My friend owns a burqa, a keepsake from one of her many foreign travels.
The garment is a memento that has intrigued her friends for several years now. A few of us have long mused about organizing an all-female get-together with the burqa as the centerpiece.
Envisioned is a conversational show-and-tell where everyone would try it on and come away with some deep message of what it means to be a woman in societies we consider less enlightened than our own.
We've never done it, and I hope we never do. We'd likely misinterpret the covering, understanding little about the women who wear them.
The same uneasy feeling arises listening to surprised reactions to the large numbers of female protesters in Iran. A patriarchal tone is implicit in the commentary. The assumption seems to be that in countries where women have fewer freedoms than in the U.S., they are less insightful of their situation, less likely to complain.
The opposite may be true.
I agree with Oprah's adage that if you were born female in the U.S., you are luckier than most of the world's women.
And yet, among the most enlightening conversations I ever had about female sexuality came from two veiled Muslims from Afghanistan.
They were two sisters, college students studying in Kansas City after Sept. 11, 2001. They talked of how their devout Muslim families had allowed them to make a conscious choice to wear their heads veiled or not, and about the sexual freedom they felt modesty afforded.
Their bodies, they said, were not up for public enjoyment. U.S. women, they argued, may be freer to dress as provocatively as they desire. But the sisters contrasted that openness with the very real struggles of American women and body image.
After several hours of conversation and watching women walk by the Plaza coffee shop where we met, it was clear they were more comfortable and possibly "liberated" in their sexuality than many women raised in the U.S.
Like their Muslim counterparts in Iran, they are part of a growing number of highly educated women from countries too readily dismissed as backward, forever inhospitable to the rights of women.
About 60 percent of university students in Iran are female. The revolt is largely about Iran's complicated political structure. But it is also fueled by the gulf between conservative clerics wishing to limit the mobility of the country's women and the choices college-educated women are increasingly empowered to make.
The image of femininity that eventually emerges from Iran may not only continue to surprise us, it might just put many U.S. women to shame.