Saturday, October 30, 2004

Burqa blues

For ages I have been obsessed by burqas. They make me feel uncomfortable as they look oppressive - restricting movement and vision, freedom to express through clothing, and stopping vitamin D through sunlight. The argument goes of course, that the burqa liberates women from male gaze, or as Bourdieu says, 'recipricoal gaze' - therefore giving power to women. This is a view I find seductive in its feigned feminist stance - but then falls down since it sees male sexuality as supreme ruler, as irrepressible and women as victims unless they deny their identity. The insult to men is pretty mammoth. Yet the pro burqa argument is more complex than this , since it is tied up with religion, modesty and so on. That a woman must not be vain, should be mysterious etc. If Muslim women who wear these garments are not oppressed, then it is I who feel oppressed by the implied judgement - that I, who does not cover her body is immodest, wants the constant attention of men and is not asking to be taken seriously. I have become keenly aware of this because where I live more and more women seem to be taking to the veil. I hate to feel like this am I being discriminatory and judgemental about something I do not understand? I am trying to understand.
If one looks at the marketing which goes with the sale of burkhas, they seem like sophisticated garments. They seem fashionable and for serious people who rightly wish to escape 'prying eyes', "cover with pride... cover with style' sounds very attractive as a proposition even to young western women - to acquire 'pride and style' from a garment sounds very consumerist in its approach, that one can purchase such sophisticated attributes. Burqas are for the serious woman who wants to concentrate on her life.
There are even dolls available on e bay, where the seller, here, for example, talks about the promotion of pride in Islam and earnest religious beliefs through the purchase of dolls in burqas. The association is with devoutness and familial pride.
Even Giorgio Armani is quoted as talking about the exotic nature of burqas on Parisien streets. So burqas can be cool, sophisticated, and are part of a serious attitude to life.
It can even be liberating,'inside it you feel free' we hear. Although athletes in Athens have disagreed, there are apparently attempts at making burka style sports wear. (Although this is of course a spoof.)
However, I still feel unconvinced and uncomfortable I am afraid when I look across reports from all over the world.
I am not keen on the idea of banning any type of clothing as in France, or for fining people, as in Italy, see here. This constitutes a restriction on people's life style choices so I still do not know where I am with this.
Maybe you would like to hear the Burqa band from Afghanistan, now though, singing rock and roll about how they feel. The lyrics are marvellously ironic. You will not be disappointed. And of course this last link comes from a blog.


Kate said...

Am interested in your comments. Am curently doing some research on Elif (not her real name), who wears a headscarf and is Turkish, Islamic, but likes flirting on the internet chatrooms (something ofcourse I NEVER DO). Despite her very veiled status, she has now found a man through said chatroom and went swimming with him in the sea in Turkey in the summer. She also likes to go out dancing.
All is not as it seems with women who wear veils!

Joolz said...

Am glad you are working with Elif and this is interesting. I am convinced also that women who wear burkhas are every bit as sassy as you and I!! It is the burkhas I am upset about not the women who wear them.
I always look for little clues on women wearing byurkhas. I see trainers underneath and painted hands sometimes. I recently saw a car park on a double yellow line, four women get out wearning burkhas and running along the street howling with laughter. They were rebels I think. But maybe would be having a more fun time in jeans?

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Sheffield, South Yorks, United Kingdom
I am an academic interested in New Literacies, Digital Lifestyles, Informal Online Learning.