Paper: “The Burqa Versus A Formal Gown As A Cultural Norm”

“THE BURQA VERSUS A FORMAL GOWN AS A CULTURAL NORM” by Misty Smith. Originally published on July 09, 2017, for HIS 311: Women, Sexuality, and Islam at Southern New Hampshire University.

*Please note: I am a lifelong learner; therefore, I study various religions and cultures. I do not intend to promote one over another and believe that everyone has the right to believe as they wish (or to not believe).

The paper presented here is based upon the question: “Abu-Lughod compares wearing the burqa to wearing a gown to the opera. Is this comparison apt? Why or why not? Whichever perspective you take, remember to consider and address the counter-arguments. Draw on examples from the text.”

The text used for this assignment is linked in the paper citations.

 

The Burqa Versus a Formal Gown as a Cultural Norm

Pashtun Children Wearing Burquas.

In the paper titled Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others the author Abu-Lughod asks readers a tricky question, “…why are we surprised that Afghan women do not throw off their burqas when we know perfectly well that it would not be appropriate to wear shorts to the opera?”1 For one to understand why Abu- Lughod would state this type of comparison, the history of the burqa within the context of Afgan culture must be discussed. The greater part of the populace of Afghanistan consists of the Pashtun people, whose traditions dictate that they are the descendants of King Saul of Israel.2 The Pashtun culture is patriarchal with the majority being sedentary farmers. Women’s roles within the Pashtun culture have always been that as subservient to men, “Traditionally, a woman’s place in society has been secondary to that of men, and she has been restricted to the performance of domestic chores and to fulfilling the role of a dutiful wife and mother.”3 The Pashtun people have long observed the practice of purdah which “involves the seclusion of women from public observation by means of concealing clothing (including the veil) and by the use of high-walled enclosures, screens, and curtains within the home.”4

Knowing the cultural history of the burqa and of the region discussed in the statement by Abu-Lughod, “…why are we surprised that Afghan women do not throw off their burqas when we know perfectly well that it would not be appropriate to wear shorts to the opera?”,5 the comparison could be accepted or rejected depending upon individual preferences. For example, if the statement was to be debated by a cultural relativist, no matter which culture they were raised in, they may regard the tradition of wearing the burqa by Afgan women as the woman’s given right. Furthermore, they may debate that it is her culture and that nobody should question if it was right or wrong other than the women who wear the burqa. Therefore, from the cultural relativist’s viewpoint, the comparison of wearing a burqa being as normal as wearing a fancy gown to the opera is a valid comparison. On the other hand, if the statement was to be debated by an ethnocentrist who was raised in a culture where women were of equal rights to men they may argue that a beautiful gown that is worn to the opera is not the same as the burqa because the burqa is associated with a culture that had a tradition of placing women beneath a man, whereas a beautiful gown has no official or cultural meaning.

Footnotes:

  1. Lila Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” (American Anthropologist 104, no. 3, 2002), 783-90.
  2. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, “Pashtun,” (Encyclopædia Britannica, April 25, 2014).
  3. Lawrence Ziring, “Pakistan,” (Encyclopædia Britannica, December 06, 2016).
  4. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, “Purdah,” (Encyclopædia Britannica, May 09, 2008).
  5. Lila Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” (American Anthropologist 104, no. 3, 2002), 783-90.

Biography:

Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (2002): 783-90.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Pashtun.” Encyclopædia Britannica. April 25, 2014. Accessed July 8, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pashtun.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Purdah.” Encyclopædia Britannica. May 09, 2008. Accessed July 8, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/topic/purdah

Ziring, Lawrence. “Pakistan.” Encyclopædia Britannica. December 06, 2016. Accessed July 8, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/place/Pakistan/Daily-life-and-social-customs.




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