The Washington Post

Dear Lady Gaga, ‘Burqa’ sends the wrong message

SIALKOT, Pakistan

Dear Lady Gaga,

Last fall, the media was abuzz with stories about your 25-pound weight gain. You didn’t hide any of that extra lard and you proudly posed for pictures in your underwear. That was your way of telling the world that you didn’t care what the gossip columns said about your body. As a hijab-wearing woman, I would never consider showing my body in public. But, I still praised you for your courage and snark. You and I have completely opposite cultural and social values, but in some ways I think we’re alike. Hijab, for me, is a way of rejecting the culture that wants to characterize me by the angles and curves of my body.

However, your demo track “Burqa,” which was leaked recently, was a huge disappointment to me because I found your appropriation of my hijab crude and discourteous, to say the least. How could a woman who passionately empowered young girls to love their bodies tell them to sexualize those same bodies and the clothes that cover them?

We live in a culture in which some men rape women and then claim that the victim led them to believe that she wanted to have sex. I don’t need to explain to you how awful the situation is because you told the story of a date rape in “Monster,” and I have always applauded you for speaking out against such a horrible crime.

Contrary to the portrayal in “Burqa,” I, like most other Muslim women, cover myself because I am not interested in flirtation. I do not want to be sexually solicited. However, “Do you wanna see me naked, lover? Do you wanna peak underneath the cover?” implies that no really means yes. It adds to the perception 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 perpetuates violence against women and contradicts the message in “Monster,” in which you condemned the “wolf in disguise.” In “Burqa,” you seem to suggest that by tearing off your clothes he is fulfilling your fantasy. It is a dangerous message that does not just affect Muslim women but all women. No woman wants to be tormented with unneeded attention, to be stalked and to be told that she was asking for it.

Let me be clear about why I was insulted as a Muslim. I am not against a non-Muslim woman wearing the hijab or sharing her opinion about it. The song actually started out well, and some of your lyrics echoed my feelings: “I’m not a wandering slave, I’m a woman of choice.” But then you lost me when you proceeded to turn such a sacred symbol of my religion into an exotic costume. It is not something you can wear to your Halloween party.

And this not the first time you’ve eroticized the burqa. When you appeared on a fashion show catwalk last fall, draped in translucent, flimsy neon-pink fabric, your body and glittery undergarments tantalizing the onlookers, you did me damage. Covering my body is not my fetish or a fashion statement. It does not turn me on, nor do I want anyone else to be turned on by it. I don’t want people to think of that image and turn me into an object of sexual gratification when they see me covered.

This is not to say that Muslim women are asexual. Rather, sexuality is something innate so I don’t need to make a show of it through my apparel.

You see, the whole point of a burqa is to de-sexualize the way people think of me. I do it to defy the male gaze and force people to see me for my intellect and my abilities. But when you hypersexualize me, like you did in “Burqa,” you dehumanize me by implying that covering myself makes me useless except as a sex toy.

In reality, hijab liberates me because I don’t have to conform to society’s standards of beauty, allowing me to create my own body revolution, like the movement you started earlier this year. My hijab never stopped me from traveling across the world, or participating in long hiking trips or being a professional at work. My mother covers her entire body, except her hands and feet, but that did not hinder her from becoming a philanthropist and a shrewd businesswoman.

I understand that in making “Burqa,” you were exercising your right to free speech. But you’re a pop culture icon and you influence the way millions of people think. Your leaked demo resulted in a flood of tweets by your Little Monsters, wrapping themselves in whatever they could get their hands on – towels, scarves, bed sheets — and posting their pictures with the hashtag #burqaswag. To them, it was one big joke, but to me, it was one big insult. The repetition of the phrase “behind the aura” in the demo, coupled with your fans’ offensive game of dress-up in their makeshift burqas, evokes the worst stereotypes about the “exotic” Muslim woman who is submissive and sexually repressed.

So go ahead and release your song if you like, but just know that with a song as insensitive and oversimplified as “Burqa,” you might manage to get a couple million hits, but it will hold no place in the serious, more sophisticated cultural discourse that you have been trying so hard to influence.

Umema Aimen

Umema Aimen is a student at Qalam Institute Seminary in Arlington, Texas. She is a native of Pakistan.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
We'll have half a million voters in South Carolina. I can shake a lot of hands, but I can't shake that many.
Sen. Marco Rubio, speaking to a group of reporters about his strategy to regain support after a poor performance in the last debate
Fact Checker
Sanders’s claim that Clinton objected to meeting with ‘our enemies’
Sanders said that Clinton was critical of Obama in 2008 for suggesting meeting with Iran. In fact, Clinton and Obama differed over whether to set preconditions, not about meeting with enemies. Once in office, Obama followed the course suggested by Clinton, abandoning an earlier position as unrealistic.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.