Cultural Norms: Burqa, Headscarf, Rash Guard

Cultural Norms: Burqas, Headscarves, and Rash Guards

Westerners have the idea that Muslim women are required to cover up. It is commonly thought that women are repressed and controlled by the head scarves and modest clothing. We tend to think that women are hidden in long coats to hinder their participation in the world and show that they are beneath men.

In a word – WRONG. It is simply UNTRUE.

While it is hard for us to believe anyone would choose to cover up – especially in the heat, women CHOOSE coverings.

Cultural norms; Women in Turkey

You read that correctly, women CHOOSE – the coverings are not required. As a matter of fact, for a while in an attempt to make Turkey more western, headscarves were outlawed in schools and places of government. It was against the law to wear one. But, instead of dancing in the streets from being ‘free’, women quit their jobs rather than bare their heads. Without what they felt was a choice to wear the headscarf, they felt LESS freedom, not more.

Recently the law was repealed and happily women in their headscarves returned to work in universities and government. Curious about the many different types of headscarves? Read more here.

Exploring and understanding cultural norms is part of the wonder of travel. Let’s start here with burqas, headscarves, and rash guards.

Cultural norms: Consider Australia

Due to very high skin cancer rates, Australia has a public service campaign encouraging locals to cover up in the sun. Slip. slap, slop.

Cultural norms: slip-slop-slap-australian PR

Kids are encouraged to wear hats at school recess. Rash guards are common at the beach and sunscreen clothing is popular for outdoor activities. No one is suggesting that Australian women who protect themselves from the sun are ‘repressed’  or ‘controlled by men’.

Cultural norms: Consider China

Fair skin is prized in China and women go to great lengths to obtain it. They have taken sun protection to a whole new level with these face covers called Face-Kinis. These get lots of reactions from Westerners though reactions are hard to decipher through all the laughter! Again, these women are not repressed or controlled by men by their fashion choices.

Cultural norms; Face-kini

Cultural Norms: Consider the beach in Turkey

As our family adventure only took us to two beaches, I can’t speak for them all, but we went to a national park which was full of locals – away from the tourist filled  area. My daughter had on the only one piece swimsuit there. Women of every age, size, and fitness category had on bikinis. With probably 200+ people in swimsuits I saw one woman wearing a long shirt and headscarf – just one. I felt a kinship with her actually as I cover up from the sun myself. I was wearing long sleeves, long pants, and a sun hat – all with the fantastic sunscreen fabric I love! (Were they thinking that was a way for my husband to control me??)

Cultural norms; beach Tourquiose Coast Turkey

Travel opens your eyes. When you see new things try to understand them, rather than just go with your knee jerk reaction. Discuss what you find with your kids and make them global citizens by considering cultural norms.

Happy fashionable choices and travel,

Natalie, The Educational Tourist

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Thank you,, and AFP Getty Images for the fantastic photos.

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15 Responses

  1. thanks for the article! i also find it weird that they think women who wear hijab are opressed while being a nune is okay? lol muslims practice their religion just like anyone else people just need to learn how to accept and live with that (:

    • NatalieTanner says:

      Thanks for your reply. That is an interesting parallel that I hadn’t thought of and I would guess other Westerners haven’t either. I agree that learning more about each other, and travel is a big part of that, can help the whole world get along better. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Br00ke says:

    Western women can also be Muslim women.

    • NatalieTanner says:

      Interesting point, of course you are right. Just speaking in generalities and how eye opening it was to learn a little more. I think non muslims are a little hesitant to ask personal questions like, “Why do you wear the hijab?” and so on. What are your thoughts?

      • Br00ke says:

        There is a huge problem in the US of non-Muslims thinking Muslims are some exotic Other and not their neighbor, that they have never even met a Muslim when that is not always true. Many Muslims have been ‘hiding’ that aspect of their identity for various fear-based reasons, so that hasn’t helped the situation, but Muslims have been in the US since the slave trade, so this idea of ‘getting to know’ Muslims is… inadequate when we continue to think of them as them and not us.

        • NatalieTanner says:

          I think every step, however small towards all of us understanding and appreciating each other is a good one. The journey of one thousand miles…..begins with a single step. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  3. Laura says:

    That’s what we get for listening to the media and believing everything we hear. We all do things that other don’t understand. It’s just another personal choice and we need to learn to respect everyone regardless.

    • NatalieTanner says:

      Isn’t that the truth! That is why learning a little more about your destination and the world in general can be so interesting, so fun, and lead to more understanding. Thanks for your comment. Certainly respecting everyone regardless is a nice goal, isn’t it?

  4. Very relevant point. I appreciate that you took the time to make it clear that it is a choice. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. I think this is an interesting argument and find it empowering if women believe it is their choice, however, there are places that exist in our world that don’t think as liberally. I’m glad that you’ve highlighted the aspect that it can fully be a woman’s choice.

    Face guards in China, actually that frustrates me. Skin colour is a definition of class, and I’m a Canadian with chinese heritage and I tan like it’s nobody’s business. I love my darker skin and get sad when I start losing my tan. You couldn’t pay me enough money to buy skin whitening cream and that is one thing, that I will never understand or accept.

  6. Great post about the cultural norms! That’s an interesting way to look at it ’cause I laugh about how much Asians cover themselves but in reality, it’s the same for things that we don’t realize are choices.

    • NatalieTanner says:

      Isn’t that the truth? I’ve seen some really interesting looking cover ups for the sun…. Keeping an open mind is part of how you learn about the world, and a great thing to teach the kids, but sometimes…things catch you off guard and seem silly or weird or what have you and it is hard not to have a strong reaction! The kids are old enough now to have some really interesting conversations about these like this. We have to take a deep breath and pause to understand.

  1. September 16, 2017

    […] Do all women in Turkey wear burqas?  […]

  2. September 16, 2017

    […] Read what I learned about women and covering up in Turkey! So interesting and surprising! […]

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