Dear Society, Can I Wear Burka or Bikini?

Style or clothes that we wear can show our identity because it is a way for us to express ourselves. It can give people's perceptions about us or it can mark our power.

For women, the choice of clothes can mean so much more. It gives power and control over our bodies. History shows us that men have tried so hard to dictate women’s appearance. The reason is that women are deceptive. This is a complete lie. The truth is that men cannot keep their minds to themselves. They blame women for something we do not do.

There are many stories on how schools, institutions, and companies make rules that women cannot wear this or that especially with what’s going on right now in Afghanistan. The Taliban tries to control women’s dress code in public which is horrible and against the freedom of expression for women. They do not seem to have a problem with what men wear. Even when you live in a developed country such as the USA, women will still have more rules for dress code especially when you have big breasts and thighs (which sometimes out of women’s control). No matter what women do, society will sexualize women’s bodies.

This phenomenon keeps happening until the 21st century because of how we raise our children. Since they were kids, we raise girls and boys differently. We always say to the girls to cover up this and that because it is a shame and inappropriate to show it off. We do not say the same thing to boys. It gives the narratives to the girls that their body is a shame for them, that they cannot be proud of themselves. We make them insecure all the time. So, they do not have alternatives but to cover it up.

On the other hand, we tell boys not to see some parts of girls’ bodies because it is not a gentleman’s way. We give the narratives to the boys that women’s body is secret. Hence, we give them the idea to make it interesting if they can see it. They start fantasizing about it. This is why more men become sex criminals, rapists, exhibitionists, etc. We raise boys that women are the only object for them, what matters is their body, not their brain and ideas.

Instead of teaching the old ways to our children, we should tell them that the body is just the body, that it is true there are differences between males and females. However, we teach them to normalize the body parts of people, we teach about biology since they are kids. This will make a huge difference when they grow up as a teenager or adult in seeing women’s bodies.

Some conservatives people would say that men have the desire. That is why women and girls need to cover up their bodies. This is worse because we tell society that it is okay for men to show their desire everywhere (even if it is in public) and it is the fault of the women to wear something they are comfortable in. Secondly, don’t people think that women have desires as well? Do women show it everywhere or publicly? Mostly no. It is because women are told to control their sexual desire their whole life. Self-control has to be taught to all genders. Women also feel “wow” when they see abs, but do they jump in and rape or harass the men? Most of the time, no. So, please stop victim-blaming about the dresses women wear. It has nothing to do with it.

Rape is all about power. When men rape women, it is because they want to feel like they have control over someone else’s body. They want to make the victim feel helpless and surrender. In this case, I am not saying that there is no women rapist. Of course, they exist. However, most of the time, women rape underage. It is because women can only win over physical confrontation in rape with someone that has less power than them. So, it is clear that rape is actually about getting power from the victims. It is about false mindset in the rapist. And once again, there is no relation toward what they wear.

This is important to be told over and over since there are lots of conservative people who still think that what we wear is the reason why rape happens. They say that covering up women’s bodies is part of a protection mechanism for women. The truth is, it has never been about that. It is always about suppressing women’s expression and protecting predators men by blaming women’s appearance. 

Corinne Redfern (2016) in Marie Claire about “A comprehensive timeline of men telling women what to wear” stated that the beginning of women wearing a veil was 2500 B.C. It was for rich women to wear a veil so people would know their status and no one dared to mess up with her (which was also the result of a regulation made by men). For women that did not wear the veil, they were publicly available or more likely they were women slave that did not have many rights. However, it was long long ago when slavery was still a thing. These days, slavery is prohibited for everyone, even mild slavery such as modern-day slavery when you overwork is prohibited. Thus, women have freedom, or at least they should. It seems like some people are still got trapped into an outdated mindset on how men tell women what to wear. This is why women do not have bodily autonomy. Whether you want to wear a burka or bikini, it is the choice of women regardless of whatever society dictates them to and the reason beneath the clothing choices.

Intan Ilaiha

Independent woman who lives alone by herself. She has a background as a journalist and she is interested in the issue of Politics, International Relations, and Feminism.

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