The image of a woman in a ‘Burkini’ (a swimming costume that hides the entire body) lying on a beach next to a woman in a Bikini trying to expose most of her body to the sea and sun may be perceived either as incongruous or as a matter of personal preference. The scene also tests our tolerance (the acceptance of both behaviors, or the refusal of neither). Whereas the personal freedom that westerners enjoy is all-encompassing and comprehensive, as Easterners our lives are regulated by numerous cultural limitations before ever being controlled by any given government rules.
A Bikini swimsuit can be seen to portray the liberal western mentality that places women, mentally and physically, on an even footing with men – and thus views male and female bodies in exactly the same way. This western attitude is absolutely indigestible for many Eastern men, who are not at ease with gender equality and, as a result, treat women as inferior beings. We Eastern men are not only concerned with women’s physical appearance; we tend to work on restricting our women’s opinions, actions, occupational pursuits, practice of sports, intermingling activities and many other aspects of their lives.
“Our religion forbids it” is the official excuse we use, not only to accord Eastern men a status of superiority over women, but also to reinforce masculine dominance by quoting, often out of context, a religious verse in support of men’s arguments. Meanwhile, many of the Eastern men who impose the Burkini on their spouses tend to visit beaches were the majority of women are in bikinis; if we are truly in harmony with our supposed beliefs, we should keep away from these beaches. However, our Eastern macho culture tells us that as long each of us ‘controls his woman’; we have no reason to bother with anything else.
We can’t rightfully claim that a veiled or Burkini-clad woman accompanied by a male relative is more religious, or abides more strongly by true moral values, than does her unveiled counterpart – or vice versa. Moral values (that have nothing to do with physical appearance) are what really count. Our manner of dressing often reflects what is, or is not, acceptable in our respective cultures; human values and behaviors are something else entirely. Regardless of how they are dressed, people’s misbehavior is what I personally find annoying. Perceiving the world from the perspective of attire is an extremely narrow-minded attitude that both cultures (West and East) would do well to avoid.
Conservative eastern societies not only place constraints on our choice of clothing; they prevent us even from openly discussing a number of issues (beyond swimsuits) that are considered taboo. Our societies impose many moral and behavioral standards on us that are often difficult to validate! We used to claim that our cultural traditions protect us against all manner of harm (such as divorce); however, today the divorce rate in eastern and western societies is almost the same (about fifty percent). The world as a whole is becoming increasingly oriented towards individualism, irrespective of how open or closed individual social systems are.
Although western culture consistently attempts to convince us that we should abide by certain behaviors that they claim are part of universal modernity, altering our beliefs, values and behaviors is certainly much more difficult and challenging than adopting the latest manufacturing technology. Additionally, the West can’t fairly claim that all actions and behaviors undertaken by individual westerners are manifestations of true modernization that should be emulated by the entire world. We need to avoid being aggressive and give universal citizens room to consider and determine what is best for them.
True liberals should not be concerned with people’s choice of dress; moral values and positions, as reflected in people’s behavior, are what really matter. We must enforce clear codes of conduct (both dress and behavioral) in public places such as parks and beaches! Women at the beach should be free to wear whatever suits them (Bikinis or Burkinis), as long as it is made out of swimwear material; however, we must strictly dictate how people may and may not behave in public, according to the nature of the venue and its culture.