Alissa Rubin, the Times bureau chief in Kabul, writes about her first experience wearing the burqa:

I looked out at the men in the small bazaars we passed through. I could see them and they couldn’t see me, and I felt a certain satisfaction — and dismay. They did not care about seeing me. I knew that many Muslims would say that when a man does not look a woman in the eye, it was a sign of respect, but for me it was also a sign of their not being interested in who I really was. I was simply “a woman,” and “a woman” deserves respect — not necessarily this particular woman.

A really interesting piece. Most of us, men and women, have the option of being invisible (sub-visible? semi-visible?) at times, if we want, for reasons of modesty or shyness or privacy, and most of us assert it at times. In fact, when the option is not available, it's because something's gone awry--there's some interruption of privacy, or some difference of race or ability or custom that invites intrusive public comment.

But there's a big difference between choosing invisibility and having it chosen for you. And of course the semiotics of the hijab vary depending on where you are. In some contexts there's no dismissing the wearer as "simply" anything. Running the trail this evening, I passed a family out for a stroll--a husband and wife, with two small children, a boy and a girl. The father and the kids were in western clothes, but the wife (I assume) was wearing a niqaab--an unusual get-up in this part of Texas, although the head-scarf hijab is common enough. As I jogged past, in the traditional tank top and running shorts, the man looked me over. I didn't know what to make of it. Mild social judging? People-watching on the trail? (And which of us was doing which?) It may have been the woman's choice to wear the niqaab on a hot afternoon. If so, customs were upheld, as was honor, if she conceives it in those terms; but the ability to go unseen in public? Severely abrogated.

(H/T: Sullivan.)

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