Over at Pajamasmedia, Dr. Phyllis Chesler, Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York, writes a stinging response to Naomi Wolfe’s recent editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald about the charms of the burqa.
Wolfe writes of her recent travels to Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt, where, almost hallucinatorily, she finds something wonderful about the burqa and hajib. She writes that she learned that “Muslim attitudes toward women’s appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression, but in a strong sense of public versus private, of what is due to God and what is due to one’s husband.”
It’s interesting to hear Wolfe actually say “due to one’s husband.” One doubts she would suggest American women owe something to their husbands or are “obligated” by god and tradition to do certain things. But Wolfe reserves her most bizarre statements for the traditional head and body coverings that women in the Middle East are forced to wear; saying when she herself donned a head covering (by choice, of course) it made her feel free (well, yes, Naomi, you were free to wear it and then take it off when you felt too hot–a choice women in that country do not have).
Wolfe’s jaw dropping myopia on this issue is so shocking that while reading the editorial, one might actually think they’re reading something in the satorical The Onion newspaper. Take, for instance, Wolfe’s descriptions of empowered “Victoria Secret” clad women under all that black cloth that should be viewed as “feminist ninja warriors” that choose to defeat the “male gaze” by hiding from it in plain view. Or this:
“Many Muslim women I spoke with did not feel at all subjugated by the chador or the headscarf. On the contrary, they felt liberated from what they experienced as the intrusive, commodifying, basely sexualizing Western gaze. … Many women said something like this: …’how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. When I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected.’ This may not be expressed in a traditional Western feminist set of images, but it is a recognizably Western feminist set of feelings.”
Dr. Chesler’s response is excellent…reminding Naomi of a few important facts:
Most Muslim girls and women are not given a choice about wearing the chador, burqa, abaya, niqab, jilbab, or hijab (headscarf), and those who resist are beaten, threatened with death, arrested, caned or lashed, jailed, or honor murdered by their own families. Is Wolfe thoroughly unfamiliar with the news coming out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan on these very subjects? Has she forgotten the tragic, fiery deaths of those schoolgirls in Saudi Arabia who, in trying to flee their burning schoolhouse, were improperly veiled and who were beaten back by the all-powerful Saudi Morality Police?
Most Muslim girls and women are impoverished and wear rags, not expensive Western clothing beneath their coverings. Only the pampered, super-controlled, often isolated, and uber-materialistic daughters of wealth, mainly in the Gulf states, but also among the ruling classes in the Islamic world, match Wolf’s portrait of well kept courtesan-wives.
Being veiled and obedient does not save a Muslim girl or woman from being incested, battered, stalked, gang-raped, or maritally raped nor does it stop her husband from taking multiple wives and girlfriends or from frequenting brothels. A fully “covered” girl-child, anywhere between the ages of 10-15, may still be forced into an arranged marriage, perhaps with her first cousin, perhaps with a man old enough to be her grandfather, and she is not allowed to leave him, not even if he beats her black and blue every single day.