An email commonly known as "Burqa vs Bikini" has been going around. It's a treatise by a guy called Henry Makow, basically saying that Western culture values women primarily for their physical charms -- that a Western woman "shops her body to the highest bidder. She is auctioning herself all of the time." The burqa, although not advocated by Mr Makow, is nevertheless to be commended because it "consecrates" a woman to her family, and a woman's "long-term personal fulfilment and happiness lies in making marriage and family her first priority."
Westerners typically think of the burqa as yet another way for men to subjugate women: Easterners perhaps view the bikini as yet another way for men to exploit women. The so-called "burqa vs. bikini" debate could go on like this forever, except that the whole argument is based on an old-fashioned, harmful, and prejudicial premise: that men are somehow pre-programmed to act immorally in the presence of physically stimulating women, and that these impulses are beyond men's control. Therefore, if men can be so easily manipulated, then naturally women may utilise either the burqa, in order to protect themselves from these overwhelming male instincts, or women may choose the bikini, so as to manoeuvre natural male tendencies to their own advantages.
In most cultures, women are expected to dress carefully, lest they provoke unwanted responses from men. Men are supposedly exonerated from blame for their inappropriate behaviour toward women because, historically, they are the hunters, the predators, seeking to conquer their prey (in this case, women,) to sire as many children as possible. But many generations have lived and died since Daddy was expected to spear a wildebeest for dinner, and it's time to let this ridiculous predator/prey excuse die as well.
Men have just as much of a moral obligation as women to keep their physical desires under control, and just as much to gain: every man has a mother, a sister, a daughter, or a wife whom he would like to see free of the predatory intentions of other men.
To a great extent, since in either case she is being judged and valued by her outward appearance, whether a woman chooses to wear a burqa, a bikini, or something in between, is beside the point. Male-female relationships can improve only if women are freed from the need to either hide or display their physical traits. Men as a group need to realise that a woman's dress often symbolises society's expectations rather than her personality.
Many a man has chosen an unsuitable mate simply because he was dazzled by her packaging. Attributes that cannot be so readily assessed, like intelligence, wit, honesty, loyalty, and adaptability, are the long-lasting characteristics that form the basis of successful relationships between men and women.
Men have given the turnstile of evolution a push, and refuse to take the unwarranted liberty tacitly approved by society to act on the messages they infer from a woman's clothes. Men need to exercise some self-control, to fix their primitive attitudes toward women, and to begin to see women as whole solid people, rather than just a casual collection of empty shells.
Published in Pakistan daily Jang. The author is an Islamabad-based American writer