Wrapunzel: Is it Offensive if I Wear a Head Wrap?

Hi, everybody! It’s Naomi Rose. I’m sitting
here with my morning coffee, and I wanted to talk a little bit about a question
which is perhaps one of the most frequent and controversial ones that we hear at Wrapunzel which is, “Is it Offensive if I Wear a Tichel?” So this is a very
interesting question, and it seems particularly appropriate to talk about
it right now, because recently one of the girls on our fan group, which is a
wonderful place were lots of lots of women who cover their hair come together
to talk about hair covering, was accused by somebody in her community of cultural
appropriation. And, this person obviously felt that whatever she was doing was in
some way offensive to some culture, and she was really upset by that comment, and
she didn’t really know what to do about it. So let’s talk a little bit about tichels, and where they come from and what they are. The term cultural appropriation I’m not even really going to touch on so much, because it’s such a
buzzword these days that I don’t even want to get into all the layers of
meaning and connotation that those words have. But the basic tenet here is that
people are worried about offending a group of people by taking something
that’s religiously, or spiritually, or culturally appropriate to a certain
group, and using it for their own purposes. So first of all, this is a real
and legitimate concern. Um, there are extremely frequent examples of people
doing this in a way that’s offensive, and degrading, and demeaning. We can find them throughout history. We can find them today. So, it’s not wrong to be worried
about this, but the first thing you need to do is two things, you need to figure
out why you want to do whatever it is that your concerned might be offensive (in
this case wear a headscarf), and you want once you’ve figured out
what your personal reasons are, you want to do a little research about where this
worry is coming from that you’re thinking might offend somebody. So
personal reasons for wearing a tichel are probably more diverse than people
think. So I say the word tichel, and that’s a Yiddish word, and people think ‘okay so
this is a Jewish headscarf.’ In my case that’s true, but the term is a Yiddish word which means a small cloth or even a rag, it’s not a religiously specific or
ritually specific term, and people also say ‘head scarf,’ ‘head covering,’ ‘mitpachat,’
which is the Hebrew word for head covering. So not all terms for tichels or for head scarves are religiously specific. So
people wear them for religious reasons. I’m an Orthodox Jew, and for me this is a
symbol of my marriage. People wear them for other religious reasons. Most people
know that Muslim women cover their hair after puberty – not all of them but
many of them, and also there are religions in other places in the world
that we don’t even know about that use these head coverings as a sign of
religious or cultural significance. But that’s really just the tip of the
iceberg. People have a million reasons for wearing a headscarf. I’m speaking as
somebody who has met Wrapunzel people online all over the world. I could
probably list a hundred different locations and six hundred different
reasons that people have for covering their hair. Women do it for medical
reasons. Women do it for spiritual reasons. Women do it for fashion reasons.
Women do it just to lift themselves up and make themselves feel beautiful every
day. So the first thing that you can do when you’re doing research on this thing
that you’re worried might be offensive, is to notice ‘where exactly is this
coming from?’ Is this actually a practice that’s specific to one culture, to one
religion, or is it something that’s done by people everywhere? Is it specifically
done for a religious and significant meaning? Okay, so by Orthodox Jews it is.
However are there people who do it without religious or spiritual
significant meaning? Absolutely in this case there are. So when you’ve done a
little bit of looking into the practice of head covering, and you have an idea of
the diversity of people who do it, and the reasons that they have, you’ll start
to get a hint that you, by wearing a headscarf, are not taking something
that’s ‘owned’ by one religious, ethnic or cultural group and using it to your own
purposes. You’re doing something that people all over the world are doing for a
multitude of reasons, and by that description alone, what you’re doing is
not inherently offensive. Okay, so that’s step one. So no, it is not offensive if
you’re not Jewish, if you’re not religious, if you’re Atheist, if you’re
Buddhist, whatever you are you can cover your hair with a scarf and not be
worried about it. That said, not everybody is going to have done this research that
you’ve done, and not everybody might understand your reasons either, So let’s
say your reasons are very simple. You don’t have a spiritual practice that
requires that you cover your head, but you put one on and you feel beautiful.
You don’t have a medical reason either. You just feel beautiful. So you decide, ‘I
want to wear this around my neighborhood,’ and somebody then says, “Why are you doing that?,’ and you have to explain to him, ‘Oh, it just makes me feel beautiful.’ And
let’s say this person says something like, ‘Oh but aren’t you going to offend
the Muslims by covering your hair, because they do that as a religious
practice?’ So at that point you might feel very upset and uncomfortable and you
need to have something to say. So this is where the two-prong approach from the
beginning of this video comes in. You need to know your reasons, and you need
to be comfortable explaining your reasons, even if they’re as simple as ‘I
feel beautiful in it,’ which is a very legitimate reason by the way, and you
need to know what you’ve gotten from that research that you did. So let’s say
you did some research on hair covering, and you noticed that all of the wives of
King Henry the Eighth in England covered their hair. And they weren’t Muslims, and
they weren’t Jews, and they weren’t doing this as a mark of some specific cultural
ritual significance, but women who were of high status as queens would have been
in that time, in England, in the 1500s would have covered their hair. So you can
tell this person, ‘You’re right. Muslim women do cover their hair, but did you
know it was also a practice in England in the 15 and 1600s, and it’s also a
practice among Orthodox Jews, and also in Africa women cover their hair as a mark
of cultural significance, it’s actually something people do all over the world, and it makes me feel really beautiful.’ And at that point, this person should have a lot
better idea of why what you’re doing is not inherently offensive. You have to
forgive them for making the initial comment, because they may not have ever
known anyone who covered their hair for any other reason than being a religious
Muslim. However, if you gently describe to them some of the many, many places that
this practice happens? Now they have suddenly a much bigger education about
the practice in general, and they also will think kindly towards your use of it
just to make yourself feel beautiful. Because, if you are taking a practice
that’s specifically meaningful to one religious group, and you’re using it for a
frivolous reason, then people have cause to be a little bit offended. But if
you’re taking a practice that is done all over the world, for a multitude of
different reasons, and you have your own beautiful reason for doing it? Then you
don’t need to be so worried. So, just to illustrate this a little bit better, I
want to give an example of something on the other side that might be considered
offensive, that might be considered cultural appropriation, whatever that
means to you in this day and age, um that you would want to avoid. So let’s say you
are just enamored by the ideas that Judaism has, and you heard that there’s a
special prayer shawl that Jewish men wear when they pray. And you also heard,
and maybe saw, that Jewish men wear what’s called a ‘yarmulke’ or a ‘kippah’ on
their head. You’re not Jewish, and you don’t really have any intention of
becoming Jewish, you’re just kind of, like, curious about this, and you’ve heard
about it somewhere and you think it’s really, really cool. So, you decide for
your Halloween costume this year, you’re going to get one of those Jewish prayer
shawls, and one of those Jewish kippahs and you’re going to wear them around
because it’s fun. That is a very different scenario. So, the difference here is that those items that you chose, the kippah and the
Jewish prayer shawl, are items that are used by one specific group of people,
albeit a diverse group of people, for a religious practice that’s specific to
that group, and they have serious meaning, and cultural and religious depth of
meaning, when they’re used in that context. And so for them to be used frivolously is a problem. So it’s a so it’s a two – just like the approach to this whole situation is two- pronged, the problem is also two-pronged – one, your reason is a frivolous reason. Two, the actual items in question are extremely
meaningful and culturally significant items in one religious group. They’re not
items like a headscarf that are used all over the world, in dozens and dozens of
religious groups, for many different purposes, plus non-religious groups, plus
cultural groups, plus fashion, plus like Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games movie
recently, if anyone noticed this, had head scarves on in practically every scene
just because it was a fashionable choice that the directors made for her to wear.
So look, you might find this in pol, in popular culture you might find it on the
street corners, and you might also find it in a very religious synagogue. But
because there’s that diversity of use you don’t need to be worried about being
offensive if you wear a headscarf, even if your reason is pretty frivolous, even
if you wanted to use it as a costume, so long as you were doing it within bounds
of being respectful of where it originally came from, you have, like
really no reason to worry. And make sure, you know, you understand what your own
reasons are for taking on this practice, that you’re comfortable explaining them
to other people, and that you’ve done a little bit of looking into where the
practice came from, and what other places around the world it might have, that you
might see it in. So when somebody approaches you, or even a friend
approaches you, and it could be just off the wall, and it could be that they’re
actually concerned, then you have some things that you can talk to them about. About why this practice is not a problem, why it’s not offensive and it’ll also make
you feel better about it yourself. If you have any doubts that you can do this,
that just because it makes you feel beautiful, it also might make you feel
worried. But hopefully, this approach will make you feel a little less worried. That
you can take ownership of this, and even if your only reason to wear a scarf on
your head is because it makes you feel beautiful, this should feel enough like
enough of a reason, and it should feel like a real and true reason, and
it should feel like something that you can do with your chin held high, that you
can walk down the street proudly, and that if anyone asks you why you do it,
you feel much more comfortable explaining about it. So hopefully that
addresses just a tiny corner of this big, big topic. If you have thoughts about
this, we would love to hear them. It’s something, a conversation that we can
continue to have definitely down the line, and I expect to hear lots lots
more about it. Thanks so much for listening. Bye!

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