British journalist Liz Jones wore a burqa for a week and chronicled her experiences in “My Week Wearing a Burka: Just a Few Yards of Black Fabric, but It Felt Like a Prison.” Her inspiration? Lubna Hussein, the Sudanese woman who will receive 40 lashes for wearing pants in public. When she went to pick up her daily coffee, she realized that she had no idea how to eat or drink in a burqa. Upon seeing her reflection in a window, she wrote, “Instead of me staring back, I saw a dark, depressed alien. A smudge. A nothing.” Wearing the head-to-toe garment, she felt physically oppressed. “I felt blinkered, like a racehorse. Walking to the platform, I could hardly breathe: I kept getting my nose out from beneath its shroud for fresh air. I felt weak, and faint and itchy.”
On one occasion, an Arab man shouted at her, but she had no idea what he was saying. She wondered whether being out alone or eating was her sin. A British Muslim woman told her, “I have had so much abuse on the train.” A Western friend commented: “How fantastic, you don’t have to bother to put on make-up, or wash your hair. How liberating and at least you won’t catch swine flu or be leered at.”
Inside the burqa, she says, she felt “clumsy, slow, and fearful.” For her, the experience was like being disabled. By the end of the week, she felt like a Muslim schoolgirl. “I know now exactly how they feel: marginalised, objectified, kept box-fresh for the eyes of male relatives.”
Ultimately, this journalist’s experiment wasn’t all that dissimilar from Tyra Banks running around in a fat suit. It was close to touching on something important about women in the world.