First Lady and First Daughter refuse to cover their heads in Saudi Arabia, but do so before the Pope

May 24, 2017 • 12:30 pm

I got an email from reader DrBrydon that said the following; I’ll quote it rather than just paraphrase his words:

Looking at the new first thing this morning, I saw photos of Donald, Melania, and Ivanka with the Pope [JAC: see below], and was immediately struck by the fact that both women were wearing head coverings. I was pleased that the Trump delegation did not kowtow to Saudi dress codes for women, but to turn around and abide by Vatican ones strikes me as being incredibly disrespectful to the Saudis, and to Muslims in general.

Only a few news outlets seem to have noticed, including The Telegraph. And I hadn’t realized that Michelle Obama did the same thing.

Melania and Ivanka in Saudi Arabia:

In contrast, with His Popeness:

This of course is a form of hypocrisy: kowtowing to Christianity—seen by many as the Official United States Religion—while slapping Islam in the face. If I had my way, no leader of a secular state would wear religious garb on any official state visit—UNLESS they’re visiting a religious site, in which case I have no big objection.  But if you’re going to osculate the rump of one faith, you’ll have to osculate the rumps of all of them.


UPDATE by Grania

Donning some sort of veil in Vatican City when officially meeting the Pope appears to be a choice. Some women don’t, thank goodness. That’s the former president of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese in case you don’t recognise her.

It seems to be favored by the wives of Republican presidents, but even Michelle Obama wore one when she met her first Pope, but as you can see below, she decided against one second time around.

84 thoughts on “First Lady and First Daughter refuse to cover their heads in Saudi Arabia, but do so before the Pope

  1. What’s wrong with these people?

    Keep in mind that, for many of those who want to see “Christianity” become the state religion of the US, Catholics aren’t really Christians (There’s a strange logic in there somewhere that I just can’t fathom, but then, what should we expect?)

    1. There’s a strange logic in there somewhere that I just can’t fathom

      I can: votes. Be respectful of Christian values and more Americans vote for you. Be contemptuous of Muslim values and more Americans vote for you. This is simply a consequence of the fact that a lot of Americans are Christians and a lot of Americans see Muslims as a threat.

      1. Yes America is different to Western Europe and Britain though in its religiosity – though its split almost 50:50 between ultra conservatives and liberals who abhor this sort of thing. hypocritical to wear the veil thing for the pope – though it shows the hair. Have to say though the photo of trump and the Saudi royals with their hands on the sides of an illuminated globe showing the Americas in the middle would have sent a message that the Americans must always be entangled with the Saudis/Sunni interests – and to the Saudi people – educated as they are in openly jihadists texts (refer to ex muslims in UK, US and Canada on this but sadly no one does) that Islam will conquer the world including the most powerful centre of unbelief – the US. The Uni of Southern California used to host a Salafist islamic studies website that had a scripture centre in it with the logo of the islamic sun shining across the ocean on the Americas at the rim of the world

      2. And so much for islamophobia – at least outside the US. These extremists feel completely free to be public about their extremism in Britain immediately after the Manchester attack
        As on the actual Channel4 twitter news site – shows interview with muslim man laughing beside (interviewed) woman in black niqab. Her clothes have a print of a “love” sign made out of grenades and kalashnikovs/assault rifles. For all to see
        [broken up to prevent embedding]

        Im disappointed that Claire Lehmann went on Mark Latham’s show and talked about, amongst other things, fake refugees, but there seems to be a lot of denialism about. In another example, on Lalo Dagach site, postings purporting to show snapshots of tweets that the taxi driver who offered free rides just after the event was a Sikh = Cosmopolitan in the US asked permission to retweet the photo without attribution (snapshot of tweet, with permission granted reply), then it was recast as a “Muslim taxi drivers” in the header

    2. Many have narrower sights than that.

      Pat Robertson thinks “Presbyterians are the spirit of the Antichrist.”

      Ann Coulter thinks the Episcopal church is barely a church since “it’s become increasingly difficult to distinguish the pronouncements of the Episcopal Church from the latest Madonna video”.

  2. Holy shit. The Vatican expects women to cover their heads? I never knew that but it doesn’t surprise me.

    If I were president I’m not sure I could be convinced to meet with let alone visit the Pope. I’d feel rather insincere pretending to have anything beyond the most basic respect for him.

    1. No, the Vatican does not expect women to cover their head.

      By the way, the pope looks pretty sad besides the Trumps.

  3. I think one can overdo the body language thing, but that looks to be the most miserable foursome since some of the tension-filled sessions for “Let It Be.”

    It’s all bullshit to me, but how is Mel and Vanky wearing head-coverings inside the Vatican any different than the Donald donning a yarmulke at the Wailing Wall?

    1. I agree. The yarmulke is the same to me, and I said so below before I read the other comments.

  4. OK as much as I hate Trump it seems to me if your intent is to make a political statement, and show solidarity with women across the world who are forced to wear burkas/hijabs, then they did exactly the right thing by making this distinction. I mean the point would be to show your disdain, and lack of respect for those specific head coverings. If they didn’t wear either then they would simply be showing a lack of respect for religious attire period. While that might be the message an anti-theist like myself would like to see them send, it’s clearly not the message Trump would want to send.

    1. I don’t see it that way. It’s an historical thing in Catholicism – women who cover their hair are virtuous and women who don’t are whores. That’s what it used to mean. It’s about defining a women by a different standard than is used for men.

      1. “I don’t see it that way. It’s an historical thing in Catholicism – women who cover their hair are virtuous and women who don’t are whores. That’s what it used to mean. It’s about defining a women by a different standard than is used for men.”

        I agree with your sentiments, and I don’t think there should be any double standard, but there is a difference between the expectation that you wear a head covering out of respect, and being forced to wear a head covering. I’ve never heard of anyone being beaten with canes, or humiliated by jeering crowds for not wearing a head covering in a catholic church.

        1. There used to be rules for each gender: men uncovered their heads in church, women covered up, as per St. Paul [“Long hair is a man’s shame, but a woman’s glory,” so women are supposed to cover their tresses while praying, lest they be accused of vanity.] According to
          EWTN [Eternal Word Television Network, the Catholic station], those rules no longer apply, but it is still considered a matter of courtesy:

          1. So it’s not really a double standard, as there’s an equally burdensome rule for each sex, just a different one. If you’re a man, you better take off your damn hat; if you’re a woman, better put on this funny hat.

            In Judaism, we just make the men wear the funny hats 😛 (I’m leaving out the Hasssidim here, who have all sorts of crazy rules about everything).

          2. Oooo! I’d be really interested to read that, if you can find it. Don’t put in any effort or anything if you don’t want to, but if the name pops into your head, please let me know 🙂

          3. It isn’t just the Hassidim, it’s the Orthodox. I know an Orthodox woman — whose husband is an Orthodox rabbi — who wears a wig all through the day because that constitutes a head covering acceptable to the Orthodox (including her husband, of course).

            It’s quite a nice looking wig, too, and I would not have suspected it was a wig, had she not told me about it.

            By the way, her husband wears a yarmulke all through the day.

        2. Good Job Trumps.
          Christianity and Judaism (and probably every other major religion) are objectively far better than Islam. Every opportunity should be taken by influential people to make this point.
          The prevailing atmosphere of false equivalence is sickening.

    2. A good point. Coyne called it a slap at Islam. It can only be that in contrast to what was done with the pope. Is a slap at Islam over its attitude to women a bad thing now?

    3. I got the EEXACT sane feeling as you Mike, and when I first saw it, I thought, “atheists are gonna love this!” I should have known that’ there’s always a reason any Trump (we’re not even talking about the President here!) can never do anything right.

  5. According to Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine the Vatican classically insisted on a veil/head cover (which Saudi Arabia does not for state visitors), but “under pope Benedict 16, the tradition had become less usual for non-catholic wives of heads state”. Melania is Catholic.

    1. Melania’s no more Catholic than Paddy’s pig (and last I checked, even the Irish weren’t baptizing ungulates.) 🙂

      Melania was born in Yugoslavia under Josip Tito, in what is now the nation of Slovenia, the most secular state in all Mitteleuropa, perhaps in the whole of the EU.

      When Melania said The Lord’s Prayer in public, it wasn’t the Catholic “Our Father,” but the Proddy version — the one with the last verse that sounds like junior editors at Doubleday brainstorming titles for a new Gay Talese or David Halberstam book (“For Thine is the Kingdom! … and the Power! … and the Glory!).

      1. Halberstam’s book on the Korean war was first class. The coldest winter I think was the name.

      2. Your subsequent comments do not support your denial that Melania is non-Catholic. Do you have a better source?

        Manuscripts of the NT vary as to the wording of the Our Father. While American Protestants go with one set of manuscripts and American Catholics another in their official ceremonies [and it may be that way all through the world], there is plenty of latitude in “mixed company” [Christians of both kinds] with Catholics going along with the longer version out of courtesy.

  6. According to CNN:
    “Per Vatican protocol, women who have an audience with the Pope are required to wear long sleeves, formal black clothing, and a veil to cover the head,” Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, told CNN.

    When asked why she wore a veil at the Vatican but eschewed a head covering in Saudi Arabia, Grisham said there was no request or requirement for her attire from that country.

    1. I was quite surprised to see Melania wearing a black veil while visiting the Vatican, but I am not sure about the accuracy of the statement CNN attributed to Melania’s communications director. Michelle Obama wore no head covering and a light blue or turquoise dress with short sleeves when she met Pope Francis. The previous pope may have insisted on women dressing like nuns in his presence, but I don’t think this one cares. I suspect that Melania has been dressing pretty much the way she wants throughout this trip. After all, she bared her head and her ankles and calves when visiting the Saudis.

    2. Yeah, as the other commenter said, that statement from CNN is completely inaccurate (not surprised…). Just look through all the photos of female politicians meeting with him without that stuff.

  7. i beg to disagree.
    the difference is that in saudi arabia women MUST cover their heads (and the rest as well…).
    citizens of vatican city can wear what they want.
    so at this point this becomes a choice, and everybody is free to pay courtesy as courtesy and sign of respect, but not as an imposition.

    1. True – its voluntary for the Vatican though still insulting to women. And irritatingly obvious political ploy to please Christians and Jews at home (the later re the yarmulke incident). Liked the Pope’s frock matching Michelle Obama’s in the last pic though.

  8. Would it not be more fitting to require a leash? Trump, in his normal hypocritical way, raised hell in public when Obama did not wear the covering in Saudi land. Guess he did not have control of the wife. Visiting Monarchs around the world is right up his alley.

    1. There is some hypocrisy there, but not nearly as much as you suppose. For one thing, Barack Obama did an almost 90 degree bow at the waist to the king of Saudi Arabia — who didn’t so much as bow his head in return — whereas Trump made sure not to look subservient to the king.

      What’s more, Obama may be formally a Christian, but he favored fundie Islam over secular Islam every step of the way. Assad was too secular for him, so he supported rebels in Syria; Gadhaffi was too secular for him, so he supported rebels in Libya and showed no regrets over Gadhaffi being murdered in cold blood [Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, laughed when she heard the news].

      Morsi of Egypt was just the right kind of Islamist for Obama, even being a member (or at least an avid supporter) of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, so Obama threatened sanctions against Egypt when Morsi was overthrown.

      So one might expect a tad more of Michelle than of Melania.

  9. Regarding the update, that first picture of Ratzinger was like a splash of cold water down my back. I’d forgotten that he was the very incarnation of Emperor Palpatine.

    1. Haha I know, right? The man was a former Hitler youth! I mean, come on!

      At least he suffered the humiliation of being the first pope to step down since the year 1415. HA

  10. If his Popeness is polite enough to wear a dress for the occasion then what is a visiting female head of state to do ?

  11. I can’t speak to the whole of Vatican City, but when I was a kid being raised Catholic, the rule was women had to have a head-covering in church (even if it was only a little doily-like thing clipped on with bobby pins). Men, OTOH, were forbidden to wear hats in church.

    But, then, a gentleman never wears a hat indoors. Hell, even Bum Phillips, the old Houston Oilers head coach, would doff his ever-present cowboy hat when the team was playing at home in the Astrodome.

        1. To me, anything you wear on your head that’s separate from your clothing (as in, for example, not a hood attached to your sweatshirt), is a hat.

  12. This was the first thing I noticed when I saw it last night, and I was going to do a post about it when I got my computer back later today. (I probably won’t bother now.)

    It wasn’t just Melania and Ivanka either, it was every women in the Trump’s entourage. Francis gave them all especially blessed rosaries. Even the Jewish members like Ivanka and Jared.

    Trump wore a yarmulke in Israel too, which is a male equivalent imo.

    Disgusting hypocrisy.

    1. But the things they did wear weren’t *required by law* in the countries they were visiting, so I don’t see the hypocrisy.

      I do, however, see the hypocrisy in him criticizing Michelle Obama for not wearing the headscarf in 2011.

  13. The photo above of Michelle Obama in a blue dress greeting the Pope was when he visited the US several years ago. You can see that it was taken outside at an airport.

  14. I can’t find the reference right now, but Francis has relaxed the requirement for women to wear “widow’s weeds” (that’s a quote). So neither veils nor black are a requirement.

  15. This was preceded by the Trumps wearing jewish wotnots on their heads at the wailing wall. (How did that go down with the Saudis?) Trump left a crazy message too.

  16. I’m a Brit living in Saudi and just wanted to correct the oft repeated misconception that women have to cover their hair. Muslim ladies are expected to do so, but non-Muslim do not have to. There may be more pressure to do so in Riyadh (I’ve never been), but here in Jeddah I’ve never seen non-Muslim cover unless they’re arriving at the airport for the first time in the kingdom.

  17. They’re at least nominally Christian, so what they do in that context doesn’t bother me as much as the hypocrisy of the Donald going to Saudi with Melania with no headscarf after complaining that Michelle Obama was disrespectful for not wearing one.

    1. Pretty much in line with everything he said yesterday. Take a look at the budget the republicans just threw down. Trump had said, no reductions in SS, medicare or medicaid. Uuupppps

    2. Can you quote exactly what Trump said about Michelle Obama? Did he actually use the word “disrespectful”?

      I won’t quote the long argument I gave Randy schenk a few minutes ago about the lack of parity between Michelle and Melania, but if you scroll up, you should find it easily.

      1. Nope, google says he said “insulted”, which is much the same thing.

        “Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf enemies,” – The Donald, 2015

  18. There’s a bad joke on oscillating your osculations here, but it isn’t quite jelling.

    If I were a woman, I’d likely wear the head covering in front of Pope Francis, but not Pope Benedict.

  19. It’s not in the same league.

    The head covering for the Pope is optional and since it’s optional it does not carry the same framework of subjection.

    True women are not currently allowed to be Catholic priests and a few other things, but this is orders of magnitude away from the religious and legal abuse of women in Saudi Arabia.

    I’ve worn a yamaka for a Jewish wedding. It was a sign of respect.

  20. Well top marks to the Trump women for not covering up in Saudi Arabia. That’s a lot better than I had expected.

    Deduct a couple of points for wearing black sacks meeting the Poop (and to Trump for wearing a yarmulke, since in my view all religions should be treated with equal disrespect).

    But on the whole, so far, the Trump travelling circus has not been the unmitigated disaster I would have predicted.


    1. “(and to Trump for wearing a yarmulke, since in my view all religions should be treated with equal disrespect).”

      Yes, perhaps in individual actions, but this is diplomacy. Whole different ballgame.

      1. I accept that diplomacy requires certain compromises, and it’s probably just as well that Trump seems to have learnt a little bit of it.

        (And for that reason I won’t criticise him for saying he’d be honoured to meet Kim Jong Il in appropriate circumstances. I just love making jokes about bad hair despots but in the position of national leader one has to speak with more circumspection).

        It seems that neither in Saudia nor the Vatican were the Trump women actually required to wear head coverings. So – why did they at the Vatican? It doesn’t suit them.


        1. I’d say because in S.A., *everyone* wears them when visiting because it is law in this country to do so. If they stepped outside their cozy palace complex walls dressed like that, they’d be arrested and possibly beaten.

          In Vatican City, it’s not a statement to not wear a veil. In S.A., it’s a huge statement.

          1. Well, actually, being who they were (wife & daughter of the Prez), they could probably have danced naked down the main street with no penalty other than being smartly escorted out of the country. 😉 But I take your point.

            However, if at the Vatican ‘it’s not a statement to not wear a veil’ – then why did they? They would never dress like that in normal life. The Catholic treatment of women is not so bad as the Islamic, but it’s still nothing to be commended.


          2. Why did they? I don’t know. But my point was to *not* wear the veil at the Vatican wouldn’t have been seen as some statement by anybody.

          3. I disagree, but I think we’re about all talked out on this one. 😉


  21. I have very little problem with this, except from a diplomatic perspective (and honestly not a whole lot of problem there, either). It’s not hypocrisy to treat a leader you personally respect with respect while treating one you don’t with less respect. It might be a really bad idea from a diplomatic perspective, but it’s not acting contrary to ones’ own beliefs.

    Of course, I might not respect the Pope the way the Trumps do. But that doesn’t make it hypocritical for them, either.

    And while I suppose it’s a bad thing to disrespect a strategic mideast ally, i can’t find myself too broken up about it. Frankly it might be a good thing if the US government (even an administration I despise) seeks them as a bit less important than they have in the past.

    1. Trump did show plenty of respect of a more subtle form to the Saudis: he came down hard on Hezbollah, a Shia terrorist group sponsored by that arch-Shia nation, Iran, which he also lambasted. But he didn’t even mention the Sunni terrorist organization Hamas.

      “It’s just a coincidence” that Saudi Arabia is as Sunni as Muslim nations get.

    1. Wow, that is…..just horrible.

      How did Muslims get to the top of the oppression hierarchy? It makes no sense. Their countries are more brutal to every other group these people purport to care about than any other, and yet, here we are.

      Oh, but they do hate Jews. And we know how many points that scores you with the regresives. That’s why anyone who tries to expose what the Muslim world is doing to these groups is a “white Zionist” and “demonizing Muslims.”

  22. I will wear a kappa (sp?) if I am in a synagogue. I have no problem with Trump’s family wearing head cover while visiting the pope in his workplace.

  23. I think this might be a situation where if either one had happened I’d be ok. But the *combined* effect is very interesting.

    Of course, I’m not a visiting head of state, not a woman, and am very unlikely to visit the Holy See, SA, or Israel.

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