I just read My First Afghan Burqa a newly published article in the New York Times, and I feel compelled to respond based on my own experience.
In the article, the author describes wearing a burqa for the first time as being a pretty terrible experience:
I felt rejected with my burqa down, as if I were not good enough to be seen in public. I leaned back in the seat and felt a wash of passivity come over me. Nothing was demanded of me except silence. I could sleep through life in this veiled state…
Nowhere in the article does the author acknowledge that she is the outsider and that this practice is the norm in that culture.
Let me make an analogy: If you walk down the beach in Miami in a bikini you don’t get funny looks. But if you walk through an office building or a church in a bikini in Washington, DC, you’ll probably get asked to leave. It seems so unfair of her to walk into a culture so foreign from her own and act like she should be entitled to act and wear in a way that is out of line with that culture’s norms.
In Saudi Arabia, most women wear abayas – a black gown with a black scarf to cover the head and face. The first time I wore one, I felt covered, but I felt culturally appropriate and sensitive to the expectations of the people I would be interacting with. I did not feel rejected, suffocated, or awkward.
Does that make me any less of a feminist? Absolutely not.