Monday, October 02, 2006

unveiled insensitivity

i read many feminist blogs, several of which often teach me new ideas. recently there was all that hullabaloo about jessica valenti meeting president clinton, and being assininely maligned by another pseudo feminist blogger about the way she appeared in a group photograph which was taken.

i came to know of the whole thing a little late, not having followed the blog world too closely for a while in between. i was glad to see that several people had taken up the nasty post and crucified it. good going. great going.

but hang on, quite a few blogs i was reading, expressed a sentiment like "yeah, left to [whomever], they'd have us wearing burqas!".

i'm not a muslim. i do not live in a country where i have to wear a burqa or headscarf every day. but i do find that rather insensitive a remark. what gives one culture the right to keep referring to something in another culture with such scant respect?

equating it to our wearing a dhuppatta in india, it is one thing for me to criticise the men around me who insist on my wearing a dhupatta to cover the silhouette of my breasts. i am protesting against their claim that that if i do not wear a dhuppatta, i deserve to be harassed. that they can think they own my body and dress me the way it suits them.

that does not mean that i am saying that i will always refuse to wear the cloth. i am merely saying, that i will wear it when i want to. i do think that sometimes it adds elegance. sometimes i want to wear it to be able to cover my head against our scorching sun when i wait at a bus stop. to wear it simply because i want to feel the texture of the cloth touching my cheek. that's my business.

i would not take kindly to a westerner labelling my dress as retrogressive, and viewing my whole culture as simply one skewed gender equation. i also would not take kindly to being made the Other while the westerner, ignorant of my customs and culture, criticises me by his/her standards. i do not think it is "supportive" to have a western woman criticise my culture, when she alienates and seems to look down on all of us who live by it.

it may seem inexplicable that i want to wear the clothes i do. frankly, i find miniskirts as hampering as a woman from the west may find my madusar. and i do not think that wearing miniskirts liberates me, makes me modern or leads to an intellectual revolution, so thank you very much but i am happy and comfortable being fully covered. i do not think it cramps my style. if i am not sorry for myself, you have no call to be either - i do not want to be forced into the role of the victim and receive someone's condescending pity.

protesting against the stoning of women who do not choose to wear a burqa, supporting them in their right to choice, helping them assert that they are not dolls to be dressed by men around them as they wish, is different from ridiculing or being contemptuous of a garment of their culture's.

please show a little more respect for other cultures - whites have colonised many of our countries for long, and have caused much bloodshed. dont tread on our cultural sentiments (however inexplicable they may seem to you) with your hobnailed imperialist's boots. white cultural hegemony is not as apocryphal as some of us would love it to be.


brownskinspeak

Labels:

19 Comments:

Blogger Krish said...

Curse me for being the conspiracy monger..but why cant the entire controversy be to increase the Google Ad revenue???...all I can see there are links..links and more links..leading to more n more n even more breasts![Did a quick Google and found the entire story..from both sides].

Well, as far as the controversy on the dress and the remaining part of your post goes, I really liked the hypothesis that Samuel P. Huntington made in his "The Clash of Civilizations and the remaking of world order"- that culture follows power...when east Asian and other cultures were powerful, their products and practices(including culture, cuisine and values) were thought to be the base of judging others...right from Indigo, Spices, literature, language, dressing etal.

Now, when the western cultures are powerful(militarily), it is natural that, their way of living is taken as the reference..and have you thought over the notion, that the whole notion of individualism is a western concept and hadn't been in Asian Civilizations?- (Save Hinduism, where it often allows for individual decision making)- all the other civilizations as far as I can think of, are more of a group or collective entities...wait..i am digressing...

Coming back to what I wanted to say, would you agree to it when a woman(or any individual does what he /she does with all his/her conviction and whole hearted consent) though it might be disgusting or revolting to you???

2:28 am  
Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

Thank you for this wonderful post and please accept my apologies, as I wrote one of the posts to which you are referring. It was certainly never my intent to label any form of dress as backwards or wrong. My criticism was not directed towards burqas or people who wear burqas, but at people (whether western or not) who would impose any particular form of dress on women or who identify women as primarily bodies to be covered or uncovered. Unfortunately, that was far from clear in my post.

I don't have a cartoonish or one-dimensional image of non-western cultures, and the last thing I would want to do is to promote such a thing.

7:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there. I don't know how to do a trackback here, but I linked to your post at my place here:

http://happyfeminist.typepad.com/happyfeminist/2006/10/brownfemipower_.html

6:46 pm  
Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

Oops that was me.

6:47 pm  
Blogger Sea and Sky said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:04 pm  
Blogger Sea and Sky said...

oops... was writing the comment and it vanished all of a sudden!

anyway, i was saying that once i read a very interesting article on how muslim feminist women in morocco have used the burqa as an essential and a core element of their advocacy campaign for promoting gender equity.

as you point out, it all boils down to the basic issue of 'informed consent'. also, it can be an immensely liberating experience to use things and words that have traditionally been viewed as symbols of oppression (for example, burqa as a piece of cloth within patriarchy, queer as a word within sexuality) in the contexts of consent and choice. such process help de-power the systems of oppression, and reclaim choices.

7:11 pm  
Blogger m. said...

krish: what is the "it" in question? i've no clue what you're talking about!

the happy feminist: hi. thank you for being honest enough to be able to appreciate what things look like from the other side of the fence. :)gracias for the link as well.

sea and sky: please do tell me if you remember where you read that! great point about the reclaiming - thank you :)

9:52 pm  
Blogger Shreemoyee said...

Nicely expressed. Like the way you comparied both sides of the issue.

12:18 am  
Anonymous ilestre said...

Thanks M. for a great post.

Sea and Sky : Not to be pedantic, but it wouldn't have been a burqa in Morocco. Maybe a haik.

I don't know about Morocco, but there was a lot of issues around female dress during the Algerian war of independence. At one point the French colonial power made a great show of their will to "liberate women" from backward muslim customs, culminating in displays of Algerian women taking off their headscarf in public. Some female members of the Algerian independance movement who were not wearing one put one back on, so they could go incognito into the European part of town.

Also today in a country like France, wearing the hijab can be understood as a symbol of resistance to imperialism, both cultural and military. Heres' a great article about the "hijab affair" in France.

12:27 am  
Blogger Krish said...

Oh...the "it" can be anything....right from the recent "Santhara"- The fast until death(it is really revolting to me...I don't know if it is to you)...If it isn't revolting to you, then may be I will have to give you another example...it might even be prostitution as a profession!!

10:47 pm  
Blogger m. said...

shreemoyee: thank you.

ilestre: thank you for dropping in, and for the link.

krish: i'm afraid i still dont understand what exactly you're driving at. as a question, i find it too undefined, with too many loose parameters. sorry.

10:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I consider the burqa to be retrograde not only because it is frequently imposed upon women, but also because of the rationale that culminates into a burqa being the only practical or reasonable choice for muslim girls.

The comparison between a dupatta and a burqa is fallacious, as there is a great difference of degree in between the two. Going by your line of argument, just as you are 'forced' to wear a duppata, girls in the west are forced to wear, say a blouse. That does not make the blouse and a burqa similar !

The argument that it is western cultural hegemony to suggest that the burqa is a retrogade practise is simply assigning anthromorphism to cultural practises. What special protection does one culture have over dissent or ideas that originate outside of that culture ? If one goes by that logic, you dont have a right to comment about this issue at all, since you are neither of the west nor of the muslim world (my assumption).

Sudeep

12:46 pm  
Blogger Sea and Sky said...

sudeep:
its not about burqa, dupatta or shorts. its about force and informed choice. force is violence. choice is emancipation. period.

9:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>> its not about burqa, dupatta or shorts. its about force and informed choice. force is violence. choice is emancipation. period.

I am not sure I understand what you say completely..

Even so, its one thing for someone to be forced to wear a duppata or a pair of shorts, and quite another for someone to be forced to wear a burqa ! The two may be equal from an idealogical perspective, but are quite different from a practical point of view. In fact, this difference can not be dismissed away merely as a cultural experience.

Secondly, something needs to be said about the rationale behind wearing the burqa. In this day and age of inquiry, this practise can not hide behind cultural and colonial sensitivities.

Sudeep

4:50 pm  
Anonymous harsha said...

Sudeep... The mistake you make is of confusing the burqa as a garment with burqa as a symbol of a oppression. While it might be true that a society which enforces that level of control on 50% of its population is punishably in the wrong, it would foolish to mistake the symptoms for the disease itself. The issue isnt with burqa as a garment but with the enforcing of a behavioural pattern as mandatory for a class of people. The issue is that, concentrating on a garment is a sure way to lose focus of the oppression itself. A person in a miniskirt is no more free than a person in a burqa because of that garment. It is one thing for a black man to call another black man "nigger dog". It is quite another for a white man to call a black man the same thing. The burqa as a symbol of opression is not something one can joke about or talk about in a derogatory fashion if one is not a member of the the class of people who bear its brunt.

10:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>> Sudeep... The mistake you make is of confusing the burqa as a garment with burqa as a symbol of a oppression.

I am pointing to the burqa itself as an instrument of oppression, not a symbol. I dont think I am confused here.

>> The issue isnt with burqa as a garment but with the enforcing of a behavioural pattern as mandatory for a class of people.

You are looking at this from an ideological point of view, and I agree that from such a vantage point, a burqa is merely "yet another enforced/violently conditioned behavioural pattern" as is the enforced covering up of the top half of the female body.

On the other hand, one needs to ask questions that take us from the ideological pov to a more earthy and practical standpoint. What is the degree of coercion in each case ? What effects does each behavioral pattern have on the subject ? What effects does the behavioral pattern have on the society that it is a part of ? If these questions are not asked, this discourse of enforced behavioral patterns on women and girls will remain stilted and removed from any reality.

>> The issue is that, concentrating on a garment is a sure way to lose focus of the oppression itself. A person in a miniskirt is no more free than a person in a burqa because of that garment.

I agree, that a burqa/miniskirt by itself does not proffer emancipation, and thats exactly why I would ask the questions I posed above, before equating the burqa and the miniskirt. I hope you realize that we live in an imperfect world, yet some aspects of the world are better than others, even if they are not perfect.

>> It is one thing for a black man to call another black man "nigger dog". It is quite another for a white man to call a black man the same thing. The burqa as a symbol of opression is not something one can joke about or talk about in a derogatory fashion if one is not a member of the the class of people who bear its brunt.

Questioning the validity of the traditional burqa system is not the same as calling someone a nigger dog or derogatory in any fashion. Neither is it a valid proposition that only the victims of a certain practise, insiders to a certain culture, be allowed to raise their voices against it. At the risk of sounding cliched, history is replete with examples where outsiders took up the cause of victims of oppressive practises.

Also, lets not get ahead of ourselves, I am not accosting someone on the street and ripping her burqa off, neither am I lecturing/hectoring muslim women about the validity of the burqa system. This is a blog.. where I am trying to reconcile what the author says with my own views - I dont think she has suffered in any way from the "brunt of the burqa".

Sudeep

11:37 am  
Blogger Aishwarya said...

M - There's a lovely piece by Fatima Mernissi titled "Size 6:The Western Woman's Harem", have you read it? Relevant, in a rather tangential way.
http://sibylla.livejournal.com/749828.html

Good post though. I remember being a little disturbed by the burkha comments at the time, though some of those who wrote the posts clarified that they did not mean that the burkha was oppressive, but that those complaining that jessica's breasts...existed were the same people who constantly condemn muslim states for the forced wearing of the burkha.

1:48 pm  
Anonymous Gautam said...

Any post on people's general insensitivity to others' emotions & feelings?

3:12 am  
Blogger m. said...

aishwarya: thanks! that was a lovely link :)

4:31 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home



Visit Greenpeace.org to help prevent environmental destruction.
Creative Commons License
This blog's content is protected. Whack this and you get whacked.