- Headscarves, Modesty, and Modern Orthodoxy
Yiayia Kay kept her scarves in the far upper right hand corner of the long light oak dresser. By the time I was old enough to remember, she never took them out except to garden. She would drape one of the silk covers over her perfectly coiffed hair to protect it against the dry winds of the Colorado high plains. As a little girl and even into her teens and early married life, these had been more than mere gardening accoutrements. They were the outward visible witness of her inner self, signaling to the world, not just that she was a Christian, but that she was a lady, modest and chaste. Then one day, around the time television became king, like so many Greek American women of her generation, she folded up the scarves and put them in the dresser.
The fact is that for most of my childhood in the urban, assimilated Greek Orthodox parish where I grew up, the head covering was completely absent. Continue Reading…
- Headscarves, Modern Orthodoxy, and Telling Women What to Do
Dr. Katherine Kelaidis recently published a piece in this forum on ‘Headscarves, Modesty, and Modern Orthodoxy.’ The article, a loving homage to Kelaidis’s grandmother, aunts, and mother, describes the pressures faced by Greek immigrant women of the American Mountain West two generations ago, by contemporary Muslim women, and by Orthodox women under Ottoman rule. Acknowledging head covering as a historical code for women’s modesty and chastity—shared, one might point out, by Orthodox Jews, African American ‘church ladies,’ Roman Catholics before Vatican II, and Episcopalians before the social changes of the 1960s—the author then makes two unexpected turns. She perceptively notes that, to her supremely modest aunts, mothers, and ancestors, modesty meant “not calling attention to yourself…when everyone was wearing a headscarf, you wore it. But when you when you found yourself in a time and place where women had taken it off, you took it off as well.” “Any other choice,” Kelaidis continues, “was a display of self-aggrandizement.”
This last comment—that any other choice was a display of self-aggrandizement—leads Kelaidis to a complicated place. It is one thing to suggest that discretion is the better part of valor, and that the truly modest thing to do is to bow in true humility to the reigning external cultural standards of one’s day. One is most modest by not standing out from others. Real modesty—and by extension real Orthodoxy and real propriety—lie precisely in not making a show of one’s modesty or one’s Orthodoxy or one’s propriety. Continue Reading…
- Submission, Sexism, and Head Coverings
by Mark Arey
The recent visit of the President and First Lady to the Vatican raised again the question of head coverings for women in the Christian context. Many Christians perpetuate a theology of women’s submission to men that is symbolized by head coverings, based on a Scriptural text (First Corinthians 11:3-16).
In 11:5, Paul stresses the Jewish custom that married women should cover their head. Every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, dishonors her own head. Indeed, it is the same thing as having a shaved head!
As pointed out by M.D. Hooker, “According to Jewish custom, a bride went bareheaded until her marriage, as a symbol of her freedom; when married, she wore a veil as a sign that she was under the authority of her husband” (Authority on Her Head: An Examination of I Cor. XI. 10, New Testament Studies, 10, 1964, pg. 413). As Paul progresses in his argument in verses 8 and 9, he relies on the Genesis account of the creation of man and woman (Genesis 2:18-25) to create his logic. Thus, by the time we get to verse 10, we have a curious conclusion to his reasoning: That is why it is appropriate for a wife to have authority over her head, on account of the Angels. Continue Reading…