Playboy, Burqa and Liberation

"My upbringing was conservative, I was always told, you must not go out, you must not make yourself look so attractive, you mustn’t have male friends. I have always abided by what men say. As a result I developed an extreme desire for freedom. I feel like Che Guevara. I have to do everything I want, otherwise I feel like I may as well be dead.... For years I subordinated myself to various societal constraints and did what others thought was right for me. The Playboy photo shoot was a total act of liberation." says Sila Sahin, the first Turkish-German woman to appear on the cover of Playboy.

An act of liberation. Haven't we heard this very recently? Oh, yes, we heard it in the Burqa debate! So, this is what we have, women covered up from head-to-toe claiming to feel liberated, and we have women naked from head-to-toe claiming to feel liberated. Interesting contrasts. Did Sila Sahin actually feel liberated? I bet she did. Do women in West wearing burqa as a conscious choice feel liberated? I bet they do. But the real question is not whether individual X or Y feels liberated; the real question is about the practice, the institution:

Does posing naked on Playboy mean that women are liberated?
No, it doesn't. They are still playing in the hands of patriarchy.

Does wearing a burqa mean that women are liberated?
No, it doesn't. They are still playing in the hands of patriarchy.

The reason why they feel liberated is based on individual psychology and the sense of rebellion. If you come from a segment of society where you are expected to cover up obsessively, and you go and shed your clothes for a magazine, this is a symbolic radical act of showing your non-conformity to that tradition. If you come from a segment of society where you are expected to show your skin, and you go and cover yourself up from head to toe, this is a symbolic radical act of showing your non-conformity to that tradition. No wonder both of these feel liberating.

Another interesting bit. A kebab shop owner, asked on German TV what he would do if Sila were his daughter, replied: "I would kill her. I really mean that. That doesn't fit with my culture."

That doesn't fit with my culture. We heard this somewhere, didn't we? Ah, yes, this is what the French said when they banned the Burqa!

Comments

karachikhatmal said…
while working on this story for a show, one thing i came across was that the majority of the miniscule number of women who wear the niqab in france are young women who are recent converts. ergo, its a perfect storm of having to prove yourself in front of the natives, having a chance to rebel to show off your youth, and of course marking yourself as now different from whom you were once part of.

i have to ask though, why just tag me for this post? hahah!

also, you should get on twitter now.
Awais Aftab said…
i have to ask though, why just tag me for this post? hahah!

Because I like you ;)

Twitter, ah. Blogging already consumes so much of my time, I fear Twitter would hijack my whole day.
karachikhatmal said…
ah ok

i thought it was because i posted nude on the november playboy. you should write about that.

also, way to concede all agency to twitter. stop whining, get an account. you have lots of fans. some say, you are pakistan's second greatest awais.

(i'm assuming you've heard of awais lovely)
puzzled said…
every form of morality needs the help of society to institutionalize it ,even the liberal one.
A moral code is best practiced when society has influence on it.
I am not against institutionalization but i think the basic freedom of humans be given to them and doing or not doing burqa is one of them.Undue pressure is wrong...
Komal said…
Except the French didn't say they would kill those who wore the burqa :S.

Minus the false moral equivalence at the end, this was overall a good post.

I would say that Playboy is actually more misogynistic than the burqa. But I won't defend that view here (at least not right now).
gaya said…
I think I agree with you here
Awais Aftab said…
@ KK

Hahaha! Thanks to you, everyone has heard of Awais Lovely by now :P

Ok, I am seriously considering the twitter thing :)
Awais Aftab said…
@ Komal

I didn't mean a moral equivalence. My point was on how a particular variety of argument is being employed on both sides. Honor-killing is definitely far far worse than a burqa-ban morally.
Excellent juxtaposition and brilliant analysis.

Liberation is the pyschological reaction and rebellion against imposition. That's a great point!
Raul said…
Good post and I agree with everything you've written.

For Sila Sahin however, just to point out some things, her act of rebellion was against a minority generally within a country that accepts such an expression. The contrast in France is it's a political act to ban the use of the niqab etc, and therefore a political act to wear it.

I would rather question where all this action and re-action leaves the idea of freedom to be yourself, the accepting of ideas and expected levels of integration and multiculturalism in modern societies.
Zoobee said…
Posing nude or taking clothes off in front of strangers is not unnatural - since we're born in the nude, the act of nudity is akin to act of going back to the beginning.

Burqa - when seen as a modesty preserver - is artificial, negates humanity, and takes one out of the picture.

To equivocate both as equal acts of self expression and of liberation negates the premise of liberation.
Forbidden Fruit said…
This is the shortest and the most balanced post I've read, thus far, on the matter. Thanks for posting this. You just won another fan!