The Burqa: Ultimate Feminist Choice?
by Phyllis Chesler
Women in chadors are really feminist ninja warriors. Rather than allow themselves to be gawked at by male strangers, they choose to defeat the "male gaze" by hiding from it in plain view.
But don't you worry: Beneath that chador, abaya, burqa, or veil, there is a sexy courtesan, wearing "Victoria Secret, elegant fashion, and skin care lotion" just waiting for her husband to come home for a night of wild and sensuous marital lovemaking.
Obviously, these are not my ideas. I am quoting from a piece by Naomi Wolf that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald a few days ago. Yes, Wolf is the bubbly, feminist author who once advised Vice President Al "The Climate" Gore on what colors he should wear while campaigning and who is or was friendly with Gore's daughter. Full disclosure: I have casually known Wolf and her parents for more than a quarter-century.
Wolf recently traveled to Morocco, Jordan, and Eygpt where she found the women "as interested in allure, seduction, and pleasure as women anywhere in the world." Whew! What a relief. She writes:
"Many Muslim women I spoke with did not feel at all subjugated by the chador or the headscarf. On the contrary, they felt liberated from what they experienced as the intrusive, commodifying, basely sexualizing Western gaze….Many women said something like this: …'how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. When I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected.' This may not be expressed in a traditional Western feminist set of images, but it is a recognizably Western feminist set of feelings."
Really? If so, I'm the Queen of England.
Now that Wolf is no longer the doe-eyed ingenue of yesteryear, she sees the advantage of not being on view at all times. A Westerner, "playing" Muslim-dress up, Wolf claims that hiding in plain view gave her "a novel sense of calm and serenity. I felt, yes, in certain ways, free." In addition, Wolf believes that the marital sex is hotter when women "cover" and reveal their faces and bodies only to their husbands.
Marabel Morgan lives! In the mid-1970s, Morgan advised wives to greet their husbands at the door wearing sexy clothing and/or transparent saran wrap with only themselves underneath. Her book, Total Woman sold more than ten million copies. According to Morgan, a Christian, "It's only when a woman surrenders her life to her husband, reveres and worships him and is willing to serve him, that she becomes really beautiful to him."
Well, what can I say? Here's a few things.
Most Muslim girls and women are not given a choice about wearing the chador, burqa, abaya, niqab, jilbab, or hijab (headscarf) and those who resist are beaten, threatened with death, arrested, caned or lashed, jailed, or honor murdered by their own families. Is Wolf thoroughly unfamiliar with the news coming out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan on these very subjects? Has she forgotten the tragic, fiery deaths of those schoolgirls in Saudi Arabia who, in trying to flee their burning schoolhouse, were improperly veiled and who were beaten back by the all-powerful Saudi Morality Police?
Most Muslim girls and women are impoverished and wear rags, not expensive Western clothing beneath their coverings. Only the pampered, super-controlled, often isolated, and uber-materialistic daughters of wealth, mainly in the Gulf states, but also among the ruling classes in the Islamic world, match Wolf's portrait of well kept courtesan-wives.
Being veiled and obedient does not save a Muslim girl or woman from being incested, battered, stalked, gang-raped, or maritally raped nor does it stop her husband from taking multiple wives and girlfriends or from frequenting brothels. A fully "covered" girl-child, anywhere between the ages of 10-15, may still be forced into an arranged marriage, perhaps with her first cousin, perhaps with a man old enough to be her grandfather, and she is not allowed to leave him, not even if he beats her black and blue every single day.
Wolf claims that she donned a "shalwar kameez and a headscarf" for a trip to the bazaar. I suggest that Wolf understand that the shalwar kameez and headscarf that she playfully wore in Morocco are not the problem.
I wonder how Wolf would feel if she'd donned a burqa, chador (full body bags) or niqab (face mask) for that same trip; how well she would do in an isolation chamber that effectively blocked her five senses and made it difficult, if not impossible, for her to communicate with others?
And, by the way, the eerie effect, ultimately, of shrouded women is that they become invisible. They cease to exist. They are literally ghosts.
Wolf presents the West as anti-woman because it treats women as sex objects. Am I happy about pornography and prostitution in the West? Hell no and, unlike Wolf, I've fought against them–but to portray these vices as a "Western" evil, and one that the Islamic world opposes, is sheer madness.
It is well known that the Arabs and Muslims kept and still keep sex slaves–they are very involved in the global trafficking in girls and women and frequent prostitutes on every continent. You will find pornography magazines in every princely tent–those for boys as well as for girls. I am told that the Saudis fly in fresh planeloads of Parisian prostitutes every week. Perhaps they veil them before they conduct their all-night and all-day orgies. Or, perhaps they view them as natural, "infidel" prey.
Let me suggest that Wolf read a book that is coming out in September, written by a Christian-American woman, Mary Laurel Ross, whose American Air Force husband trained the Saudi Air Force. It is called Veiled Honor and is a timely, comprehensive, "nuanced" (Wolf calls for "nuance" in our understanding of "female freedom") account of her approximately fifteen year sojourn in Saudi Arabia. I would also suggest that Wolf read the works of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, (Infidel) and Nonie Darwish (Cruel and Usual Punishment) for starters.
Then again, I suspect that Wolf is not necessarily looking for any "nuanced" truths about "female freedom" but is, rather, fishing for Saudi gold and positioning herself within the Democratic Party. After all, what she has written in this brief article supports President Obama's position vis a vis the Muslim world.
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