A Non-Muslim Spends The Day In A Burqa

Looking for an easy way to make people treat you differently? Via Vice, Annette Lamothe-Ramos conducts a social experiment by wearing Saudi-style burqa in New York City for a day:

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.

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!

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. 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.

Six hours later, after a number of complications, I finally ripped the goddamn thing off. At the end of the day I was proud of what I’d accomplished. Not only did I face up to some of my own fears by putting myself on display, I’d also learned to be more conscious of the way I treat people on the street, no matter how they’re dressed or what they look like.

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  • quest

    Funny you forget to mention if you were in almost any Muslim country you would have been arrested or publicly chastized for being out in public alone without a male escort.

    • Calypso_1

      Perhaps a good follow-up would be what the experience of wearing a miniskirt in Saudi Arabia is like.

      • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

        that’s a capital offense in Saudi Arabia
        unless you’re a prince’s call girl

        • Calypso_1

          I like how they stone a person by scooping a hole with a loader, placing them in it and dumping a load of rocks on top of them.
          A fine step towards modernity. 

  • ahem

    I don’t understand the purpose of this dumb experiment.  Is wearing a tent from head to toe supposed to be encouraged and respected?  Is it abnormal to feel uncomfortable around someone in a shield and without a face?  As a woman I find this degrading, we know that women in these particular burqas are made to wear them, they don’t want to, go to Afghanistan and you’ll know it’s not a choice, but a matter of life and death.  The last thing I want to see in a society where freedom from oppression inflicted by men is placed on par with those deprived of the same luxury.  I’m not encouraging disrespect but I am encouraging scrutiny because it is abhorrent, change doesn’t come when you look away.

    • Jin The Ninja

      you don’t know enough about the cultural context of afghani/saudi women to speak FOR them. it’s not RIGHT for you to wear a headcovering, but it’s also not RIGHT for you to presume their choice in wearing one. there is a woman who runs a blog mehreen kasana- you should look her up. she talks in depth about the privilege and presumption of white western women feminists regarding muslim women. she also speaks to how alienating, frustrating and racist this can be.
      language is power- and i find the language you used personally abhorrent.

      • MKN9

         the whole point is that it’s not really a choice…

        • Jin The Ninja

          for many muslim women in north america and europe, it is- and you’d know that if you attempted even to moderately inform yourself.

          • Antediluviancurrent

            It’s not always a choice, even if you’re a muslim girl born in a liberal democracy.  Take in account factors such as family background and overall peer pressure.  These are all informal power structures at play and therefore a more subtle coercion for some girls to adhere to a certain dress code.  These people are not heard and cannot be heard in the tumult of it being seemingly nothing more and nothing less than ‘free choice’ or the other equally as obfuscating islamophobic tendency to perceive a hidjab as extremism at work.

          • 99prozent

            The same argument against “freedom of choice” can be made the other way around. Most people in the west cannot claim to being free in all of their choices because of peer pressure and education and their upbringing. 

          • MKN9

            If you read the last comments properly you’d know that we were talking about Afghanistan, not Muslim women living in Europe or America..

          • Jin The Ninja

            if you’d actually read the article, you’d know i’m referring to a woman in new york wearing a burqa- and regardless, brown girls neither WANT nor NEED white people to save them.

          • Calypso_1

            But Whitey sure do like it when a brown girl show them the light.  ; )

          • Jin The Ninja

            lol. well i’m not a brown muslim girl, but i think i can speak to agency, and 3rd world feminist concepts including ‘western saviour complex.’

          • MKN9

             “you don’t know enough about the cultural context of afghani/saudi women to speak FOR them” – Jin The Ninja

          • Jin The Ninja

            actually i am not speaking FOR anyone, instead relating issues within feminism and cultural theory. I can speak TO individual sovereignty and cultural autonomy. A recurrent theme among muslim feminists is to develop their OWN unique cultural feminist identity- without the constraints of western feminism guiding them. This is a conceit of ALL 3rd world and 4th world feminists. of course you’d know that- if in fact you read any modern feminist literature.

          • Jin The Ninja

            and does it even matter? are women of a certain colour or creed not entitled to personal sovereignty or cultural autonomy? why don’t you work on resisting patriarchal institutions of the first world (and there are MANY), developing your own agency, before you decide on telling OTHER women utilising white western privilege how to live? Lord Cromer, after conquering egypt, declared that part of the british takeover’s intent was to ‘liberate’ muslim women from ‘muslim men.’ Meanwhile he founded the anti-sufferage league back in England, and was a staunch opponent of women’s rights. something to think about.

    • http://twitter.com/ohfuckinreally Voice of Reason

      I agree… it is very degrading. Women should wear some sexy skintight jeans and tight fitting dress shirt like they do in the glorious west.

  • Drewhempel

     http://www.vice.com/read/i-walked-around-in-a-burqa-all-day-and-im-not-muslim  I think the holding of a kick dog pet while in the Burqa is the most shocking “about face” to Islamic culture.  Yes she just says her dog was confused by her outfit. haha.  I forget the Arabic term I knew for “Christian dogs” I found in a book about Moroccans taking on some U.S. citizens as slaves back in the day of piracy of the early 1800s.  Anyway I went to Morocco in 1997 — where there is a wide contrast of female fashion.  People really should hang out in a Muslim culture for awhile — although my girlfriend did get spit on by a teenage boy in Marrakesh — I think because she was blonde without a head covering.  She then married a Moroccan so it’s all a matter of context.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    she should try a reverse experiment
    wear absolutely nothing
    and see how long she stays free
    in the Land of the Free

    in the land of the Free, tits are illegal in public
    in fact
    your body is illegal in public
    unless covered by something

    • Naisivad
      • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

        thanks, interesting to note:
        “I don’t think it’s yet possible for a woman to walk around topless without having people assume she’s pulling some sort of stunt, which is a shame.”

        but, wearing a burqa or being nude in America
        is going to get about the same reaction
        although the nudity might get you arrested
        and the burqa might get you killed

  • The only thing to get is money

    religion and humans a volatile combination.

  • SalmanBH

    Gulf countries of the Middle East (excluding Saudi Arabia) aren’t as strict. Women are free to choose whether they want to wear the veil or not. As a matter of fact, only a small number of muslim women wear Burqas in my country, Bahrain. It’s the same in the Northern Regions (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq etc.) and in the North African regions (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morroco etc.)

    People just need to stop generalising, what you see on TV is not necessarily what happens all the time e.g. women wearing burqas. Some of the things put on TV may even be false, as most of you already know.

  • Kurt the Turk

    In Istanbul a reporter did something similar, going to a conservative district dressed in a mini-skirt then going to a liberal area dressed conservatively (not quite a Burka, but showing nothing but part of her face).  She got judgmental looks from others in the conservative area, in the liberal area, people didn’t really seem to mind or notice.  

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