Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

I redirect you, Noble Reader, to Sociological Images, a website I’ve been following for some time. The following link is actually pretty offensive, as it includes a YouTube clip of Bill Maher’s “Burqa Fashion Show.” For those of you with the stomach for culturally insensitive (though pretty clever) humor, watch away. However, I would like to point out SI’s commentary, which I applaud:

Taken from "PostSecret"

The comedy is tasteless, at best. And it brings out two interesting assumptions: that measures of women’s liberation include (1) the right to show skin and/or your body’s shape and (2) the choice to express your individuality through your clothes.

But I do think it prompts us to interrogate our own assumptions about what women’s liberation looks like and if being able to choose your own style really is a good measure of it.

I’d bet that most Western women feel like being able to choose her clothes is a central part of her sense of freedom. Does that translate in this context? That is, if women were required to wear burqas, but could wear any burqa they like, does this mediate how oppressive the burqa seems to you? Conversely, does the seeming freedom that comes with choosing your clothes become less convincing once you think about it in this context?  I know this is tough to think about, but I think it’s an interesting thought experiment.

In the wake of my own statements about the Antwerp and French headscarf bans, as well as the flood of messages regarding the rather racy picture that I posted a week or so ago, I think this is a refreshing gulp of new air.

One of the things that I’m a big fan of is that SI’s statements throughout seem to highlight that most people have a knee-jerk reaction to the women’s liberation movement: one of the most-often repeated statements I’ve heard here from Egyptian women is that liberation, etc. requires the absolute right of the woman to choose between wearing the veil and not wearing it. I don’t agree with the statement that a woman needs to wear the veil to be a good Muslima, but I think the option and choice to do so should be applauded; just like saying a rosary every night or going to Mass every day isn’t a requirement of Catholicism, it sure as hell helps you to be a good Catholic.

Highlights (and scroll down in the links — the comments, for once, are worth reading)

“Lingerie as Liberating”: advertisement for a German lingerie commercial: woman admires herself in her unmentionables, only to cover herself up. The woman dresses up in lingerie, admiring herself, only to cover up in a burka.  But she is still “hot” underneath, affirming the idea that looking “hot” is what makes women both happy and liberated.  The idea that a woman might want to be FREE from capitulating to the male gaze (even if just an imagined one) is left unexplored.

“Questioning Definitions of Freedom”: article from which the PostSecret image is snagged. The person who sent in the postcard suggests that she’s not sure which is worse: the rigid and extreme standard of beauty in the U.S. and the way that women’s bodies are exposed to scrutiny or the idea of living underneath a burka that disallows certain freedoms, but frees you from evaluative eyes and the consequences of their negative appraisals.

I wonder about this, actually. I wrote earlier last month (or at least hinted) if the veil weren’t a kind of sexual objectification of women’s bodies. Interestingly, SI’s article above seems to conflate the two standards: that Western ideals of feminine beauty are equally, if not more, oppressive than the perceived “Islamic objectification” of women.

And finally:

The Burqa, Fashion, and Measures of Freedom: again, I must stress that this video (which I’ve been leading up to) is pretty tasteless, though clever. SI’s commentary works well in complement with it.

Also: does anyone know if Zarinas.com is a legit burqa fashion website? Cause I totally want to get my little sister a camouflage burqa!

More fuel for the fire of discussion. As I tell my students in an overly enthusiastic voice, “GO!”


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By now, the whole internet is abuzz with the recent controversies surrounding the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar University, Muhammed Tantawi, who has hinted at the rather surprising stance of “banning’ the niqab (the full-face veil) in public institutions. Read Bikya Masr on the subject here.

My father found out about this one before I did; he called me up a few days ago to say, “Hey, Egypt’s banning the burka.

In disbelief I said, “Ridiculous. I just passed five women on the street with them on.”

Clarification for the folks back home: the niqab covers not only the hair and neck and shoulders, but the face as well– typically, they’re black. The ninja-like appearance has led Kenyans to call niqabis “ninjas.” No joke.

Little did I know. Tantawi, known for his rather liberal attitude, reportedly gave a niqabi a metaphorical lashing when she repeatedly refused to remove the veil; he kept insisting (to his right) that he knew “more than the people that gave birth to her,” and that the niqab was NOT a part of Islam. When she finally took it off, Tantawi is reported to have said, “And you look like this? What would you have done if you were even a little bit pretty?” (In theory, the niqab guards men against the temptation of a beautiful woman’s face — basically, Tantawi was shutting her self-image down)

Naturally, “the West” is jumping on top of this; I recall one article on the subject of feminism in the Middle East starting out: “The Oriental Woman is fascinating. Is she veiled? Is she not veiled? Is she oppressed? Is she liberated?” And what with Sarkozy’s remarks about how the niqab is a symbol of the oppression of a historically downtrodden “oriental woman,” and with British bank robbers donning the gear — both as an incitement of hate and a concealment of identity — it’s not surprising that something like that makes people nervous.

Yesterday, I round-tabled the issue on a group of fifteen girls and (sadly) one guy. All of them Muslim, all of the girls hijabis (wearers of the hijab, which covers the hair). In addition to making me very proud — they fought and struggled their way through English over the past few weeks and yesterday, they made indications of hitting proficiency in their expression of ideas — there was almost universal disapproval of Tantawi’s behavior. The  “liberated” woman is capable and more than able to make her own decisions; that she can cover up or uncover herself as she pleases.

I’m going to pass you along at this point to The Economist from a few weeks ago; Charlemagne had a good column related to the Antwerp headscarf ban controversy. The section I was most shocked by:

By 2008, discussion was how to wear the scarf. Not whether. In 2007-8 there were 15 girls who came with long robes, gloves, and only their faces showing. Scarves became longer and longer. I had a lot of confrontations with those girls, I said to them: “you’re spoiling the educational project.” I said to them: “you’re stigmatising yourselves. You’re breaking with society by wearing those clothes.”

They always said, “you’re stigmatising us”. In 2007 and 2008 I banned gloves, very long robes. Even that was hard for the girls. We saw girls starting to wear veils who had not before, and asked them why. They said they did not feel very comfortable without a scarf, I must be accepted. We had girls who wore scarves at school, but teachers saw them outside the school without scarves.

There was a sense that girls wearing veils were showing they were more pious. My view was each girl had the right to wear a scarf, to preserve equality. The last two years, there was a sense of a heavy, oppressive atmosphere over the schoolyard.

Karin Heremins, the headmistress of the last school in Antwerp to ban the headscarf, noted that the introduction of extremely visible, extremely conservative elements created an “oppressive atmosphere” over the schoolyard; to my mind, comparable to having visible gang members — students are aware of their presence because it’s visible.

Now, before I get eaten alive by that comparison, think about this: we’re talking minors. Kids. Kids are not nearly as mature as adults. Women can wear what they like, in my mind. However, it’s a kind of a reverse-Catholic schoolgirl-skirt: nice girls at school wear short skirts because everyone else does —  because they don’t feel “in” or “cool” if they don’t. The ones with long skirts are stigmatized as square. In comparison, in Antwerp’s case, the same kind of clique-fashion mentality has hijacked the headscarf. The headscarf is a beautiful piece of clothing and represents something beautiful (the desire to conceal, the desire to withhold something for only the most intimate in a woman’s life), and reducing it to an on-again, off-again item destroys it.

Interestingly, the girls in my class all had identical stories about the first time they put on the hijab; their parents sat them down and said, “You can do this, you have a right to, but you also have a right not to. And if you put this on, you cannot take it off.” The argument was that people would talk.

Hind, who’s very, very, very vocal in class, was at pains to stress that there is no compulsion in Islam; that no one can make you do anything in Islam (except pray, which parents are permitted to spank their kids over). They can only “advise” you.

Can a fourteen year-old girl contemplating something all her friends are doing really make that kind of decision? Imagine telling her to get a tattoo; there’s a reason why you can’t until you’re eighteen.

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