response to yourish about burkas and bikinis

I have to object to Yourish's characterization of my burka and bikini post as "all american women are just as oppressed as Saudi women."

first of all, not all women in America wear a bikini 24-7.

second, of those who do, not all are FORCED to wear the bikini by a man. Some do so because they like to.

The essay I wrote took great pains (which Meryl ignored, apparently) to focus its analysis on the articles of clothing, not the women underneath. The burka is often used as a tool of misogynistic oppression. This is enforced with violence and social stigma.

But the burka is also a symbol - when willingly adopted - of modesty and control over how the woman interacts with society. Many women who wear the veil or similar modest dress do so because they perceive a great benefit to it (including my wife).

Likewise, the bikini can for some be a symbol of female liberation or simple vanity or any other perfectly reasonable expression of a woman's free will and pride and independence.

However, there are some cases where women wear a bikini solely in order to comply with a male-driven social expectation by society. That is the subject of my post, because the simple fact that such social coercion exists means that the bikini can no longer be considered a truly neutral article of clothing.

Many Muslim writers try to make a case for the burka as a symbol of freedom alone, ie ascribe a purely positive value to it. They ignore the negative side of the coin (whether it is pos or neg. depends entirely on the rationale behind why the woman chooses to wear it).

In the same vein, most people like Steven Den Beste who ascribe to the bikini a symbolism of absolute American liberty are also assigning a purely positive value without acknowledgeing that there is also a negative coercive aspect.

The burka and the bikini - when embraced of free will - are equal symbols of freedom, and that is why I have referred to America as the greatest Islamic country in the world many times on my blog. The concept of persona liberty and choice is essential to both American society and Islamic theology regarding the value of religious action.

The impetus to write the burka and the bikini post was solely to counter the simplistic claim that bikinis are American and Free and burkas are totalitarian and slaved. In actual fact, they are both just pieces of cloth. What truly matters is the freedom of the woman wearing it.

I also refer you to Jeanna D'Arc's insightful piece about patriarchal oppression. Also, Jane Galt had some related perspectives about cultural imperialism that are must-reads.

UPDATE: Meryl responds. I concede that she had not used the word "all" in characterizing my post (ie, all american women who wear the bikini are oppressed). However I can be forgiven for thinking she meant the generalization, given the surrounding context of her post that quoted me. In that post, she used me at the tail end of an argument building a systematic case that muslims are ass-backwards about their perceptions of women and freedom (I even got tagged with "even"). I'm glad to hear that I was kmistaken in my inference and that she really does not believe that I consider all American women who wear the bikini to be oppressed. We seem to be in total agreement.

In fact, the agreement continues about those (few, not all) bikini-wearing American women who I do consider to be oppressed! Meryl writes:

Yes, it can be all of those things, and more. But let's face it: The bikini is, for the most part, a symbol of "Look at me! Aren't I sexy?" I seriously doubt that little Brittany-on-the-beach is thinking of anything remotely resembling female liberation, no matter how many articles in Ms. (or posts by Steven Den Beste) to the contrary. More likely they're thinking, "Is that hottie is looking at me?"

As a teenager, I never even considered one-piece bathing suits. Same for when I was in my twenties. It wasn't until I hit my mid-thirties (and picked up a bit of flab) that the desire to show off my body that way cooled down.

The fact that Meryl portrays this absolute validation of my point as a disagreement suggests that she's more interested in disagreement for its own sake than any meaningful dialouge. However, there's a deeper reason than mere personal antagonism - she lets this litle sentence slip by:

The bikini was not invented to become a symbol of social coercion.

In other words, the burka was. she suggests that the burka was created for the express and sole purpose of ubjugation of women. The religious requirement of modesty, and the testimony of many women who wear various forms of hijab, burka, ridah, etc is at one stroke rendered meaningless. In a sense, she is just repeating exactly one-half of my argument (two fourths, actually, the bikini = good and the burka = bad parts). The remaining two, bikini = bad and burka = good, are simply inconceivable - and if an educated Western woman can't see the dogma inherent in that, ie simply cannot see the burka and the bikini as simple pieces of cloth, then I wonder what hope there is for true understanding. I've been shouting into the vacuum all along after all.

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