VICE magazine, purveyor of many things poorly-thought-out and ultimately stupid, has done it again, this time publishing a piece by one Annette Lamothe-Ramos entitled “I walked around in a burqa all day (and I’m not Muslim).”
Now, I’m not Muslim either and my only experiences wearing any sort of hijab have been whilst visiting mosques, so I’m not the most qualified to criticize this piece (and as soon as I see some biting critiques from Muslimah friends, I’ll be sure to add them to this post), but dammit if I can’t help myself.
The piece just starts off stupid, with a title that indicates the reader either learned nothing from her experiences or is terrified of her editor. Despite having walked around all day in what appears to be an abaya with niqaab, the author is still slinging around the term “burqa” (which, as opposed to hijab—generically used to refer to the headscarf—and niqaab—generically used to refer to a facial veil—is a specific garment generally worn in Afghanistan [edit: @EbtihalMubarak points out on Twitter that burqa برقع also refers to a facial veil mainly used by beduin women. ). But hey, let’s let that one slide for just a moment, shall we?
So, first para:
I was recently asked by our global editor to track down a burqa for a music video we were planning to shoot, I guess because I’m the fashion editor. I didn’t know a thing about Islamic clothing—or that you can’t just go to the burqa shop and get one. Turns out it’s a giant pain in the ass. But I did find the one I wanted, eventually.
Oh, it was difficult, was it? A quick Google search for “buy Islamic clothing” gives me this website as the first result. Too difficult, too slow? VICE’s offices are in New York, just get your ass to Bay Ridge for goodness’ sake. Moving on…
Nearly every news story I’ve ever read with the word burqa in it labels the garments as oppressive to women, and the only articles I found by females who’d actually worn them had been written about their experiences walking the streets of Muslim countries.
Really? Sounds to me like you didn’t look very hard. Three years ago I began pointing out the phenomenon of what I dubbed “hijablogging.” I come across these blogs without even trying, they’re on nearly every corner of the web: Blogs run by young Muslimahs in the United States and elsewhere, many of which deal with fashion. Let’s keep going…
After watching 74 YouTube videos and parsing 108 Google search pages, I couldn’t find one article or video explaining if burqas were comfortable or how Americans reacted to seeing someone resembling the Grim Reaper float by them in line at Starbucks. I figured that the only way I’d really know what life was like for women who have been consigned to wear the least-revealing piece of clothing of all time was to dress up as one of them.
The fact that this chick doesn’t have one Muslim friend whom she could ask for the right search terms to use—since she was obviously using stupid ones—is actually more alarming to me than her lack of Google skills.
My little fashion-cum-social experiment started when Ben Ritter arrived to photograph me as I figured out how to assemble my burqa. There were a number of different types available online from various countries, and for whatever reason I decided to go with the Saudi Arabian variant. Saudi burqas consist of five pieces and seemed in much more in line with my idea of a “proper” burqa than the Afghan version with bedazzled “fashion sleeves.”
Lady, I think we’ve already realized that your idea of most things Muslim is problematic. You should’ve gone with the bedazzled version. Also, what’s a Saudi burqa?
The final look. We hadn’t left my house but I was already bitching about how hot it was. I wanted to go naked under the abaya but since burqas are supposed to be outwear, I wore it over a crop top and the shortest shorts I could find in my closet.
Okay, that sounds about right.
Walking around the East Village or Brooklyn surrounded by people we knew seemed like a waste of time, so we hopped on a train uptown to pretend we were tourists. No one really paid much attention to me except the woman on the bench behind me who was sitting with her children. She dragged them to the other end of the platform when she saw me step onto the train. What a bitch!
Oh noes, what a bitch! No thoughtful reflection of what that must be like for Muslim women in America on a daily basis, no thoughtful analysis of what it all means. What a bitch!
(This next bit accompanies a photo of our author standing in front of a movie poster)
Oh you know, just hanging out with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones (and Allah) on the subway platform.
What the fuck?
When we got out of the subway it started to rain really hard. Lucky for me, I didn’t need an umbrella—one of the few pluses of wearing a burqa. I’m a native New Yorker, which means I had never been to the Empire State Building. So we went there. I didn’t realize the significance of visiting one of the tallest buildings in New York dressed in Islamic garb until we reached the entrance. I felt like a jerk.
Are you fucking kidding me? I’ll ignore the bit about the umbrella (no, seriously lady, is your burqa made of nylon?) and skip to the last bit. You felt like a jerk for visiting a tall building dressed like a Muslim? What am I even supposed to understand from that sentence? That American Muslims shouldn’t be patriotic or love NYC skyscrapers as much as the rest of us? That Muslim tourists to New York should avoid tall buildings for the sensitivity of bigots? I don’t get it.
Once we reached the roof things got really uncomfortable. I could tell all the foreigners were talking shit about me in their native tongues. The group behind me also followed us around, presumably because we were taking so many photos.
Maybe they just inherently realized you’re an asshole?
While I posed for pictures we noticed that one of the security guards was following us around. I guess he was trying to figure out if we were pulling some stupid stunt (we were) or casing the joint (we were not).
Again, no self-awareness. Lady, you don’t get to say shit like that.
We ended up taking one of those cheesy green screen photos before we left. The girl in charge of the booth said we didn’t have to have our picture taken if we didn’t want to. This annoyed me, so we jumped right in and made her snap one. Doesn’t Ben look like he just married a virgin?
No, he looks really uncomfortable. Probably because no one else thought your racist idea was as awesome as you did.
A big gust of wind nearly blew me down the block. I caught my reflection in a doorway and thought I looked like Batman, so I made Ben take a picture. All of the cold air blowing through the sleeves of the khimar felt really good.
Okay, her use of khimar here makes me suspect the use of “burqa” is indeed the fault of an ignorant and overzealous editor. But I don’t feel like giving her credit for that. Also, hahahahaha Batman, you’re so funny.
I had to keep taking breaks to rest. The rain had stopped and it was so humid I was starting to sweat in places I’d never sweat before. If I had to wear something like this in the desert I would most likely die…
Aaaand here we go. Anybody feel like explaining the difference between humidity and dry heat to this woman?
Six hours later, after a number of complications, I finally ripped the goddamn thing off. I’ve never been so happy to go home.
But tell us how you really feel.
I have a newfound respect for the women who chose to wear these kinds of garments, but I will never do anything like this ever again because it suckkkkked.
And that’s it. That’s all she got out of the experience.
I’m sure Muslim friends will disagree with me, but I’m not that bothered by the (quiet) choice to try wearing hijab or what have you for the day. I think such endeavors can be humbling and can teach you about the experiences of others; there is indeed something to the old adage about walking a mile in someone’s shoes (or, um, hijab). And if such an experiment is combined with, you know, actually talking to Muslim women and learning from them, you might really get something out of it. As the friend of a friend posted on Facebook:
“Gee, if only there were some way to discover how women with different cultural experiences feel about those experiences! Wouldn’t it be great if we could just, like, TALK to those women? Too bad that is just impossible. BETTER PLAY DRESS-UP, THAT IS THE ONLY LOGICAL CHOICE.”
But if you do that all day and this is all you get from the experience, then I’m just going to have to assume you’re a shallow bitch in the first place.