Some Muslim communities have interpreted the teachings of Islam as requiring women to dress in certain ways. In some traditions, women dress in modest Western-style clothing and cover their heads with scarves, while in other traditions, a burqa veils the entire body, even the eyes and hands. To Western eyes, it can be difficult not to see these more extreme practices as restricting women’s place in society, literally effacing them from the public sphere. However, some argue that this kind of modest dress in fact has an emancipatory effect on women by effectively desexualizing them in the public sphere and thus placing them on a more equal social footing with men.
As foreign as this perspective may be to many of us in this part of the world, it does contain insight. In fact, it has led me to shift my own personal views on the topic. At first, I believed that in places where a full burqa is a common form of dress, it would be a progressive step — as part of a larger set of social changes — to relax social norms that restrict women’s dress and instead encourage them to dress according to personal preference. Perhaps some women would choose to cover themselves head to toe, and this would be fine; perhaps other women would choose to dress in a way that more overtly expresses their sexuality, and this would also be fine. But as I reflected on this, though this made me quite uncomfortable at first, I began to understand more clearly the Taliban perspective. The sad truth is that the sight of the form of a woman’s body does indeed inflame the passions of men and lead them to sin. This isn’t easy for me to say, but just the other day, I saw a woman and what appeared to be the general form of her elbow probably clearly visible through her ski suit, and as my libido surged uncontrollably and the world went white around me, it was then that I understood that I was guilty of the worst form of hubris. I was just another Western cultural imperialist wanting to foist our values on another culture. I knew that I needed to let go of my arrogance and my unquestioning belief in our cultural superiority. Perhaps it is not they who have to learn from us: perhaps it is we who have to learn from them? But then I realized just as quickly that such a simplistic black-and-white outlook was just another kind of naïveté. It’s not that one culture is better or worse than the other. In fact, both cultures have something to teach each other, and by working to truly understand each other rather than despising and attacking each other, or even simply romanticizing and exoticizing each other, both cultures can flourish more fully.
With this in mind, I looked with fresh eyes at the burqa. While at first glance, it appears to cover the entire body, in fact, you can still clearly see the form of a woman beneath. This is where both cultures can blossom and grow by opening themselves to the wisdom of the other. By applying modern Western technological ingenuity — which as we know, is itself built on centuries of Islamic science — this deficiency in the burqa can be easily solved. Underneath the burqa, a woman can simply strap large plastic bags full of styrofoam packing pellets to her body, thus helping to further obscure her unchaste feminine form. Even this won’t leave much to the imagination, however. To solve this, the woman should don an apparatus of large hoops encircling the entire body, over which a larger burqa should be draped. At this point, a woman will finally be able to feel comfortably free from the prying eyes of men. But not from their lecherous ears, alas — the dulcet tones of the female voice will still drive men into spasms of debased sin. Again, modern Western technology can help here: the woman should wear a helmet equipped with a loudspeaker and advanced voice-processing technology so her utterances, otherwise imbued with a sinful Siren quality, are instead presented to the world in a Stephen Hawking-like robot tone. Even then, however, the irresistible scent of a woman would still drive the most pious man into an orgiastic frenzy. This is probably the easiest challenge to address: underneath the burqa, the woman should be pushing a barbeque full of sizzling steaks. The aromas of cooking meat will easily overpower even the most alluring of feminine perfume. While some men may be attracted to the mouth-watering smell of juicy steak, the important point is that the sensual attraction of the woman herself — the sight of her, the sound of her, and the smell of her — will finally have been eradicated. However, there would remain the mere idea of a woman that would still compel men to forsake their vows and drive them to unspeakable desecrations and disgustingly stained underpants. Even if a man cannot see, hear, or smell a woman underneath this improved burqa-system, he would still know that there is a woman under there, and this is the most insidious sin of all. The only way to solve this is through further application of modern technology. The woman should in fact be removed entirely from the styrofoam-stuffed-bags-burqa-hoops-barbeque-burqa assembly and be replaced with a Roomba™ robotic vacuum cleaner, or one of its market competitors. These remarkable devices have proven themselves to be surprisingly effective at navigating a variety of obstacle-filled spaces. If all women were to dress in this manner — especially women in decadent Western societies — men the world over would finally be freed from the burden of knowing sin-inducing female objects are occupying space in public; just as importantly, women would be completely liberated from the onerous burden of living lives in the world, which is highly overrated. An important side benefit is that the robotic vacuum cleaners would help to maintain sidewalks and public spaces to a high standard of cleanliness.