Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Beauty and the ‘burqua’ October 11, 2007

Reuters here reports on a version of ‘America’ s next Top Model’ from Afghanistan.

It struck me as an issue full of ambivalence for feminists; on the one hand, there’s the recently reported on problem of the ‘whitewash’ of the fashion world (see here). Given this, the promotion of different ideals of beauty seems to be a good thing.

But on the other hand, the body image emphasis of these programs is something that, for the most, I find myself uncomfortable with.

To illustrate my ill-ease, consider this quotation, from one of the models on the show, Timour:

 ‘”I have seen outside Afghanistan they have a different kind of idea about women in Afghanistan — they think they are always wearing the burqa and sitting at home but it is not like that,” she said.’

Sounds good! I thought… but then she qualifies, with 

“Girls in Afghanistan are beautiful.”

which isn’t false, but I wish she’d said more! About not just misconceptions about the appearance, but the misconceptions about all Afghan women living as shut away, oppressed, victims (though, fair enough, she was talking about the fashion program, so not really fair to criticise her for not going beyong appearance issues…)

On which note, such misconceptions are, as Racialicious points out here, only perpetuated by the Reuters write up. There, Fatemah Fakhraie writes:

  • ‘Reuters eroticizes Afghan women, making it seem like just going out to get the day’s groceries is an act full of sensuality! Apparently, in Afghanistan, there’s always somebody cute in the grocery store.
  • But don’t forget! Reuter’s use of the phrase “behind the bars of its [the burqa’s] grille” reminds us that these poor, sexy women are unfortunate prisoners of their brutal man-folk or their terribly oppressive religion! These women can’t possibly be making the choice to wear a burqa (or, as it’s really known in Afghanistan, the chaadari—again, good job, Reuters).’

Whilst Reuters does report on a fair spread of opinion about the show, Fakhraie also criticises the way that the reported claims from a Muslic cleric that the women’s participation is against Sharia law, and so should be punished, are inadequately scrutinised or explained; whilst on the other hand, nor is the reported view from Afghan businessman that “It also complies with Afghan culture, so it’s fine.”

Indeed, the article seems at a number of points (though not wholeheartedly) to be guilty of cultural essentialism – seeing the culture as a homogeneous whole, in which individuals are mysterious ‘others’, who are subsumed by ‘the culture’ – in the way that Uma Narayan (1997) has highlighted and shown to be deeply problematic.

 

2 Responses to “Beauty and the ‘burqua’”

  1. Nandini Says:

    I think there is some deliberate obfuscation of issues going on in the Racialicious post and comments. Afghanistan is by no means a liberal or equal society. The society is patriarchal to an obnoxious degree, and women are oppressed there. Yes, I am judging by Western standards, but at some point you’re going to have to give up moral relativism and stand for what you believe in. How much can you condone in the name of “respecting their culture”? All cultures have aspects to them that one can, in good conscience, refuse to “respect”.

    The idea that these women choose to wear hijabs, veils etc is ridiculous. The word choice has meaning, you know: there must be more than one reasonable alternative to choose from, and I can bet anything that for these women, the choices are “dress conservatively” or “face the consequences”.

    I’m from India, which is way more liberal than even supposedly progressive Muslim places like Dubai, and even after leaving that country for good I *still* face the stifling pressure to dress “modestly” (in salwaar-kameez or sarees only, no jeans&tshirts) whenever I return.

    And the fact that this pressure is faced for most part by young married women (older women have given up, young unmarried women have a modicum of freedom) – doesn’t that point to the inherent patriarchalism behind this form of oppression, more than anything else?

  2. calypso9999 Says:

    This post connects in an odd way with a news item I read yesterday about Barbie dolls being produced now in Indonesia with “modest” clothing: http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSL1016869520071010


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,571 other followers