01 July 2009

Does The Burka Give You The Horn?

This Sunday, Nicky Campbell on 'The Big Question' asked 'Should The Burka Be Banned?'.

Comically, the burka clad woman on the show, was asked her reasons for wearing one. Her main answer was the misogynistic 'I cover my body and face so men do not desire me'. In reply Campbell asked the obvious question; 'why don't men have to wear a burka to stop women desiring them?'. To this the woman just muttered and sat their in dumbfounded silence. She couldn't answer because there was no answer but to admit that the wearing of the burka is all about the cultural misogynism that spawned it.

Others in the audience pointed out that the burka is a Saudi Wahhabi tradition that pre-dates Islam. The Koran does not mention the burka. Some feminists even tried to claim the burka was a symbol of freedom for women. I was certainly not convinced of this last point.

But saying all this, we cannot ban the burka, people should be free to wear what they like and some muslim women do CHOOSE to wear one, no matter how much the rest of us find it odd and even scary. Of course there is cultural pressure, there is also some who are coerced into wearing one. We need to make sure that muslim women have the protection to easily break free of this coercion if they want to. But we also have to remember that women who go out scantily clad and get drunk at the weekend are also under cultural pressure to do so. Which is worse? Wearing a burka, or drunken debauchery?

What made me laugh though, was that some men actually get turned on by the burka. So it seems, even the main aim (to supress men's desire) is a suspect one. I think this also reminds us, that desire is in the mind of the person doing the desiring, whatever the attire of the desired.


  1. I agree that people should be free to wear what they like. That is an important civil liberty, often overlooked recently. But I think we can reasonably draw the line at people completely covering up their face because we live in a society where people expect to be able to identify each other and where people only cover up their face when they are up to no good, e.g. bank robbers wearing masks.

  2. PZT: You mean, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear? Now, where have I heard that before?

    Don't you guys use the opposite argument when it comes to CCTV and the DNA database?

  3. No, I mean if you are covering up your visual identity you might reasonably be suspected of having something to hide. The converse is not true, i.e. it doesn't follow from that that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. (Fallacy of the undistributed middle, I think.)

    I don't recall saying anything about the DNA database one way or the other. I don't know who "you guys" are, but maybe you have me confused with somebody else. The argument about CCTV is different and relates to the concept of public space. I don't oppose CCTV in the street on privacy grounds because I don't see how you can expect to have privacy when you are in a public place. If we had to have CCTV inside our homes (a la Orwell 1984), that would be a different matter, obviously.

  4. "What made me laugh though, was that some men actually get turned on by the burka."

    There is nothing, and with the advent of the internet I do mean NOTHING, in this world so strange, unpleasant or just odd, that some people wont get the horn from it.

    The burka, as with many other forms of religiously or cultural backward dress for women, is not just an issue regarding appearance. It severely restricts movement and perhaps this gives another angle on the subjegation issue.

    As you are no doubt aware from my comments on other matters, I do not believe a ban would be good or helpful. The only thing we can do, is provide an avenue of escape for those women who reject their medieval cultural practices.

  5. pzt, apologies, got u mixed up with someone else. You seem to have same views as me on CCTV. On burkas, when people start using them to rob banks etc, then maybe we should ban them, until then we should allow them.

  6. falco, agreed. The internet shows human thoughts warts and all.

  7. You're probably right that we can't very practicably ban them, but I reserve the right to make my disapproval clear when I come across it in the street. I find it a quite nauseating example of the oppression of half the population, and I don't see why I should hide that.

  8. pzt, i think it is misygonistic oppression as well. Can i ask how you show your disapproval?

  9. Even if people do wear them for robbing banks we shouldn't ban them. We don't ban ski masks so why burkas?

  10. but I reserve the right to make my disapproval clear when I come across it in the street

    What others choose to wear is no business of yours. Somehow I don't think you would tolerate 'disapproval' being voiced by strangers on what you choose to wear.