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Boobs Or Burkas?

Updated on October 13, 2009

Some of you may have noticed a little tension in East/West relations of late. The crux of the matter (aside from the oil which is like crack for countries) is inherent divisions of opinion between traditional Muslim values, and traditional Western ones. (I have decided to use the term 'Western' values as I feel that many of the prevailing values which shape Western society at the present time are quite removed from Christian values. Unless I am very much mistaken, there is no part of the Bible where Jesus declared "And let there be boobs, large fake boobs!"). The scope of this debate is a megalithic one, but this article seeks to focus simply on the trappings of 'oppression', namely Burkas and Boobs.

The West views much of the Middle East as a barbaric place which (in some places) oppresses women by depriving them of what the West considers to be basic freedoms, such as the freedom to leave the house unattended, making them slaves to male family members, and generally keeping them down. To top it all off, many women (though not all) are required to wear the burkha, a full body covering which leaves only the eyes and the hands visible to strangers. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the burka has in many ways become a symbol of extreme prejudice and oppression of women in the eyes of the West.

Muslim people from the Middle East would claim that they actually honor their women, protecting them and keeping them safe from the horrors of the wider world, and shielding their honor from the ravenous appetites of men who roam the streets. It is a mark of virtue to wear a burka, and by contrast, Western women are brazen hussies at best, selling their sexuality in return for supposed freedoms, and at worst are little more than prostitutes who must continuously flash themselves, not to mention mutilate their bodies with repeated surgeries in order to appear attractive to the male sex. They are not valued by men, often being discarded for younger models as they begin to age, and they must constantly flaunt their sexuality in order to be valued in any sense.

No doubt Western women would rail against this assessment of the situation, but thinking more deeply on it, there may, in fact, be a grain of truth to these accusations. (This is not to say that they are entirely accurate, but to say that amidst the hyperbole, there are valid points that we perhaps should be addressing.) After a recent trip to New Zealand, a British author wrote that the women there "didn't do cleavage", using wounded terms and an incredulous tone which seemed to indicate that in his considered opinion, women should be showing their cleavage to all and sundry as they walked down the street, and that something was obviously insanely wrong with them if they chose instead to remain modestly covered.

When we examine our ideals of Western beauty, we see cleavage everywhere. If cleavage is not sufficient, then many women will have their chests pumped with silicone to create a fuller bust. Men's reactions to cleavage are immediate and positive. What woman hasn't at some point, been advised to unbutton the top of her shirt to show off her breasts?

It is not the showing of cleavage that is the problem, one should be free to show as much or as little cleavage as one wishes. However when it comes to the point that, in certain regions of the world, going around without cleavage showing, or refraining from showing one's body off is considered to be a negative trait, and when it becomes a norm for women to have major surgery in order to make their bodies more aesthetically pleasing, one does wonder whether these women might not be better off wandering around in a burka, in which if they are valued, it is because of who they are, and what they do and say, not because of the balloons which are shoved in every man's face, appealing to his libido in a desperate ploy for acceptance and love.

Neither extreme is particularly desirable of course, but perhaps before decrying other cultures for oppressing their women, we should look at the double standards among our own. Whilst it may not be legislated and enforced that every woman must have a DD bust, does the fact that thousands of women feel so badly about themselves and their bodies that they have them surgically altered to fit ideals of beauty which are generally unattainable by the majority of the population not tell us that something is quite amiss in our own back yards?

Legislative and religious powers are not the only ones that mold and shape a society, and oppression does not only come in the form of a screaming woman with a stick beating you for showing your ankles. It also comes in the form of shunning the flat chested for the big breasted, for rewarding women for appealing to sexual senses first and emotional and intellectual ones second (or often, not at all), and in the form of making many a perfectly normal woman feel so ugly in her own skin that she will, quite literally, risk death to make her appearance more socially acceptable.


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    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 8 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      I love your tone - very well written and thoughtful. I see the burka as wearing a ball and chain, whether it is officially mandated or not, and the pressure for cleavage is another ball and chain--as you say, it may not be legally required, but it is part of the "beauty myth." Excellent hub! Kartika

    • profile image

      sam_t 9 years ago

      Interesting... the thing about the burka is that it has traditionally been viewed as a form of opression that is imposed by men on women. However, while this assessment is sometimes true, although more often than not it is the women themselves who chose this kind of garment. This is done for religious and cultural reasons.

      What tends to be over looked is that there are similiar cultural and religiously based dress expetations for men as well. What people tend to forget is the Islam is a way of life that is highly spiritual and a very regimented in its structure. The norms and a lot of the attitudes toward the differences between men and women in the middle east and indeed much of the Islamic world is based on the idea of strong faith and dedication to a life that is chaste and free from temptations. Temptations interefere with religious obligation, so as a result dress codes evolved in accordance with this idea.

      What is overlooked is that women must choose this for themselves; it was never mean't to be imposed. There are guidelines in Islam for what is acceptable dress for men and women but ultimately the implementation is open to interpretation. (i.e. a woman does not necessarily have to wear a Burka, she could wear modern chaste clothing and a scarf and that would be acceptable too). I do not agree however that men have the right to impose a burka on their wives and daughters.

      Ultimatley, what a women chooses to wear whether she be western or eastern is just that... a choice. Any man that tries to impose his will on his wife or daughters needs to ask himself if he has the right and if he is a muslim he needs to look more closely at what the Quran really says about forms of dress.

      Lastly, the forms of dressed in the middle east also evolved out of the climate. The Burka and Kurta are both forms of dress that are designed for coolness and protection from the sun.