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Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Do Men Think of Women Who Cover?

I sought, this weekend, to get a taste of what men think of women who cover in church.  After reading a rather coarse comment on dear Cam’s blog, I was interested in finding out.  I asked  a somewhat motley, (by age and denominational affiliation), group of Christian men for honest reactions to veiling.  All of them are men who are dear to me, which may mean that they were kind, and somewhat guarded, in their responses…but I asked them not to be.  Clearly, this is a naturally biased sample, since it only included people that I know, but…it’s a start.

I have learned some things that were unexpected, and some things that were no surprise at all.

Here are some highlights:

One Thing I Had Expected to Find:
These men, even those in their 40s and 50s, do not seem to have the same hang-ups about headcovering that women do.  They don’t associate it with subjugation, male dominance, or power issues.

One Thing I Was Pleased to Find:
Not one man was critical of the decision of some women to cover.  Now, maybe I just have really awesome friends, but, I think I was getting pretty honest answers.  There were varying levels of understanding of why a Christian woman might choose to cover, but no one along that continuum, expressed distaste or negative judgment. 

In fact, while none of these men, to my knowledge, has a woman in his life that chooses to cover, each was accepting of the practice, and, in the case of some, even willing to defend it.

Photo: Creative Commons

The Thing That Was Most Disquieting for Me:
A few brought up the one issue, regarding veiling, that causes me to squirm, both intellectually and emotionally: the idea that headcovering, if intended to express modesty and humility, is counterproductive when done in a cultural context where it is not the norm. 

This has always been the only personally valid argument against veiling, for me.  I certainly cover in a cultural environment where it is not the norm.  However, I also live in the midst of a culture where virtue, respect for male headship, the placing of vows over personal gain, pursuit of  integrity, and honor for God are not the norm.  I’m not about to give up striving for these things, because I find myself in a culture that does not universally embrace them.  My fierce internal longing to honor the Presence of our Lord trumps the desire to flee circumstances which may call attention to me.  And, in the end, I squirm far more unveiled in church, than I do veiled.

A Question That Was Answered for Me:
Some of these fine Christian men are not immune from sharing the discomfort that some of us headcovering women feel, toward veiling in church, when they are intimately tied to us in some way. However, those who expressed this potential discomfort, also rose to support us, in rather knightly fashion, provided our reasons for veiling were Biblical, sincere, and virtuous.

Artwork: {{PD-1923}}-published before 1923 and therefore public domain in the US

Something I Already Knew:
Men, the good ones at least, are pretty wonderful.  They are more thoughtful, reasonable, supportive, and kind, than most women give them credit for.

The Thing that Surprised Me Most:
The first response, that I received, came completely out of left field for me.  This portion was not at all what I had expected:

"I don't really care if you do or don't, I see it as a form of fashion.  I do not know the reason why veils wouldn't be allowed as per doctrine but so far as I know God doesn't care if you wear them or not." (Italics, mine.)

As I thought about this, I realized that this very thoughtful, contemplative, intelligent man, whom I hold rather dear, was born post-Vatican II.  We have adults, now, that were born well  past Vatican II.  Have you, (assuming that you are old enough to remember sitting through televised Watergate hearings), thought of it?

They have lived entire lives with no exposure to looking out over a congregational sea of hats or lace mantillas on female heads in church, images of a veiled Jackie Kennedy, priests/pastors with backs to the congregation while facing a wall-backed altar to celebrate communion, housewives at the grocery market in the middle of the day with their hair set in rollers under scarves, or significant controversy over the use of birth control.

This very well informed young man probably has no awareness of the National Organization for Women's heavily promoted 1968 suggestion that:

"Because the wearing of a head covering by women at religious services is a symbol of subjection with many churches, NOW recommends that all chapters undertake an effort to have all women participate in a "national unveiling" by sending their head coverings to the task force chairman.  At the Spring meeting of the task force of women and religion, these veils will be publicly burned to protest the second class status of women in all churches.  (National Organization for Women, Dec., 1968.)

Many of the cultural shifts that have occurred in the short time between his generation, and mine, have been tragic.  Others may not be.  It hit me rather hard that, to him...and most of his peers...a veil in church is just a piece of lace.

...It's not a sign of subjugation.  It's not a sign of honoring the wearer's husband, present or future.  It's not a sign of backward thinking by a woman who is not comfortable with her own sexual freedom.  It's not necessarily a sign of modesty.  It's not a sign of imprisonment by superstitious religious thinking. It's not a gesture of honor toward the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

It's just a piece of lace.
And, maybe, that is a good thing.

I don't know why I didn't realize it before now.  I suspect that a lot of things that headcovering women (or those considering it) worry about, regarding the reactions of others, are no longer least for people under 35, or so.

Perhaps we have finally reached a point where we can get our collective societal head on straight.  Maybe, now, lace covered female heads; male headship in the home; and a heading away from limited family size, institutionalized child care, and the embracing of a culture of divorce...can become true matters of choice.  We have seen a period where women had no choice but traditional roles.  We have seen a period where society militantly opposed women's embracing of traditional roles.  Maybe now, as images of sit-ins, and bra burnings, fade in the memories of the relative handful of us that possess them, we can entertain hope for healing.


One Sunday, my daughter wore a dress to church that, by most people's standards, was perfectly modest.  However, it fell lower along the bust line, than she would generally wear without a shell underneath.  As the mass progressed, I was aware of her tell-tale judicious fussing with the neckline of that dress.  Finally, as we prepared to go up for communion, my rather scrupulously headcovering daughter discreetly slipped her lace mantilla off her head, folded it in half, and tucked it quietly into the bodice of her dress, in preparation for meeting her Lord, bareheaded, at the altar rail.

That episode is the best example I can recall, of healthy, balanced veiling...and I believe that those Chrisitian men, whose opinions matter, would understand her decision perfectly.

My own testimony of veiling is here.
A response best read in its entirety is here.
We have posted a poll on the veil shop Facebook page.  We would be ever so grateful, if you would be so kind as to stop by and offer your response.

Pax Christi,

Linked with:

Handful of Heart Mondays, Welcome Home Linkup @ Raising Arrows, Domestically Divine Tuesday @ Far Above Rubies, Teach me Tuesdays @ Growing Home, Encouraging One Another @ Deep Roots at Home, Homemaking Linkup @ Raising Homemakers, Women Living Well Wednesdays, Homemaking Link-up @ A Wise Woman Builds her Home
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  1. This is excellent! So much inspiration!

    Well done!

    Mrs. White
    The Legacy of Home

  2. My 6 year old and 4 year old wore the veils I bought from your store today for the first time. A mid-40s man was holding open the door on our way into Mass. He told them both how beautiful they looked in their veils.

    Add that one to your survey. :)

    1. =) I hope that they love them!
      It has been my experience that men treat you differently when you are veiled. Don't you think so?

      They want to be so honorable, truly they do. It's just that women have kicked their nobility back in their faces, and stolen its validity, by widely displaying, and them handing them cheaply, things they would rather work virtuously for. God bless and help our daughters. May they find knights. I worry so.

  3. Wow! This is a completely new topic for me and this post was very well written. I found you through the Growing Home link-up. I intend to stay and poke around a while. ;)

  4. Something I did not add when you asked me before (I was frustrated at another male) is that women do look more like people of honor when they wear veils. There is a tad bit of sophistication to it. But I'm too used to fundie practices that I do tend to be more interested in denominations that have practices. haha.

  5. We went to a mass a couple of weeks ago where all the women veil so we made veils and wore them for the first time- such fun! When we walked in my three year old son exclaimed in delight, "Look Mommy, all the girls here are Marys! I thought that was pretty profound.

    1. Well, there is an opinion from a (young) man that pretty much says it all! =)

  6. I loved this post! I'm Orthodox and typically veil when I'm in church... although most in my parish don't. I see it as many things, but most notably an issue of obedience. (And as I struggle with my will often, that's something that I can work with!)

    Sometimes I veil outside of church as well... seeing it in that "obedience" POV... veiling when you pray, but when you're supposed to be praying continuously...

    Anyway, I enjoyed your post! I'll be back to your blog too :-)

    1. Thank you so much for your input. I often feel that I do not provide adequate representation of Orthodox positions and practices on this blog, in spite of the fact that I strive diligently to represent all "neighborhoods" of Christendom. I am most grateful for your comments and invite you to "chime in" at any time, including to correct me where needed! Orthodoxy is a jewel of Christianity. I am very pleased to have you here. =)

  7. I love the honesty and simplicity of this post! Thank you! I am an evangelical christian, so veiling doesn't happen, but I always come back to considering it in some way. I did ask my husband about veiling in the past and he was not for it.

  8. Michelle,
    Every time I read your thoughts, I am moved to consider more deeply the practice of veiling. Thank you for your candor.


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