Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On which woman is less oppressed: bikini lady or abaya lady

Both are thinking a male-dominated culture has harmed the other, but one of these assessments is far more accurate than the other.

Is it really true that the women in this cartoon are both equally suffering in a male-dominated culture?  Actually, it's FAR from true: if the bikini woman takes off her bikini and puts on regular clothes, no one in her secular nation beats her.  In contrast, if the abaya woman takes off her abaya and puts on regular clothes, the religious police (known as the muttawwa) in her Muslim nation may beat her.  So, the bikini woman is far, far better off.  Again, since the bikini woman has far more liberty as a citizen, she is easily in the better position to mange whatever male domination may be present.

I imagine some would object that the bikini woman is actually more oppressed, since she doesn't know how much she's being dominated, something along the lines like-unto when children don't know when or how much they are being dominated.  However, in reply, (i) children cannot reason well and are rightly seen as not understanding when they are oppressed.  But adult women, especially adult women with a basic education and with equal voting opportunities in their culture, are able understand better when they are oppressed. So, the bikini woman likely understands her situation better than the abaya woman.  Also, (ii) many women in abaya-enforced cultures are not given basic education.  Thus, the abaya woman, not the bikini woman, is actually the more oppressed of the two. Therefore, and yet again, the bikini woman is easily in the better position to manage any male domination situations in life.


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At 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said... sounds like you're saying that the oppression is better measured at the level of education one is allowed to have, rather than the level clothing being worn--which I think is a much more serious part of oppression.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Brint Montgomery said...


I think it is better "measured" that way, but even if all such Muslim women had graduate degrees, were special police still enforcing the the full-covering bruka code, as opposed to the women choosing themselves, you still would have serious oppression.

At 2:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I'd like to say coming across your cartoon, I thought you were a highly intelligent man, to be able to think from both sides, but reading your comment, I feel you are being hypocritical in your cartoon. And I feel compelled to tell you that you are SO wrong. I am a woman who 'chose' to wear the abaya, and I have never felt this free. No one is judging me by my looks, my appearance, or clothes. They only way I make people look up & listen is by the words I choose & the way I take myself around. Not by my flawless skin, long legs, huge breasts. You tell me if a fat woman was to walk around in a bikini, would she be looked at the same way as a thin woman? Or a woman with freckles or stretch marks, be considered as beautiful as the one who has flawless skin??

And about your saying, the so called motawwaas beating up a woman without abaya, is a cultural thing, not an abaya thing. The same motawwaas would beat up a man if they saw him drinking alcohol. And just for your information there are about 1 million Muslim women in America, and many of them have have opted for an abaya. If they took it off, will they be beaten up by motawwaas living in America??

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Brint Montgomery said...


I could not imagine a response which makes my whole case better than yours. I will make a few comments on your post since you were kind enough to make a response at all.

1. The reason the motawwaas would not beat a woman (or a man) in the U.S. is because the secular state (rightly) precludes there being such an independent religio-cultural police force to begin with.

2. That less attractive women are looked at differently than attractive women has nothing to do with the abaya issue at hand.

3. You are fooling yourself if you think people do not judge people by their clothing. They may do so wrongly, but the abaya does not help a women function as equals to men in any society; in fact, it subverts such equality, the very point of my post.

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the woman wear the bikini (or any very revealing clothing) because she wants to, or because she feels it's the only way she can get attention from men who may otherwise ignore or dismiss her?

I'm in complete support of all those women who went on the Slut Walk, however it does raise a lot of questions as to how we found ourselves in a society in which children follow the fashions of teens - which is to wear as little as possible and potentially look as seductive as possible. A society where sex not only sells, but seems to be the only marketing campaign going.
Why do women have to wear next to nothing for a night out? It seems theres an unending arms race to get as much attention as possible purely with looks and lust, rather than intellect or substance.

There is also the issue of going on to ban the wearing of face vails in public, which simply swaps one oppresser for another.

At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to admit this post of yours is very Interesting and I may say thought provoking . But i do not quite agree with you , So here’s my take on this issue.

I am not sure if wearing an abaya or bikini has any thing to do with being oppressed or liberated. I agree , Some countries force women to wear abaya, At the same time some “secular “countries so called torch bearers of freedom, do not allow women ( educated with equal voting rights ) to wear abaya even if they want too. Whats the difference ?

Lets face it every society practices oppression in one form or other. Some are very subtle and some very obvious. As far as dressing sense goes it has more to do with regional cultural and social acceptability than oppression , A nudist may love to go to work or grocery baring it all ..but can they ? I would assume in most places they will have to face legal consequences ,If so, will it be described as oppression too?

Simple logic being we all follow or are forced to follow what is acceptable to the society we live in.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Ridhwaan Khan said...

I have two sweets in my hand. One in its wrapper and the other

without a wrapper. I drop both on the ground. Which one would you

choose? I bet the covered one?

To me it looks like the media does the oppression by cherry picking

and pointing fingers. I am pretty sure the majority of women wearing

the abaya choose to wear it with honor.
Are the firemen oppressed when they wear their headgear? Just like

how they use it for protection, the women adorning the abaya also

use it for protection in a way you won't comprehend.

I am pretty sure it is not a security issue. I mean there is technology

such as retina scanners, fingerprint scanners and the like to identify

a person?

At a time when the rest of the world, from Greece and Rome to India

and China, considered women as no better than children or even

slaves, with no rights whatsoever, Islam acknowledged women's

equality with men in a great many respects.

While many in the West criticize Islam with regard to the treatment

of women, in fact a number of Muslim countries have had women

rulers and presidents. To name a few: Turkey; Bangladesh and


Why can't we accept them, don't compare them and respect them.

After all, we wouldn't be enjoying our favorite cup off coffee if it

wasn't for that Muslim shepherd and group of students from Cairo

and typing on our laptop if it wasn't for Al-Khwarizmi, a Muslim

mathematician. And yes some of the Muslim women were inventors

or played a major role.

We should focus on what Muslims have done for the world and not

what we wear.


Thank you for your time reading my post.

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps we could look at the cartoon at a more literal level--not as a matter of which woman is more oppressed, but how each woman perceives the other. It seems to be a place where it is legal to dress either way, but Neither can dress the way they choose without being judged and having assumptions made about her: one has no modesty because of mens' expectations and the other hides herself because of mens' expectations. Some men would find one more attractive, and others find the other more attractive. Within the world of the cartoon, however, it is the WOMEN who are choosing how to dress, the women who are judging each other, and, therefore, the women who are creating the oppression through their ideas of how women should dress.

My own experience as a woman is that the men in my life seldom notice how I am dressed; most of the people who care have been female. I know that in the conservative area where I live, no one would notice if I went to the beach or park in a bikini, while people would stare and whisper if I went downtown in an abaya. My niece has been criticized for wearing a hijab, which she does not for religious reasons but because she likes them and they compliment her style.

The point I see, and that I hope I have made, is that we should be free to dress how we like without men OR women making assumptions about our reasons or condemning our decisions.

At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Kiril said...

Dear Sir,

I enjoyed this post of yours and now I am back with a question: What do you think about this? To my mind, the whole argumentation completely misses the point: beside the controversy about that supermodel's body size, another --more critical-- question should be addressed first: do women need such or such 'label' to be happy with their bodies? According to the comments, no woman can be happy with being regarded as a plus-size... What do you think? Thank you. K.


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