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September 24, 2002

BURKA/BIKINI UPDATE: Aziz Poonawalla replies to Jim Henley. He makes a lot of worthy points, but this concluding passage just seems wrong to me:

I said that women wearing a bikini solely to attract the attention of men is comparable to women being forced to wear the burkah by men. This is a manifestation of men's control over women, and it is that control which I am labeling immoral. I was careful to only use the word "immoral" in the context of focring women to wear burka (or the power play which makes women want to wear a bikini to please men).

Is it a "power play" when women want to wear bikinis to please men? Is it a "power play" when men dress or groom or whatever in a particular way to please women? And -- even assuming that this statement is true -- what precisely is immoral about it? Not much that I can see.

Of course, I'm probably a slave to false consciousness. Certainly all my work at maintaining chiseled, hairless pecs seems to be wasted now.

UPDATE: Reader Amy Torres writes:

That guy has it completely assbackwards! Women wear a bikini to attract men, yes, but only so we can turn you all into cooperative love-puppies. What American women have learned through the trials and errors of women's lib is simple: hairy armpits, no makeup and a rejection of men's more chivalrous impulses are failed techniques Today they are practiced and preached only by women who truly hate men. Us bikini babes love and appreciate men! We understand that our ability to attract and entice is empowering - and truly liberating. Wearing a bikini allows women to celebrate their existence joyously and openly. Try doing THAT in a burka.

No thanks.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Aziz emails:

The target of my immorality label is more subtle than that - you're right, the desire of the woman (or the man) to please the man (or the woman) is perfectly acceptable (in fact, celebrated in the Shi'a interpretation of Islam).

I am targeting those specific instances, when a woman wears the bikini because her entire sense of self-worth (or "self-merit") is founded on the reaction she is trying to induce in men. I am not saying the woman is immoral and I am not even saying the man in this scenario is immoral. What I am labeling as immoral is the force acting on her to subsume her sense of self merit into a stereotypical perception of herself as sex object.

Re-reading this, I realise that it sounds exactly like what I said earlier, clearly I am not doing a good job of differentiating and expanding my arguments in response to the original confusion. *frustrated*.

Well, this sounds like the point is that it's immoral to be shallow. I don't think that's true. It's shallow to be shallow. I don't believe in putting any single value at the core of your self-worth. Even religion. Indeed, there are few shallower than those who build their sense of self-worth on piety -- and unlike those who focus on their appearance, the latter are seldom able to leave others alone. (I want to be clear, though, that I'm not putting Aziz in this camp).

Another (male) reader wrote on behalf of unspecified female friends to say that the quote from Ms. Torres, above, gives feminists insufficient credit for the freedom she enjoys today, though he seems to be doing a bit of stereotyping himself:

The woman who stands up for the "right" of American women everywhere to wear bikinis and calls those who oppose it man-haters fails to realize that the only reason she can wear a bikini in America in the first place is because those same man-hating feminists won for her much more significant rights before she was even born. She does have a right to wear a bikini, but she should worship the women who faced ridicule, burned bras and spurned the condescension of the men who prevented them from voting, working in desirable fields and filing rape charges against rapists. Instead, she heaps scorn on them, as though she somehow "earned" her place on that beach blanket. I don't know her, but from the way she speaks, I'd guess that she earned nothing - that she had it handed to her.

It seems to me that women were voting and wearing bikinis before anyone ever heard of Betty Friedan. Interestingly everyone writing about this seems to be male. The only response to this post that I've received from a female reader was a comment on my "hairless chiseled pecs" that I won't reprint here. Trust me, sister: fantasy is better than reality in this as in so much else.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Diane E., er, weighs in and says the issue is "looksism," which men suffer from along with women. (And men suffer from "heightism," too!) And Jim Henley has responded. So has Megan McArdle, who says "What Aziz is arguing for is, in my opinion, a well meaning but futile attempt to take sex out of male-female relations."

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