By Aneesha Puri
No piece of garment generates curiosity and intrigue with such an accelerating pace as does the ‘bikini’ and the ‘burqa’, not only despite the overwhelmingly obvious disparity between the two but maybe because of it. So how is this bamboozle to be explained and analysed?
We live in a society which celebrates women by dichotomising and mythologizing them into either the hyper-sexualised creatures of the forbidden fantasy world or the asexualised angels with no desire of their own. Either they have too much sexual agency or they have negated their desire and now exist as passive recipients who require external agency to be acted upon them. The idea is not to ban burqa by calling it a patriarchal stricture on women’s mobility or to ban bikini for allegations of hyper-sexualising the female body but to make the whole clothing debate move towards an emergence of consensus which views it as contingent on the choice of the wearer instead of allowing other external factors to gain supremacy.
The whole patriarchal notion of excessive eroticisation and de-sexualisation of women’s bodies is symptomatic of the mutually reinforcing concerns of desire and anxiety, hence the co-existence of prurience and prudery. What is desired is simultaneously the cause of anxiety and hence the patriarchal paranoia of female sexuality and the carefully consolidated categories of ”respectable good women” who are to be dealt with protectively and the “bad women” who can be violated and messed with. The women on one side of the spectrum are pitted, judged and defined against the other side depending on how they choose to attire themselves.
One half of women population obtain their self-esteem and pleasure by distinguishing themselves from the other category. So the conservative women see the women dressed “revealingly” as commodified and sexualised as a consequence of trying to look attractive to the male gaze. The women who choose to dress liberally see the women decked up in conservative attires as victims of patriarchal repression. Moreover depending on how women choose to conceal or reveal themselves apparently bear a direct relation to their sexual morality. It is not hard to decipher how deeply embedded in our social fabric is this fuss about women’s attire when eyebrows are raised when leading Bollywood actresses don the bikini and then have to justify the donning of bikini by saying that they had patriarchal blessings ( Read father’s approval), the most recent case being that of Sonam Kapoor in her upcoming movie Bewakoofian, who said that Anil Kumar is unfazed about her bikini act. It is a pity that in this overpowering conundrum of convoluted arguments binarising into ideological indoctrination of rigid patriarchal dictates or the commoditisation of female body to cater to the male gaze, the idea that the woman might have exercised her own choice in deciding to wear what she is wearing is not even a topic of debate.
Aneesha Puri is pursuing her Masters in English Literature from Miranda House. A self-confessed book- ravisher , keen surveyor of society and its ideological politics, loves deconstructing and decoding anything and everything that even remotely concerns people, ranging from celebrated, canonical literary texts to popular cinema and advertisements. Her idea of utopia is a truly emancipated world which allows everyone, unfettered freedom to foster his/ her potential to the maximum.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius