The Burka Avenger versus liberal patriarchy

The reason patriarchy is wrong is because it interferes with a woman’s choice- whatever it may be.

Josh Shahryar August 03, 2013
The writer is a US-based reporter and blogger who covers human rights issues in South Asia and the larger Middle East. He tweets @JShahryar

The cartoon series, “Burka Avenger”, is the story of a teacher, Jiya, who wears a stylised burka costume when in her superhero form. Using her martial arts skills, the Burka Avenger fights evil, mainly to defend her students and the school she teaches at, from patriarchal goons who want to shut the school down.

Not only was I impressed by the message of education for boys and girls, I was also pleasantly surprised by the choice of her costume — a black burka that covers her face and incorporates a cape. So, not only does she kick ass, she kicks ass without conforming to the mainstream view that attributes physical strength to masculinity only.

But while she’s being lauded as just what kids in Pakistan need, her burka is bothering people; specifically some liberal men. They see this as a promotion of the hijab and find it detrimental to the message of empowerment the show supposedly carries. To these men, ‘saving’ women from patriarchy means that the burka or any other form of hijab should be banned altogether or discouraged at the very least.

Hijab or burka, or whatever you might want to call it, is simply a tool. In and of itself, it doesn’t do anything. It’s like any other article of clothing. Some women feel happy walking around in thigh high shorts, some like to wear jeans, some prefer miniskirts and others want to wrap themselves up in dark and baggy garments that cover their entire bodies, including their faces — in essence, burkas and the sort.

Patriarchy is wrong not because it forces women to wear only the dark baggy garments and rejects everything else. It’s wrong because it interferes with a woman’s choice at all. It’s wrong because whether a woman wants to wear a burka or a bikini, she has the right to decide for herself as a human being — equal in standing with men.

So, when men give themselves the right to tell Jiya that she shouldn’t wear the burka to become a superhero, they’re assigning themselves the same patriarchal privileges that they are supposedly working against. What she should or shouldn’t wear and how it affects other women’s decision to wear or not wear the burka is for her and for other women to decide for themselves. Our job, as men, is to respect those choices personally and work to get everyone to do the same.

Dismantling patriarchy isn’t going to be achieved by opposing the tools of patriarchy alone, but rather by figuring out what motivates those tools and then not just taking them away from the abusers, but thoroughly cleansing ourselves off it as well. This means relinquishing our privileges and giving up the right to tell women what they should or should not wear or do with their bodies or souls. Afterwards, when women have made those choices, we should respect them and their choices. Discarding patriarchy must begin with us discarding our unjust privilege of forcing our opinion on women.

We can’t defeat the villain — patriarchy — if we still have residual villainy left in us.

And if we fail at defeating our inner villains, then maybe the Burka Avenger should tackle us as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2013.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


amit (India) | 10 years ago | Reply

after the Burkha Avenger, here comes the Burkha Defender! Surveys carried out in India show that quite a few women feel that a husband is occasionally justified in hitting his wife (apparently true in your country too) - would you defend this as choice too? The reason a lot of women wear this garment is a lifetime of conditioning - I see very young girls (4-5 years) wearing a hijab - I guess they are exercising free choice and it is not something which their mothers/fathers are forcing on them. How will these girls treat their own kids when they grow up?

Choice can only be exercised by those who are free. I guess women in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan are well and truly free and they have all jointly decided to wear this garment as a matter of choice. Their is absolutely no compulsion.

For all the men who support this on grounds of choice, I'll strongly recommend putting on this all encompassing tent on a hot summer or a muggy monsoon day and going out in the open. Looking at the world through a dark grille and sniffing your own sweaty, body odour with complete lack of ventilation, you'll truly appreciate how free women are to choose.

Fateh Mohammed | 10 years ago | Reply

@N.M.khan..." Bound feet was indeed a cruel and oppressive ( process ) practice " . Thank you for the concession , an abominable practice was made attractive by propaganda and brain washing the helpless children in the way today Burka is being made liberating and indicator of self worth . I don't think a woman ( bound feet )waddling like a duck would look beautiful to any sensible person . That is why the practice was abandoned . I am old enough to have seen these Chinese women in my childhood and never appreciated the walk of these women at that age . Let us not glorify a bad and oppressive practice .

Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ