Bikini and the Burqua: Two Polarities of the Same Extreme

In honor of this week's International Women’s Day, it is important to recognize that international women have multitude ways of expressing themselves whether in behavior, clothing, or culture.
Dr Hawa Abdi and Daughters

America's commercial domination around the world often promotes that women should be drinking Pepsi in a bikini showing off an unattainable body while dripping in diamonds. Western media represents the free woman as someone who is confident enough to wear a bikini, allegedly so free from oppression she runs on the beach with her mermaid locks bouncing. This is contrasted with the Muslim woman presented as oppressed and beaten down, forced to wear a cloth on her head by Muslim men who terrorize not just their women but the whole stability of the western world. People who "buy" the preceding rhetoric clearly have no idea about the scope of oppression and commodified manipulation that western women are subjected to and little knowledge about the wonders of the Islamic culture as well as the power of Muslim women.

Pamela Geller's online blog Atlas Shrugs shows her distaste for the way Muslim women express themselves by filming herself on the beach in a bikini. We watch her speaking while getting a full view of her bare legs and body. She claims this is her way of fighting for the free world. But how free is she? Is she free of the influence of the billion dollar porn industry, which could be attributed to the steep rise in the demand for the Brazilian wax. Is she free of the way women are represented as sex dolls, and even the way porn has penetrated mainstream media?

On the other hand, many Muslim women actively choose to wear their hijabs (headscarf covering just the hair) as a symbol of their independence and often commitment to one partner. I have many Muslim friends who wear the hijab -- all educated women with careers, their own money, and many of them are in successful, healthy relationships. None were ever forced by their family or partner to cover their head, but actively choose to wear this item to be associated with their practicing faith. Dr Hawa Abdi, a Somalian gynecologist, is a wonderful example of a great African woman who is in no way oppressed, yet fights her oppressors and still covers her head not only in reference to her cultural religion, but as a reflection of her regional dress.

The burqua, which covers the woman completely and leaves nothing but a floating tent, can be interpreted as a form of oppression. So extreme is its presence as well as the level of restriction that it inhibits the very mobility of a woman, vanishing her identity into void. However, prancing around in a bikini to free the world is certainly not the answer, either. The very symbol of the bikini and the type of body it caters to is the polar opposite of the burqua. In fact, women in either garb can be viewed as oppressed and controlled by different expressions of male constructs on female sexuality.

Overall, both the bikini and the burqua can be considered dress that is creating a women's self-image through the lens of society's (read: male) rules. Though not all women who wear bikinis are oppressed, nor are all women who wear hijabs. The point is to be mindful that commercialized or religious extremes of dress are never the path toward individual balance and free choice.