Friday, February 12, 2010

The Burqa and the Thong

It's popped up yet again. These days you can't look at any news medium without finding an instance of the Western obsession with what Muslim women wear, whether they are coerced and how do we, in the West, handle the notion of veiled women.

The real question, of course, is what any veil means as a symbol, and to whom. Symbols are cultural expressions of social conventions. As such, they do not have fixed and absolute meanings or values.

There is no greater reason than custom and historical happenstance that a blue, white and red cloth should represent France; one could represent France with a boar's head on a stick or a bottle of Beaujolais or a photo of Brigitte Bardot.

So what is a burqa, other than a dress that covers the wearer from head to toe? Why is it more demeaning to women than, say, the miniskirt or the thong?

Just as some people argue that the burqa shows women's submission to men, others argue that the miniskirt and thong show the objectification of women as bodies made to please men.

As for the in-between costume, a veil or headscarf, the cri de guerre in French schools, I am told that it is an teenage girls' fashion. Daughters of immigrants rebel against assimilation, or simply to shock or break a rule.

Apparently, in France one can see girls with expensive, fashionable clothes, makeup, and a veil that is also as luxurious.

Isn't the headscarf a reverse miniskirt, just like the reverse of a burqa is a thong?


Anonymous said...

The Virgin Mary wore a head scarf.


Anonymous said...

I agree! Though I wear many of our society's appropriately "feminine" garments, I have long been baffled by people's preoccupations with the reverse miniskirt, as you aptly put it. When traveling in places like Egypt, India and Senegal, I ended up spending an unusual amount of time and energy trying to neither offend the locals nor myself with the pressure to conform. At every turn I ended up realizing I am conforming all the time at home in NY too, but Western expectations of my style are so indelible at this point the pressures became less apparent. Whatever the case, much too much attention is paid to what women are wearing.

Diana Di Rico

Geneviève said...

"the reverse of a burqa is a thong" : do American women walk in the streets with a thong only?

And yes, as Diana DiRico said: one has to respect traditions in the country we visit or live

Anonymous said...

I find it rather amusing that the society which invented the balaclava helmet can get so upset over a way of wearing a headscarf when it has never felt that way when the likes of Grace Kelly or HM the Queen wore them! Wealthy and fashionable women still buy Hermes scarves, yet tying them to conceal the neck is apparently "oppressive". As I understand it, girls have websites full of intructions on elaborate ways of tying their scarves and must save a fortune on hairdressers!


Cold Spaghetti said...

In women studies, we're taught to see binary systems in equal polarity: if one side of the binary is oppressed a certain way, the other side is equally oppressed. (For example, the masculine, heterosexual norm is categorized as strictly as the female -- both are limiting, etc.)

Which makes your suggestion about the burqa/thong dynamic particularly interesting. Each send opposite cultural messages, but they can reverse depending on the context/audience.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

no one really cares