spock: logic is sexy

Thoughts on Amanda covering her head

I find it interesting that so many fics talk about Amanda wearing a scarf to cover her ears and eyebrows. It's a reasonable supposition, but the thought had never occurred to me. When I saw it, I assumed it was a nod to Muslim culture, a way for the writers of Star Trek to acknowledge that when women choose to cover their heads, it's not always a sign of oppression. In fact, I suspect that the women of Vulcan might cover their heads for many quite logical reasons.

Before I explain those reasons, I think it's important to be clear on why women who cover their heads are not inherently oppressed. Every culture has its own standard of modesty, and the most permissive ones are not necessarily the most just. In parts of Africa and Papua New Guinea, exposed breasts are the norm. In America, on the other hand, my male neighbors are perfectly free to mow the lawn shirtless, but I could get arrested for doing the same. It is an inequality, but if an African woman asked me if I felt oppressed by the requirement that I wear a shirt, I'd probably laugh. Even though I don't have a specific, articulate reason for it, "the girls" are private. Exposing them would make me feel uncomfortable, and I don't really yearn for the legal right to do so. I imagine that same principle applies to many Muslim women; after growing up in a culture that encourages covering their hair, they feel it's a private part. (There are also religious justifications I'm skipping over because I am not Muslim.) Their choice to do so is no different from my choice to wear a shirt every day. Most of you were probably clear on this already, but I think our media does a poor job acknowledging it. It seems fitting that Star Trek would choose to portray a very logical, enlightened culture as one where women cover their heads.

As stated before, I think there are many logical reasons why Vulcan society might have evolved this way. I base my hypothesis on my travels to a variety of predominately Muslim countries. I've never been any place where the hijab is the law, but I've been lots of places where the vast majority of women cover their heads. Occasionally, covering my hair has been necessary to respect local standards of modesty, and I've never had a problem doing it. More often, women have been curious about why I don't. The climate is often dry, dusty, sandy, or windy -- or all of the above. "Don't you get sand in your hair?" they ask. I did. As an American with access to abundant water, needing to wash my hair every single night has never been a problem. But those women lived in desert societies where water was scarce and sometimes not accessible. Covering their head meant it was okay not to wash their hair every night. Even where water was readily available, there were other reasons to wear a scarf. "Doesn't your hair blow in your eyes and get tangled in the wind?" the women asked, and I was forced to tell them yes. I explained that I wore it in a pony tail every day to mitigate the problem, and they said, "Doesn't the back of your neck get sunburned?" Irrefutable physical evidence pointed to yes. I didn't tell them how often the exposed skin at the part of my hair got sunburned to. None of that ever made me cover my head, but I have to admit that my blind adherence to my own cultural practices was pretty illogical. I suspect the women of Vulcan might have agreed.

My main point: I've loved my travels in Muslim countries, and I've always been intrigued by how neatly the hijab fit into the local geography and culture. Although no one has to agree with me, I much prefer to think that Amanda covers her hair because it's logical and it respects local customs, not because she wants to hide her humanity. I like to think that Star Trek might acknowledge the validity of that cultural practice.

Some random additions: (1) interesting fact rarely reported in our media: if you go some place like Egypt, you'll notice a lot of guys cover their hair with little caps. And ever seen a picture of Saudi Arabian royals with their heads uncovered? Men cover up a lot too, though as far as I can tell, it doesn't carry the same religious weight it does for women. (2) Did we see any other Vulcan women in the movie? I remember T'Pau, and her head was uncovered, but she was indoors when she got rescued. And maybe there was a Vulcan woman on that board thingie that accused Jim of cheating? Her head was definitely bare, but San Francisco's climate doesn't necessitate it the way the climate of Vulcan does. (3) I suppose Vulcan men don't really cover their heads outside, although I don't know if we've ever seen any of them outside on Vulcan. Their hair's a lot shorter though, so sand and wind might be less of a problem.

Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, but the best privilege of being a viewer is getting to make your own personal canon.
I don't know if the writers would have thought that deeply about Amanda's clothing choice; the costumers might have thought about the steps an intelligent woman on a hot desert planet would have taken to take care of herself. Whether it also fed into her perception in the eyes of Vulcans or not, I like your idea that it's a practical thing to wear the clothing she does - but we never see Vulcan women wearing headgear (in fact, a lot of the time they seem to dress similarly to men and have similar hairstyles, which is another matter I think).
Really interesting meta inspection. Hmmmm.

It's cool that you can bring your own travel experiences into your thought process.
I read this earlier, and tried to think of something more coherent to say before commenting. Unfortunatly, that hasn't happened.

This was really an interesting read, and a lot of your observations from real life sound like they could easily translate to Vulcan women in-general, and Amanda in-particular. I'll have to think about it more, but I may just have to use something like this approach when I write about her (if I ever get around to ficcing, that is).
I just assumed that it was a fashion thing (TOS Amanda wore elaborate hoods & stuff too, and I thought that was because she was an Ambassador's wife, and she liked wearing elaborate things when they were on diplomatic missions), but now that you mention it, it kinda does make sense from a logical Vulcan point of view too. Vilcan is supposed to be a dessert planet too, or at least it has a very warm climate, although it doesn't tend to have much of a breeze because the air is thinner. But maybe Vulcan is closer to it's sun than Earth is to ours, so it could have been to protect from sunburn (although have they never heard of sunblock?) Hmm, I dunno, but I think it's good food for thought either way. It's always interesting to speculate on Vulcan culture.
Wandered over from trek_news to share this. There wasn't much to it, really; though, it's possible the designers made a logical choice as well as "hey, that looks good."

On a related: while I don't feel oppressed for having to wearing a shirt, there is most definitely a double standard to male and female nudity. Much like the religious weight on genders and covering bodies as you pointed out.
The woman on the board was also in a uniform which does not include scarves. But you make some very good points here, thank you for pointing them out.