Did Women Create Burqa Culture?

In honor of implementation of the French “burqa ban,” and the brouhaha it is causing from Bill Maher to the New York Times, I repost the following:

The French “burqa ban” has got me thinking. Did women have equal power to create the burqa? And who benefits from this garment?

Some charge that rejecting the burqa comes from fear of the other, or ethnocentrism. I’m in sync with cultural relativism, so long as no one is being hurt. But buqas and “burqa cultures” don’t give women equal power. And women certainly did not have equal sway in creating the customs of these societies.

Think about the laws that exist in places where women are required to cover up in burqas, abayas, niqabs (facemasks) or various other veilings.

Is it likely that women decided that men could easily demand a divorce, but women could get one only with difficulty?

Is it likely that women created the notion that sharing a husband with other women might be fun?

Did women create the idea that an adulterous man be punished by burial up to his waist before being stoned, while a woman must be buried to her breasts – and one who escapes, escapes the stoning?

In these cultures, when a woman is raped it is her fault. She obviously let some hair fall from her covering, or she allowed an ankle to show. Everyone knows that no man could resist such things. Did women decide that women, and not men, are responsible for men’s sexuality?

Did women originate the notion that after rape, the victim must be killed to restore family honor?

Did women clamor for a burqa that limits their power and autonomy – keeping them from driving in Saudi Arabia and getting jobs that are far from home? Did women design this garment that prevents small pleasures like seeing clearly or feeling the sun and the wind?

And who benefits?

Men benefit from easily obtaining a divorce, but not allowing their wives the same privilege. Men benefit from the sexual variety of having many wives, while women are left to share one man. Men benefit by more easily escaping a stoning. And men can rape with impunity since women fear reporting sexual assault, lest their families kill them. Men gain power when women are incapable of getting jobs and income. How much easier is it to beat women for the infraction of straying outside the home, or letting a wrist show, when they are black or blue blobs, and not human beings?

It is common to make accusations of ethnocentrism when one culture rejects the practices of another. Often the fears are valid.

But if a powerful group creates a culture that benefits themselves to the detriment of others, the critique is not about ethnocentrism. It is about human rights.

Georgia Platts

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Early Islam’s Feminist Air
Don’t Reject Your Culture, Even When It Mutilates You 
The Burqa and Individual Rights: It’s Complicated

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on April 18, 2011, in feminism, gender, race/ethnicity, rape and sexual assault, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. It is clear to me that this is an issue of human rights and that the above described “burqa culture” is oppressive to women. But I find the solution of how to change or influence this kind of behavior less clear. On some level I agree with the French ban on wearing the burqa in public because to me it represents all of the things outlined in the blog post and in my mind it does dehumanize women. However, I don’t think this ban will do much good for the Muslim women in France whose culture/religion prescribes them to cover up in this fashion. The ban will not change their view point or that of their families, and most likely, they will just be further isolated from society at large. If they are not going to be able to go out, attend school, or meet other people who see things differently from themselves, how will they ever be able to break free? So, in a way this ban becomes yet another layer of oppression on these already oppressed women. And, if they do go out in public covered up, they are the ones who get punished — not their husbands/families/communities that prescribes them to dress this way. I heard that part of the punishment for wearing the burqa in public is mandatory French culture classes. In my mind, for this to be remotely effective, the fathers, brothers, and husbands of these women should have to attend as well.

  2. Tonya (Facundo) Kamaloni

    The notion that women create oppressive cultures seems ludicrous but then I stop and think about things in my culture that I accept and pass down to my son. In traditional Mexican homes, the women do all of the cooking and “serve” a man his dinner. He will call out additional things he would like, “salsa, more tortillas, coffee…” and for an outsider, it feels like a pushy customer at a restaurant. But my mother mans her station and warms up additional tortillas and pours my father the coffee he requested. So I began to wonder, what if she said no? What if all women who live under oppression say no? This is a complicated idea that is simplified for this example but in our nation’s past, there have been women who have been oppressed who have said no, and made a change for all women

  3. Silvana Ciorbea

    I don’t think women started any of these things but they also haven’t stopped them. The problem is when something becomes the norm it’s hard to break. If an arab woman just stands up and tears off her clothes to reveal a pink bikini and starts walking around she’d be killed. Women have gotten so used to being “put in their place” that they just don’t do anything about it anymore, especially because of fear of death or social isolation. I mean look how long it took for women to get the right to vote, it took years to get women to convince other women and then men to change the laws so that women can vote. I wish it was as easy as one or a few women standing up and changing laws and rights within a day but it doesn’t work that way, and unfortunately there are women who stand in the way of other women moving forward. Change is difficult and people fear for their lives and families lives and would most often rather not change anything rather than give up something precious to try and change the world. I’m pretty sure if someone from 2011 went back in time and told women years ago that they will be able to vote or be a CEO of a successful company then they would have given up so much, even their lives, for that sort of change but when your in the moment you don’t feel like those things can happen so you just don’t do much or anything at all and just hope someone else will take the initiative and change the world. It’s just human nature.

    • Yep. Most people accept their cultures. They seem natural and normal when it’s all they know. And if they believe that God is behind their practices, things are REALLY slow to change.

  4. In my point of view the Burqa is result of both fear and ethnocentrism. The women who believe in the Islamic religion wear the Burqa of as part of the religious tradition but what about the others? I saw these women wear skinny Jeans and Burqa, and I don’t understand what part in their body they try to hide. Maybe it is time that the women say “stop” to the male supremacy and do what they believe and want. After I read the Ayaan Hirsi Ali story, I can understand where the women’s fear comes from and what is more preferable: to live with a Burqa or to be separated from the society, humiliated, or in the worst-case die.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      And the burqa is more cultural than religious. There’s nothing about it in the Quran, which only asks that women be modest. Then, what’s considered modest varies from culture to culture.

  5. Georgia Platts stresses the “French Burqa” heavily used by women in the Middle East. As a result, an oppression of essential human rights and restraints have been sadly inflicted for these women today. They are restrained from the power to lead their lives entirely on their terms. As a result of wearing this article of clothing which covers their face and hair preventing and constraining them to look “hidden” and strongly conservative. Platts also makes note of ethnocentrism to be the reasoning of this burqas but it becomes an issue of human rights. Women in the Middle East should have the complete right to lead their lives and shouldn’t be defined by their culture or by men.

  6. Burqa is something a girl is suppose to wear when she leaves her house or she goes infront of men who are not blood related to her . With all due respect I say it is part of the religon rather then culture yes i say diffrent cultures take diffrent meaning of burqa, some say to cover the face or some say just covering the head is fine. The reason one does it to be modest and proper when faces the crowd. But i completly agree with Simona’s point ,why is it that the women only have to be modest and proper in the societ where as men are allowed to have relationships outside their marriages and for women if they do something as “horrible” as sleep with other men “she is a SLUT”. So when people say its RELIGON i say its CULTURE meaning its not the religon that makes the women sepreate from men … Its the culture and its time that this so called culture changes.

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