Friday, 21 August 2009

Burkas

I'm fascinated by burkas. What their purpose is, what it's like wearing one, women who're forced into them, the controversies they cause.

Personally, I can't see the point of them at all. They just seem to be extremely impractical and cumbersome, making every daily activity more difficult, including communicating with other people.

Of course for those who believe in male dominance that's exactly the intention - to hamper women and stop them being too adventurous or independent. And to stop them inflaming male lust with their provocative female bodies.

Isn't it odd that there's no equivalent female lust that requires men also to hide behind decency-preserving burkas? How come the blokes are exempt?

But it must be a very weird experience being permanently shrouded from head to toe with nothing visible but your eyes. Rather than something to be appreciated and enjoyed, your body becomes a mere object, just a mechanism to do things with.

Burkas have stirred up plenty of controversy. The French object to them as conspicuous religious symbols in a highly secular society. One British government minister finds it disconcerting to talk to someone so depersonalised and anonymised, nothing but a voice and a pair of eyes.

Many feminists loathe burkas as blatant instruments of oppression, preventing women from being themselves and turning them into cocooned chattels.

Some wearers though deny this and maintain they find their burkas liberating, a way of preserving their privacy and modesty and not being seen first and foremost as male eye-candy.

I have to admit I just find them absurd and ridiculous, relics of a bygone age as quaint as Victorian bathing costumes and whalebone corsets.

Pic: Fiona, Rita, Mavis and Sharon (or was it Fatima, Tasneem....)

32 comments:

Leah said...

You raise an interesting point--burkas do the opposite of what they purport to do, by calling attention to the women wearing them (at least here in our country, where it isn't the norm to wear them), and objectifying the bodies of the women who wear them.

I recently had a conversation with a woman in full burka--at the San Antonio zoo. I hated every second of it, and felt like I was talking to her through prison bars. I had a long and interesting discussion with my daughter after that.

Nick said...

Leah - That's true about drawing attention to the wearers. Also true that they become objectified, merely a body in a garment.

So what did Hedgie think about it?

TheRavingDave said...

The ladies may well be all naked underneath the burkas and you'd never know! imagine how cooling that'd be in a hot summer in the middle eastern countries?

and they don't have to worry about their appearance on an off day!

I wonder, given the choice, what the burka wearing ladies themselves would prefer?

Grannymar said...

'I'm fascinated by burkas'. Nick for a minute there I thought you were about to confess a fetish for them!

To me the burkas draw as much attention to the bodies under them, as the young ladies who look like they have forgotten half their clothes when getting dressed. At least with the burkas you can imagine what is underneath instead of it being handed to you on a metaphorical plate.

Nick said...

Dave - Indeed, who knows what they might be wearing or not wearing under the burka? A bikini? A suit? Overalls? Or as you say, nothing at all? Good point about appearance - they needn't worry about wrinkles or unruly hair.

Grannymar - You keep my fetishes out of it! Yes, I imagine some men must be tempted to lift the burka and find out what's underneath....

Gayé Terzioglu said...

No, it stinks. I was on a bus with a few of them one summer, and omg the B.O. that was coming from them was making me want to throw up.
Ok, if they have a bad hair day noone will know but seriously those things are not hygenic at all. They are scary. The part of my life I spent in Turkey, whenever I saw one or two I always imagined "cockroach or two". Hairy armpits, smelly bodies, etc.
Harsh? Well, it's my opinion I am entitled to it. I grew up in Ataturk's Turkiye, and always thought there was no place for Islamic oppression there. Now these cockroaches have increased in numbers there. And what's worse is, they are not really forced to wear these burkas. They love it, and they spit at your feet if you are wearing what they don't approve (mini-skirt, or just skirt, jeans, short sleeved shirt, to name a few). That's what I don't understand the most about those women.
Don't get me started. If they become majority in Turkey, my family would be living in danger...

Baino said...

The burka has a place in islamist countries whether we like it or not. I notice that even in Afghanistan without the Talibanm women are still to afraid to get rid of the blue burka. There is no place for it here. I'm with Gaye but in Australia, it's the choice of the woman to wear them and a purely religious choice.

Fortunately, there aren't many who wear a full burka but many who wear a hijab. The Olympic pool has muslim women only swimming sessions so that they can bathe with their cossies on. I read this week that an Italian council forbade women to swim with their full burkas on which made sense to me.

I don't mind frankly, we don't kick up a stink about people wearing turbans or saris. Is it the fact that their face is covered that causes concern. Then we do make motor cyclists take off their helmuts in shops and banks.

I guess it's their way and as long as they don't expect special treatment, I have no problem with their choice. I suspect if this whole middle easternm 9/11, Iraq War and Afghan thing wasn't on the agenda we wouldn't object at all.

Leah said...

Nick--Hedgie was horrified by it, and well aware of the extreme oppression it represents. She has cousins who live in Saudi Arabia, where the women can't even drive cars. We teach our girl tolerance, but not for oppression. We are not cultural relativists in our household--oppression is oppression, in its absolute form. Still, I'm glad Hedgehog is growing up awake and aware of how it is in some extremist branches of religion.

The woman was carrying a baby girl, who was of course in a comfy ventilated romper, perfect for the intense Texas heat. I pointed out to Hedgie that as a grown woman, that little girl would be all burka-ed up, sweltering, and unable to show her sweet smile.

Still, apropos what Grannymar said--she made me laugh! There is certainly a suggestion of fetish with those crazy things, I couldn't agree more!

Nick said...

Gayé - I hadn't thought about the BO aspect. Yes, they must be sweating like crazy in hot climates. You're entitled to be harsh, coming from a country where burkas are part of an oppressive culture which threatens your own family.

Baino - If it's genuinely a woman's personal choice to wear a burka, fair enough, but so often they're forced into it either subtly or blatantly. Yes, I think it's the covered face that bothers people, you can't see all the usual facial signals that help us communicate. Just imagine if everyone we talked to or socialised with was in a burka!

Leah - I agree, oppression is oppression, however it might be justified by those involved. Just as the British custom of jailing and impoverishing people is our own type of oppression. And it's dreadful that innocent baby girls end up as suffocating adults in burkas.

kylie said...

very interesting post, nick

there are so many issues involved here....

it is interesting that the men have to be protected from inconvenient lusts by the women being covered.

as for the burka stopping a woman from becoming eye candy, i dress modestly most of the time, preferring to exercise some control over when and where i am noticed in a sexual sense and i dont need a burka to do that.

not really related, i laugh at my nominally muslim sister in law because she should be more modest t han me but she refers to her boobs as assets and makes sure that everybody knows how many assets she has :)

Nick said...

Kylie - True, any woman can choose exactly how little or how much of her body to display, no need for a burka. I'm also amused by your sister in law's rather non-religious flaunting of her assets!

Brighid said...

It would be interesting to have a response from someone that actually wears a burka. I'm looking at it from a western point of view, and it doesn't look like much fun. But then I talk to people around the world blogging and I can't even see their eyes.

Nick said...

Brighid - You're right, I would also like to hear the wearers' views. True that you don't see much of bloggers either, though we do often publish photos and reveal all sort of personal details about ourselves (if you want to see a photo of me, look at my very first post).

Rummuser said...

Nick, you have got a joker in the pack in me. I love to see women in burkhas. I can let my imagination run picturing, quite what is behind all the cloth! I bet this is why they like to wear them!

I understand all that you say, but they have chosen to wear them and I have chosen to speculate.

Nick said...

Ramana - I'm sure a lot of men fantasise about what's underneath, which rather defeats the object, doesn't it? Some black lacy lingerie perhaps? I can't imagine them wearing anything more than underwear, given how hot a burka must be....

Liz said...

There are days when I would be grateful for a burkha. The feeling-flabby days, the no-clean-clothes days, the haven't-got-time-to-wash-my-hair days.

But on the whole I enjoy my body and appreciate being appreciated.

Gayé Terzioglu said...

What makes me even madder is the fact that the women who are not pressured to wear the burka, the ones who wear it proudly because some MEN told them this is what GOD wanted... It's crazy.
Why would god, if it is as powerful, almighty and all-knowing (plus being the most genius scientist) want that ugly thing on women? If I created something so beautiful I wouldn't want to hide it away from the world forever. I am not going to feel sympathy towards the mindset that will blindly follow the set of rules men created for men. I truly feel sorry for and respect the women who know better but are under the thumbs of men, who have to either wear it or else.

Wisewebwoman said...

Whenever I see them Nick, I am reminded (and not so long ago, either) of the nuns who taught me who wore far, far worse.
Of course it's all about the patriarchy and control of women.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Liz - Absolutely, a burka hides a multitude of sins and avoids all that obligatory female preening! But on the other hand who wants to be permanently enfolded in a mobile tent?

Gayé - Spot on, if God went to the trouble of creating beautiful bodies, why would He want to hide them? My own sympathies are entirely with the radical feminists who see burkas as patriarchal oppression full stop.

www - True, nuns have to wear absurdly unsuitable clothing as well. So where in religious scriptures does it say you have to wear clothing completely at odds with the climate?

Rummuser said...

There Nick, you have stolen a march over me in the imagination department!

Nick said...

Ramana - They might even have tattoos, or pierced navels, or waspies....

K8 the Gr8 said...

And why always black? Seems very funereal, a deliberate heat absorbing torture device. I'd love to be able to get away with wearing a burka instead of wantonly flaunting my traccy bottoms, muddy runners and un-brushed hair... but if it was up to me it would be made of brightly coloured indian material.

Nick said...

K8 - They do also come in tasteful shades of blue and mauve. But they haven't go round to lime-green yet. I think you'd get fed up with wearing a burka pretty quickly, they must be a constant impediment.

Gayé Terzioglu said...

Regarding "wanting to hear from women wearing burka"....

Well, the ones that are forced to wear it won't be writing here because they won't be on the internet, facebook, or twitter. They will be at home serving their fathers, brothers, husbands. They will be the ones forced to hide away from anything that's "dangerous" i.e. technology, freedom of thought, action, etc, you name it.

And the ones who choose to wear burka and are able to come and talk about it here, will be the ones telling you that you are going to go straight to hell for not following Islam the way it's supposed to be (the way they do...) They are the kind who will spit at your feet, if unable to actually somehow punish you for wearing a bikini.

Sorry, I guess I have no patience the bullshit that goes with the religion circus. Again God (again, if it exists the way the men-books say) can't be wanting this.Unless of course after dropping Islam upon unsuspecting humanoids, he did fantasize black lingerie under burka in the first place, then ordered accordingly.

Gayé Terzioglu said...

... in which case, i would be going straight to hell, but not for wearing bikini.. but NOT wearing burka with black laced lingerie under...

Nick said...

Gayé - Why do so many believers insist not just that their path is the only path but that their beliefs are sacrosanct and no other beliefs are valid? Minds like tramlines....

Gayé Terzioglu said...

who the heck knows. if it were up to me i wouldn't ban burkas. but when it's up to them (religious fanatics) they ban my bikini. not fair.
g

Nick said...

Gayé - Another reason why men like burkas is of course they hide all the signs of domestic violence....

Liz said...

I hadn't thought about nuns. that's an interesting point.

Nick said...

Liz - Isn't it? People make a lot of fuss about burkas, but nobody says, hang on, what about these odd things that nuns wear?

Gayé Terzioglu said...

I for instance don't, because I am not Christian and I leave the fuss on nun's outfits to Christians. However, I did grow up in Turkey so that automatically gives me the right to puke when I hear the "b" word. By the way, there were a handful of burka wearers in Turkey as I was growing up and as young adult. Numbers increased with the stupid government.
Anyhow, it's kinda like when I went to Ireland I didn't criticise anything (apart from excessive orange skin on young women), felt like it wasn't up to me really to bitch about the country I was a guest in.
That's my excuse what's yours hehe.

Nick said...

Gayé - I guess I've never criticised nuns' outfits because I hardly ever see a nun or think of one. For that matter I never see a woman in a burka but of course they're always in the media.

I think in principle it's okay to criticise some custom in a foreign country if it's obviously oppressive, though in practice the likely hostile reaction might be best avoided....