Friday, 15 November 2013

Lady Gaga and the Politics of Burqa

Credit: Daily Mail
Above: Lady Gaga and the burqa.

The burqa forms extremely controversial attire in Western societies today. Although many Muslim women believe that it is an essential part of their religious and social identity, it has been attacked by critics as being a means of oppressing women within society. In 2011, it was reported that 66% of the British population believe that the burqa should be banned in all public places, while they were banned in France that same year, justifying this decision by saying: 'given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place'.

Lady Gaga's song, 'Aura', released from her latest album ARTPOP, thus comes at an unsettling time in terms of burqa identity and gender issues of freedom and oppression. In the words of commentator Alyssa Rosenberg, the lyrics to this song 'are... politically disconcerting'. Concerning the burqa, they are as follows:

'I'm not a wandering slave, I am a woman of choice
My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face',

'Do you wanna peak underneath the cover?
Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura, behind the aura?'

'She wears burqa for fashion
It's not a statement as much as just a move of passion'.

Yet, as Carmen Rios scathingly opines, 'instead of exploring the stories of Muslim women who wear burqas because they are... 'women of choice', she instead chooses to celebrate... the burqa by completely missing the actual point in exchange for making the religious garb sexy, edgy, acceptable to a broad audience of racist Islamophobic people'. In other words, Gaga is anti-Muslim through her portrayal of the burqa: 'instead of giving insight into a heritage that already exists, she superimposes her own desires - to be seen as sexual in a specific way - onto women who never asked for it'. A religious and cultural tradition is 'reduced' to 'a sexual ploy'.

One lady from Pakistan took to personally writing to Gaga expressing her disappointment with the track, claiming that the song 'sends the wrong message'. She questioned why Gaga, who had, in her opinion, done so much to empower young girls to love their own bodies, then went on to encourage women to sexualise the clothes that covered said bodies. By inviting men to 'peak underneath the cover', Umema from Pakistan argued that Gaga was arguing that 'if a woman shows signs of refusal, she is just being titillating and playing hard to get; that she secretly wants to be pursued and seduced'. This is dangerous, because it 'perpetuates violence against women'. Burqas are used to 'defy the male gaze', not to invite lust. To claim otherwise, Umema concluded, is 'insensitive and oversimplified'.

On the other hand, Myriam Francois Cerrah, writing for The Independent, completely disagreed with these negative opinions and claimed that 'Aura' actually emancipates Muslim women. Cerrah criticised the fact that Gaga was being condemned for allegedly 'supporting the patriarchy and insulting those women who are forced to wear the garb in question'. The burqa represents different things to different religions and cultures - whether piety, neo-feminism, or something else. Therefore Cerrah applauded Gaga's act of subverting 'the monopoly on meaning typically associated with the face veil as the evil imposition of male domination'. Passive and voiceless women are given a 'confident sexual identity and power', which could account for why the song has produced such shock and controversy: 'How dare a burqa-clad woman also be a confident sexual being?' One Muslim woman went so far to call the song 'amazing and uplifting'.

Alongside her other music and actions, Gaga's latest track 'Aura' has produced significant controversy. Some accuse her of recording it as a relentless money-making, attention-grabbing exercise, while others suggest she genuinely seeks to liberate Muslim women. By and large, responses to the track have been heavily negative. One wrote: 'Lady Gaga has decided to insult Muslims with her new song' after her 'exploitation of the gay community'. Others call her 'fake'. Whether Gaga really cares about the identity and culture of Islam, or whether she seeks merely to grab attention and controversy once more, is difficult to say. One thing's for sure - it's impossible to truly get behind Gaga's 'aura' as she seeks to remain controversial in music.

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