab on your head in the US
is not particularly heroic.

Adam

Thu Jun 11 2009 00:05

What a beautiful outlook this woman has!


Your name

Wed Jun 10 2009 18:59

Thank you for the prespective, Mrs. Wall!


David Williams

Wed Jun 10 2009 17:17

I think this will prove to be a great eye opening experience for her.
One of the things that makes the human race great is the ability to
empathize with others and have compassion. I believe she is finding out
how great and practical the practices of Islam are and will find a very
strong appreciation for it. Even Christian nun’s cover and are modest
till this day. This is a practice that has been abandoned recently, I
hope that Allah guides her, through this experience to the true path
and know that the main reason for this modesty in Islam is to prevent
unwanted sexual glares and glances, of which people would find interest
in a woman for her body and looks, not for her mind and personality.
This is the greatest form of respecting yourself for a woman in a
society that has began to make it “unnormal” if you don’t show your
skin, cleavage and hair. That beauty of a woman should be only kept for
the one who will be able to act according to witnessing that….her
husband!

Louis Bertmans

Tue Jun 9 2009 03:44

Only in the US (so called free world) this kind of problems exist. In
Europe, we don’t have any issues with women covering their heads or
dressing in any other way.


Lover of Truth

Sun Jun 7 2009 17:40

Keep up the good work Ms. Wall, you are inspiring to all.

renita burwell

Sun Jun 7 2009 16:58

Amen, Shayma. A person’s religion and its practices are not for
outsiders to experiment with just for the sake of curiousity! This is
not a museum! Also I’ve known quite a few Muslims, none ever ran around
with their eyes cast down or folded their arms to hide their body. If
they did cross their arms, it meant they were mad as hell and you had
better run and fast. If Spencer wants to present a more modest
appearance than what is necessary in American society, then let her do
so. But do it in a way that doesn’t make you appear to be something
you’re not.

Nikolai Royas

Sun Jun 7 2009 16:55

i found this story incredibly fascinating. absolutly remarkable. this
young woman should be congradulated on her maturity and forthright
attitude.



Fayzah

Sun Jun 7 2009 00:10

“I just want to know what it’s like to walk in their shoes for a while.”
You’d
be surprised at how many people are open or tolerant toward the idea of
a woman covering herself up. More surprising yet is the level of hatred
people can feel toward a complete stranger because she won’t let you
see her body/hair. What an interesting way to find out for yourself (a
whole year)! I’ve seen something of the like on YouTube; a woman called
the Non-Muslim Hijabi experiments with the veil.
By the way, I’m a Hijaabi AND a Trekkie!

Fayzah

Sat Jun 6 2009 23:19

“I just want to know what it’s like to walk in their shoes for a while.”
You’d
be surprised at how many people are open or tolerant toward the idea of
a woman covering herself up. More surprising yet is the level of hatred
people can feel toward a complete stranger because she won’t let you
see her body/hair. What an interesting way to find out for yourself (a
whole year)! I’ve seen something of the like on YouTube; a woman called
the Non-Muslim Hijabi experiments with the veil.
By the way, I am a Hijaabi AND a Trekkie!

Amane

Sat Jun 6 2009 22:13

You know ,i think what she did was great as for me im a muslim, that is
having a hard time wearing the hijab ,it takes alot .


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