Recently, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan’s daughter Ira Khan posted photos of her 25th birthday party, wherein she wore a bikini. Standing close to her family, she was seen cutting her birthday cake, followed by more photos which made it obvious that it was a pool party. Fitting dress for a fitting event, right?
Shortly after, many users on Twitter and Instagram targeted Ira for her choice of clothes. They went ahead exposing not just their blatant misogyny and patriarchal mindset of always having an opinion on what young women should wear, but also the underlying Islamophobic tones, given that her identity as a Muslim woman cannot be seen in isolation. If a Muslim woman’s identity is attacked, it is only befitting the defence rests on it too.
The comments about ‘hijab’ and ‘burqa’ are telling of the fact that the concept of choice is still lost on people. Beyond your arguments about whether or not you agree with Hijab, Burqa, or a bikini, no one should have the right to dictate or force you to wear something. The malicious response to attack a young woman in this manner, one who is in the public eye, shows how a woman’s body is seen as an object, one that must be adorned to your liking.
This is not just antithetical to bodily autonomy but also the woman’s own agency. She can choose to rock a Hijab, wear a modest outfit, or wear a bikini at her pool party, given she’s comfortable in her body and it’s her choice. The operative word here being ‘choice.’
Funnily enough, these comments also come from men who wear shorts, sometimes with or without a thin vest at home.
In all fairness, there were some supportive comments as well. But the fact that people attempted to sexualise and tarnish a father-daughter relationship here, rooted in their own biases, speaks volumes. Bollywood singer Sona Mohapatra had posted on her Instagram story reminding people that the 25-year-old does not need her father’s approval to exercise her choices.
It is not just the non-Muslim community but also the Muslim community that criticises women on those same lines, even if the intent may not be malicious and the reasons may be different.
To wear or not to wear — that’s her choice
“Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with,” said noted Hollywood actor and activist Emma Watson.
More importantly, it all comes down to this: Somebody’s relationship with their religion and choices is personal and none of your business. Why does somebody’s choice to wear a bikini or a Hijab make you so uncomfortable? Is it entitlement, bias, or a bit of both?
Yet again, we still circle back to the same debate — what is she wearing? How could she wear that in such a setting?
Honey, your bias is showing
It’s a reflection of the society that translates into these online comments. Social media users, unfortunately, do have the authority to change the narrative about what a woman is wearing. People sitting behind the screens and moral policing online are the ones who would do the same with their own mothers, wives, sisters, and friends in all probability.
What do you think when you see a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab? That she’s oppressed, and it is conditioning that has led her to wear one? What do you think when you see a Muslim woman wear a salwar-suit? That she’s simple, modest, and lady-like?
And what do you think when you see a Muslim woman donning a bikini on a beach or a pool? That she’s not religious enough and is shameless to wear one?
So, now, if I may ask, what deems you fit to be so presumptuous and be quick to relate her personality, character, and intellect to her clothing?
A woman’s reasoning for wearing a particular outfit is subjective, as it should be. Being an intersectional feminist means, you do not force anyone to cover or disrobe across all communities. In a patriarchal world, it takes a woman years to be comfortable in her own skin, to be able to see her worth beyond the number on the weighing scale, her stretch marks, the shape of her arms, or her stomach bulge.
A woman who knows what she wants to wear and does not need your validation becomes a ‘difficult’ woman for society.
When will the fetishization stop?
In these socio-political times, Muslim women are being side-lined and robbed of their rights because they wear a Hijab. Not long ago, the Right-wing ecosystem put Muslim women up for an online auction. Yet their perpetrators roam free today.
The liberals, on the hand, appear to sit back and have an intellectual debate on what they agree Muslim women should wear, ‘undoing the conditioning’ because banality knows no bounds. Unregulated online platforms and accounts by bigots, almost always followers of the ruling party, see us as a political ground to exploit.
The online vitriol has made Muslim women think twice before posting their photos online, especially on Twitter.
Perhaps, it would help if people focus on real issues, the ones plaguing our life as women as a collective today. These include reproductive rights, wage gap, access to public spaces, safe public washrooms, marital rape, caste, and gender-based violence.
Nothing new about the moral policing
Muslim women, ultimately, irrespective of whether they are religious or not, will always be under fire in the public eye by the virtue of being Muslim women. Quick to be judged, easy to be criticised.
The moral policing itself is not new, it has always been part of our society, online bigoted trolls and extremist men and women who see women as an object, and who feel that they should have a say in a person’s freedom of choice. A similar incident had also happened with Saif Ali Khan’s daughter Sara Ali Khan in 2020 when she posted bikini photos while being alongside her brother.
Partially, this is also an outcome of cinema that has over the years only represented one-dimensional Muslim women characters. How many roles can you recall where Muslim women are just women being their own selves, independent in their choices of lifestyle and clothing? How many Muslim women can you recall on-screen whose narrative had nothing to do with their religion?
Cinema has perennial and immense power in how we view minorities. The lack of representation, inaccurate representations, exhausted tropes become how we view one another subconsciously. It gets translated into our behaviour and pre-conceived notions.
Each of our identities and how they are perceived and targeted impact our mental health and choices. Despite being enshrined in the Constitution, we are already witnessing the rights of Muslims being attacked from left, right, and centre. The choices of clothing, occupation, religious freedom and movement, education, and love freely are all being violated.
So, instead of moral and tone-policing women and telling them to be thick-skinned in this society, why don’t we aspire and work towards a more inclusive and kind society? Why must the burden always be on the Muslim women to fight back, resist and educate you against moral policing, when you could hold yourself accountable in the first place?
Concluding with what Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who loves her jeans and is proud of her scarves, once said, “Whether a woman chooses a burqa or a bikini, she has the right to decide for herself. Come and talk to us about individual freedom and autonomy, about preventing harm and violence, about education and emancipation. Do not come with your wardrobe notes.”
Aliza Noor is a journalist from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. She covers social justice, communities and gender. Previously, she has worked with ScoopWhoop Unscripted and The Quint. Aliza can be found on Twitter and Instagram.
Featured image source: FilmiBeat