Veils have roles in many different religions and traditions, serving both cultural and spiritual purposes. Generally the veil is a female item, which means it raises questions about whether the covering of the face is in some way sexist.
If you are covering the faces of women so that men cannot be tempted by them into acting inappropriately, then you have a problem. No part of the female body constitutes either an invitation or an excuse. Any culture that tells men they can’t help themselves also tells them it is acceptable to abuse women who are not covered up. This is entirely toxic for people, regardless of gender.
A veil is a barrier between person and world. You see differently when you look through one, and they reduce peripheral vision so you have to move more carefully. If you are involved in a spiritual stepping away from the world, this may be helpful. Veils are traditionally associated with grieving, and it does give you a degree of privacy around emotions.
A woman in a veil becomes a mystery – so would a man in a veil. The loss of face gives you something that is definitely a person, but not a specific person. That can be de-humanising, but it can also be powerful. I’ve used veils in rituals when I’ve been asked to plays Goddess roles. Coming unexpectedly out of the woods one winter and arriving, veiled and anonymous at a ritual circle, I was much better able to represent Goddess to the gathering because my own identity was veiled. It also created some drama, and that can be a good thing in rituals sometimes.
The hidden face makes you a little uncanny, a bit ‘other’ and people feel less certain about you. This only works when the veil is not the norm, and when a covered face is startling. In the photo I am dressed for a ‘Day of the Dead’ procession, in which being ‘other’ and startling was very much part of the plan. I also found in this context, that the veil – like a mask or a painted face – creates permission for misrule. Having marked yourself as outside social norms, it is easier to go dancing and screaming through the streets.
Of course the other thing about veiling – which religious bigot with sexist agendas should bear in mind – is all about the allure. That which is hidden can be more attractive, more seductive than that which is openly displayed. That which is unavailable easily becomes fetishised. The flash of an ankle could quite undo a staid Victorian gentleman. Cover a woman’s face and you may spend more time obsessing about her appearance than you would if you could see. As methods of control go, it’s often counter-productive. Being faceless can be incredibly powerful.