Every person in our society has their two cents to offer on what women should wear. Our clothes have been linked to everything from empowerment, oppression, enticement, culture and virtues. Some say burkhas, niqabs and ghoonghats as regressive and deeply patriarchal. Then there are those who blame shorts, mini skirts, and jeans for the rise in sexual crimes against women. But where is the conversation on women’s choice to wear what they want to? Shouldn’t what we wear purely be symbolic of our choice? Women have to always bear the burden of justifying what they choose to wear? How can we the women empower each other, if we refuse to accept each other’s choice and criticise what the other chooses to wear?
- Author Taslima Nasreen has criticised composer AR Rahman’s daughter for choosing to cover her face.
- Why do women have to justify their clothing choices?
- Doesn’t feminism advocate women’s right to wear what they want?
- Then what gives people the agency to criticise a woman who wears a niqab or ghoonghat?
Where is the conversation on women’s choice to wear what they want to? Shouldn’t what we wear purely be symbolic of our choice?
Bangladeshi-Swedish author Taslima Nasreen is in news for criticising music composer AR Rahman’s daughter, for sharing a picture in which the latter is seen wearing a niqab. “I absolutely love A R Rahman’s music. But whenever I see his dear daughter, I feel suffocated. It is really depressing to learn that even educated women in a cultural family can get brainwashed very easily,” she tweeted.
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However, Khatija, Rahman’s daughter, took to Instagram to hit back at Nasreen, writing, “Been only a year and this topic is in the rounds again.. there’s so much happening in the country and all people are concerned about is the piece of attire a woman wants to wear. Wow, I’m quite startled. Every time this topic comes the fire in me rages and makes me want to say a lot of things. Over the last one year, I’ve found a different version of myself which I haven’t seen in so many years. I will not be weak or regret the choices I’ve made in life. I am happy and proud of what I do and thanks to those who have accepted me the way I am. My work will speak, God willing. I don’t wish to say any further. To those of you who feel why I’m even bringing this up and explaining myself, sadly it so happens and one has to speak for oneself, that’s why I’m doing it. Dear Taslima Nasreen, I’m sorry you feel suffocated by my attire. Please get some fresh air, cause I don’t feel suffocated rather I’m proud and empowered for what I stand for.”
Does feminism or empowerment advocate the right of women to wearing certain kind of clothes? No, feminism advocates a woman’s right to wear as and what she pleases.
I can see from where Nasreen’s criticism stems from. A lot of women have overcome patriarchal barriers and fought hard to be able to wear what they want, to not have to cover their bodies and faces because they have been told to do so by their family and social circle. For a lot of women, the act of covering their face, or ensuring that their face or body is fully covered, is a sign of oppression and objectification. It puts the onus of upholding virtues and keeping the fragile morality of men in check on them. Thus they begin to associate liberation from having to cover their bodies as empowerment.
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But is that true? Does feminism or empowerment advocate the right of women to not wearing certain kind of clothes? No, feminism advocates a woman’s right to wear as and what she pleases. It could be pants, jeans, short skirts, sarees, salwar kurta, a ghoonghat, niqab or a burkha. One size doesn’t fit all, does it? Similarly, emancipation cannot mean one thing for everyone. For some women, empowerment is becoming financially independent, while for others it is following their passion or being a home-maker, devoting their lives to caring for their family. There is one thing common with all the women who equate empowerment with different things, they want the agency to be able to make that choice. And that is what feminism is all about. As Khatija further wrote in her post, “I suggest you google up what true feminism means because it isn’t bashing other women down nor bringing their fathers into the issue. I also don’t recall sending my photos to you for your perusal (sic).”
Religious beliefs, discomfort etc., there are many reasons why women cover their faces our of choice. As a sisterhood, we have to stand by them and hail their version of empowerment, just like we hail our own.
It especially hurts, when it is women who criticise other women’s choices. We do not know the life a certain woman has lived, her rationality behind her choices, so why must we criticise her? Achieving equal rights is a slow and painstaking process, and we are far from creating a world where every woman may feel comfortable in her own skin. Religious beliefs, discomfort etc., there are many reasons why women cover their faces out of choice. As a sisterhood, we have to stand by them and hail their version of empowerment, just like we hail our own.
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The last thing we need in our struggle against inequality and oppression is women pulling each other down. So each woman today must make a pledge to be more accepting of women around her. Of the lives they live and the choices they make, whether you endorse them on a personal level or not.
Picture Credit : The News Minute
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.