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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Penang: Women's Lib on the Funicular

Friday I took the funicular up to Penang Hill. On the way down I started talking to a group of six young Muslim women. They were dressed in the typical intermediate Muslim wear here. Jeans and blouses, with headscarves, very middle-of-the-road. We started with the usual introductory stuff. Where was I from? Where are you from? Why are you in Penang?

They were all from KL (Kuala Lumpur) and are studying at a university here in Penang. They had taken their last exam of the year that morning, and decided to celebrate by renting a car and doing some sightseeing before heading back home to their families and their summer jobs. They had really not seen much of Penang in their two years here.

Eventually I asked, "What are you studying?" "Civil Engineering." "All of you?" "Yes." I told them I thought engineering, and especially civil engineering, was still not a common career choice for women back in America.

"We all had good mothers," one said. "They told us that we could do anything a man could do, and we should." Big grins, and one fist shoved into the air!


Anonymous said...

Yes. Its strange to see the girls in their headscarves and tight jeans, very westernized, would the headscarf go if they lived in a non Muslim country?.

Cindy said...

They aren't required to wear the headscarf in Malaysia or Indonesia. Anyone wearing one has either made a choice or succombed to pressure from family or her peers. They do have to wear them with school uniforms, but it isn't uncommon for them to come off as soon as the student leaves school grounds.

So some would, some wouldn't. I see plenty of them in the US, but usually with commensurately moderate dress.