Last week Vida Samadzai, a student from Fullerton College in California, represented Afghanistan in the Miss Earth beauty pageant and won the “beauty for a cause” prize for “symbolizing the newfound confidence, courage and spirit of today’s women” and “representing the victory of women’s rights and various social, personal and religious struggles.” Indeed, nothing says “women’s rights” more than being judged for your ability to keep your breasts taut while you parade down a catwalk. Women’s rights activists should urge the oppressed Afghan women to not only “burn the burqa!” but to also “show us your boobs!”
I don’t want to seem like some prude who hates or fears sex and the female body. I think it is important to encourage alternative expressions of female empowerment. Wearing a bikini can be liberating. But the same can be said about donning a veil.
It comes down to choice. What was so oppressive and tyrannical about the Taliban regime was that they enforced the burqa as a woman’s public “uniform.” In most other Muslim societies, however, a woman chooses to wear a hijab (headdress) or not. For those who do, it is often an act of self-assertion, and freedom from the leery eyes of men. Rather than feel oppressed, most women feel secure and confident.
That old myth that men think about sex, on average, every 10 seconds is true in our society. When we see girls walking around in tight shirts and tighter pants, what are we supposed to do? This is what men are all about. Most of us, inevitably, objectify, and we reduce the girls we see to pieces of meat. This is our visceral reaction. It is not “right,” but it is natural.
When I was in Egypt over the summer I was largely denied the peepshow that is American culture. Many women choose to wear conservative dress and the hijab, denying us men the pleasure of the “check out.” This is another form of empowerment: in stripping men of the ammo we require to objectify them, women grant for themselves the same public freedom that men enjoy—the freedom from harassment and disrespect. It is the difference between dressing for men and dressing in spite of men.
I am not saying that Western dress is a form of slavery to men. It, too, is a type of freedom, but it is not the only type. It is great that women in America have the freedom to wear whatever they want, and this is a freedom they should cherish. Because of that freedom, however, women often become victims of our immature, insulting and juvenile minds.
Ladies, by all means, keep wearing those tight clothes. And Vida, you look awesome in a bikini. But it shouldn’t matter what I think. Dress for yourself.
—Erol N. Gulay is an editorial editor.