In a month when Waltham Forest Libraries publishes its plan to interprete International Women’s Day as a month of lady-related topics and loosely related themes to women in society ( “Gone Girl”) and when I await an answer, any answer, to my now-formalised complaint about a session for women and daughters making up together as wrong because IWD is not about the sexualisation of children then along comes National Potato Day next Monday followed by International Hijab Day on 1st Feb. In a month when the first prosecution for FGM in the UK gets underway and controversy simmers around the “I Am Girl” women into sports advert then I am agog at all around me but not silent.
Waltham Forest Council back in the eighties was like a force getting its kicks on Route 66 forging ahead, embracing every idea and debating everything before deciding what was workable. Women on and outwith the Council insisted that street-lighting was raised so that dark streets became highways for women to feel safe. It worked. The Council listened to school office-workers (mainly women) and gave them three “Religious” days off and rightly so because teaching staff had them. In fact WF was “lighting up tomorrow with today”. Women congratulated themselves. Waltham Forest was a unique progressive borough.
Nowadays the Borough is coming across as muddled and unliked, neither bothered about women especially down St James’ area with the “Rooms Of Our Own” disappointment nor meeting the demands of older people compared to Islington and Hackney where there are regular activities for seniors. The school students of the nineties look from their adult hood into the Borough and wonder what happened to drag it backwards.
On the Waltham Forest mothership we are going backwards. The paternalism mounts as any newcomer to the borough with any idea is accommodated. The replacements for the shakers and movers of days of yore can sit back and rest on their velvet cushions in their art-deco town hall knowing that their community is taking care of itself, ticking all the impressing boxes. That’s how an enterprising entrepreneur can suggest that mothers and daughters in painting their faces together to please others is right on. It is so not any on. Those who questioned everything in the borough moved on in so many ways and became older. Those who remained, the long-time residents, volunteer in museums and galleries while new residents use public places to infect the naïve with their own ignorance about achieving equality and self-esteem. It appears to their audiences that that we are all progressing when in fact the opposite is true.
I am assuming that soon the Borough will realise that Hijab day is a -coming. Now where I live most of the women I pass and see wear an hijab. My friends wear hijabs. My ex-colleagues wear hijabs. On bad hair-days I wear hijabs. My mum and her friends all wore headscarves. My friends on Scottish islands still wear headscarves. The queen still ties on an headscarf. Well, she doesn’t: A maid does that, a domestic worker even. I collect vintage head scarves. I bought headscarves from the Salvation Army Shop for 20p each and sold them on to Beautiful Interiors for £1 each where they sold for £7 each. Ha ha! Gotcher. I see no reason for a day devoted to the hijab. I don’t see why we need to acknowledge the potato, love them though I do. I do compliment a woman on her hijab style or colour which kinda takes away the vanity aspect of hijab-wearing. I compliment women all the time and found nothing silly about telling my date how fabulous he looked in his three-quarter leather coat and sparkling clean finger-nails. Credit where it’s due. I know that the Hijab day is probably supposed to be a catalyst for conversation. I’m pulsing.
An artist in East London has been commissioned to do vox-pops with the public about the status of the hijab. Here it’s assumed that only young Moslem women, gobby or not, will give some views. That’ll be interesting for all of us, their mums ‘n’ all. “Girl with a pearl earring” by RAGWORKS
Last year there was an art exhibition at Brady Arts in Whitechapel, a photographic exhibition about the hijab. I was stunned at the topic. I’m stunned that an art exhibiton can be a display of pressed flowers but there you go. I go along to my friends’ women-only tea club which is attended mostly by senior women in hijabs. I had so wanted to discuss life with the women. It began. I found out in a minute between the curry and the cake that they had all worked in local factories in the seventies. They had been out of their houses. That was it though. They had given away too much, For a blink they used “I” then quickly said a prayer and returned to the normal “we”. They were not going to share their experiences. I wanted to know more. I persuaded them to come along to an heritage tea party in Ilford. Three woman came. Two kept quiet whereas one had stories all about the tea, the staff, the joy of being rich in India and then the struggle in England moving down to London from the Midlands. That was it. She had given enough and declined any more invitations to be the subject of vox-popping.
Amina took her thirty tea-club women to a beautiful grill restaurant in Green Lanes. The Sahara in Leyton is too dear. The night before she phoned to comfirm that I were coming and that she had to still dye her hair. At the restaurant I remained silent as thirty women joined in the pre-meal prayer. I sat opposite Amina and she pointed to her covered head and gave me the information that she hadn’t had time to dye her hair. I thought nothing of it and carried on sharing the Nan bread and dipping my chicken pieces into the curry gravy. After the meal there was commotion as Amina tried desperately to get the right money out of some women for the communal bill. I offered her twenty pounds if she were short and could see a tear in her eye. Her clan disappeared outside and into the discount shops as soon as the ice-cream spoons had been licked clean. Amina exited to the cloakroom and I waited with my latte.
When she returned she was radiant; Her hair was newly-dyed and ginger at the tips which suited her reddened lips. She was a vision in red away from the black hijab and black sleeved tunic. She pursed her lips and adjusted the glittery clasp which was supporting a mane of seventy-year old pony-tail. “Wow, Amina.What happened? You look lovely”
“Oh these women! If I don’t wear hijab, they insult me. Have they gone? “And she looked through the vast shop front.
Building workers in Goa.2012.
I related the story to my daughter as we repeated our illuminating stories about cleavage and women in society and the ways we’re being dragged back by newcomers with backward ideas and ways. Good to talk. Je suis Charlie. Her take on the Amina story? She categorically said, “The women bully her. It’s a case of bullying. After all, Amina’s been in this country fifty years. She’s educated. She mixes with everyone.. She is being bullied otherwise she has the intelligence to decide her way in life in UK in 2014.”
So I wondered why the status of the hijab couldn’t be a conversation on March 8th, International Womens’s Day because it might affect all women and if not, a large percentage of women. The problem there is that many many women and men , those who insist plumbing and blue is for boys and agree that the important room for women in any house is the she– kitchen, see IWD as a disease pushed on by lesbians in DMs, something to be ignored except if it provides free Zumba and a free £23 worth of a pedometer.
PS Just finished “Gone Girl” and bit off my nail varnish reading “The Blackwater Lightship”.