Lady Gaga ‘Burqa’ lyrics criticized, while 'Burqa' cartoon wins praise

A leaked Lady Gaga song draws widespread criticism for objectifying women, while a Pakistani cartoon garners international acclaim. Photo: The Burka Avenger cartoon promotes women's education

WASHINGTON, August 14, 2013 — Critics are fuming at a leaked song from pop sensation Lady Gaga’s upcoming album, decrying it for objectifying Muslim women. The song in question is currently unnamed, but rumors suggest it will be named “Burqa,” which is the name of a particular Arabic style of dress, which is commonly associated with Muslim women.

The Burqa is a traditional Arabic garb that covers the entire body, including the face; and while it is not required by Islam or based in the religion, many Muslim women wear it around the world. The lyrics that has riled critics, however, sexualize the clothing and the women the wear it.

PolicyMic’s Mariam Elba quotes the lyrics and offers her commentary:

“‘I’m not a wandering slave, I’m a woman of choice … My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face.’ Such lines echo what many Muslim women say are their reasons for wearing the hijab, niqab, or burqa.

But following this, the song’s lyrics quickly take a turn for the cringe-worthy. The chorus goes: ‘Do you want to see me naked, lover? Do you want to peek underneath the cover? Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura? … Do you wanna touch me? Let’s make love.’

Elba continues “These lines cast women who wear the veil as far-removed figures from another world. The heavily erotic images ultimately dehumanize and degrade burqa-wearing women and turn them into animalistic beings. In a society that automatically associates the burqa with Muslim women and Middle Eastern culture, a song like this only adds onto the monolithic image of the Muslim woman being quiet, sheltered, and owned by a man.”


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Ironically, while the Western pop sensation is accused of degrading women, a Pakistani cartoon is being praised for empowering the gender. “Burqa Avenger” is a cartoon that has been screened in approximately sixty countries, and features a Pakistani school teacher who fights crime and promotes women’s education, while disguising her superhero identity with a burqa. Creators of the cartoon take inspiration from Western comic book heroes, with artistic director, Yousaf Ejaz stating that he was personally inspired by comicbook hero “Batman.” 

A subtitled clip of the cartoon was officially released, and shows the super-heroine telling young girls “If you want to be successful, make books and pens your best friends.” 

Lady Gaga’s leaked song, meanwhile, has also garnered accusations of cultural insensitivity. Allie Jones, of the Atlantic says “When a[n] … American pop star fetishizes the women of another culture in order to sell records, that’s not controversial. It’s unequivocally insensitive, if not worse.

“… then she fetishizes the women who wear the garment (“Do you want to see me naked, lover? Do you want to peek under the cover?”), turning them into sexual objects — which is precisely the opposite of what the burqa is supposed to do.”

Gaga is not the first musician to attempt to convert Arabic face veils into a sex symbol, earlier this summer Madonna did the same on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, posting a picture of a metal face veil with the caption “The Revolution of Love is on…Inshallah [Arabic for ‘God willing’].” The posts drew international criticism, and fans replied on the official accounts commenting that the pictures were “disappointing.”

“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” laments Carmen Rios of Autostraddle of the lyrics.

Conversely, the creator of Burqa Avenger, Aaron Haroon Rashid, says in an interview “I have strong women in my family and I have always felt strongly about women’s rights.” Continuing on, Rashid said that he would like the show to be “an inspiration to girls and it would be good for boys too to see strong women.”

Rashid responds to those who objectify women for profit, “I didn’t want her dressed like Wonder Woman or Catwoman…

“I didn’t want to sexualize her. It’s not about what she looks like, it’s about what she is doing.” 


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Rahat Husain

Rahat Husain has been working as a columnist since 2013 when he joined the Communities. With an interest in America and Islam, Rahat is a prolific writer on contemporary and international issues.

 

In addition to writing for the Communities, Rahat Husain is an Attorney based in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. He is the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at UMAA Advocacy. For the past six years, Mr. Husain has worked with Congressmen, Senators, federal agencies, think tanks, NGOs, policy institutes, and academic experts to advocate on behalf of Shia Muslim issues, both political and humanitarian. UMAA hosts one of the largest gatherings of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslims in North America at its annual convention.

 

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