By Asna Ali
August 17, 2013
The variety and intensity of emotions that women’s garments can elicit is surprising. Covered up or baring all, it seems that no matter what a woman wears, it will be seen as a symbol or statement of one sort or another.
Envelop yourself in a veil and you become part of the downtrodden masses subjugated for centuries by the all-powerful eastern patriarchs. Show some skin and you become a representative of the liberal hedonists who want to replace religion and culture with their indulgent lifestyle.
What a woman wears is so worthy of discussion and analysis that even the costume worn by an animated female superhero must be scrutinised from every angle. Will watching the Burqua Avenger fight bad guys inspire little girls to dress up like her? Should the Burqua Avenger series be criticised for trying to ‘normalise’ this global symbol of Muslim women’s oppression?
The answer to the first question is, yes it might. Children have been known to dress up as their favourite fictional characters. But it is a phase they grow out of. A five-year-old with a red cape tied around his neck probably won’t grow up into someone who wears a Superman costume to work. In the context of this series, the Burqua is no different than Superman’s cape.
As far as the second question goes, no, there is nothing wrong with trying to take away the symbolic power of the Burqua. It cannot be denied that the Burqua has become a symbol of oppression for a reason. Thousands of women have had to wear it their whole lives without ever being given a choice or opportunity to dress any other way. But there are others, many others, who wear it by choice.
The veil, Burqua, Hijab or whatever you choose to call it has been around for a long time and it has been worn for many different reasons; as protection against harsh weather, as a status symbol, as a sign of piety and even as a fashion statement (see the neon pink version worn by Lady Gaga). Its current status has only been cemented over the last few years.
Wearing it as a costume to hide one strong female superhero’s identity is only the latest in a long list of ways the Burqua has been used. If an animated series manages to ‘normalise’ or desensitise it so that in little girls’ minds it becomes just another garment that a woman may or may not choose to wear, then that should be appreciated.
We should not adopt the mindset that Muslim women’s emancipation is about making them burn their veils and start wearing more modern clothing. True freedom is not about telling someone to leave their previous way of life because it was unacceptable and adopt a new one because it is the ‘right’ way to live. That is just a new form of coercion.
There is no right or wrong way to dress. The only thing wrong is telling someone how to dress and judging them when they don’t. The Burqua does not oppress just because it covers up a woman’s body any more than a skirt corrupts because it shows off her skin. It is oppressive if and when it is forced upon the wearer.
Once we realise that, perhaps Muslim women will finally get the freedom to wear whatever it is that they want to wear, even if it is the Burqua. Maybe, just maybe, that freedom will lead to a world in which women’s actions are discussed first instead of their appearance.
Asna Ali is a business studies graduate from southern Punjab.