no, i’m not married, i just have dirty hair.

Just now, I was wandering down Jaffa Road and became completely transfixed by some scarves. (It’s happened before.) This particular scarf store had a wealth of hair covering options for observant married Jewish ladies, among them the hat, the snood, and the headband.

I’ve always been fascinated by the hair covering concept, mainly the part about whether you choose to cover, how much, with what and why. In Israel, it is a whole other animal. Here, you can be a married woman with uncovered hair, in pants with completely covered hair, in a tank top with semi covered hair, or swathed within an inch of your life in a long skirt, long sleeves, and a covered wig.

I’ve left the house with my hair covered twice since I’ve been here-once because my hair was dirty and I had yet again traded showering for sleep, and another time because I have a lot of hair and it seemed like too much to deal with. In both instances, I felt strange, in disguise as a married woman. At the risk of beating a dead, dead horse, I don’t aspire to be anyone’s wife, and I don’t want to be seen as such.

If you are a married Jewish woman, and you cover your hair, it’s a signal to certain Jews-a potentially problematic one given the misogynistic motivations of the laws of hair covering, but a signal nevertheless, of belonging. The same is true with skirts, which was the main impetus for my Pants Embargo of 2003-2005. I wanted to be identifiable, similar to the way a Jewish man is identifiable as religious by wearing a yarmulke. The thing is, skirts and hair covering are about men asserting control over women’s bodies, in a way that wearing a yarmulke is about a demonstration of piety.

It’s tricky to represent myself authentically, especially when my relationship Judaism as a religious practice is so radically different from what it once was. Ultimately, it’s rather lonely, since I’m not willing to forgo the Jewish or the feminist parts of myself, and every day, I worry that my political values are outrunning my ability to be observant in any kind of traditional way. I maintain, though, that it should be tricky, even if that also means it’s terrifying.

Oh, and I bought a scarf. I have no idea how to tie it.

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One thought on “no, i’m not married, i just have dirty hair.

  1. Jessica says:

    This issue of creating a visual means of identify myself as “in,” but at the same time not “in,” is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. Tied with other modesty issues I’ve carried with me as long as I can remember, it lead to periods where I would not wear tank tops in public and until recently I would never ever wear a short-sleeve shirt to synagogue. It’s funny how one group can establish an appropriate dress code for others, or at least the idea of one.

    Recently I’ve abandoned the idea that people on the street will know I’m “in.” If they’re interested, it just takes a few minutes of getting to know me. However, I’ve been playing with the idea that maybe when I get married I’ll cover my head with a scarf when wearing a tallit–my female kippah (I never got into those).

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