What short skirts and burqas have in common

Headlines such as “Helen Skelton’s revealing skirt sends… viewers into meltdown,” and “Germany: Burka ban to be proposed in security clampdown’ have inspired my blog this week. We’ve all seen these types of articles a million times, women and their clothing hitting the headlines [insert yawn] again.

Only thing is, all the articles I’ve read lack any sort of depth — so here’s my attempt to fill the gap.

The reason I have picked these two articles is because, for me, they highlight two opposing ends of the spectrum of the phenomenon of human inauthenticity. And I wish to shed some light on my interpretation of Jean Paul Sartre’s ‘bad faith’ with these two opposing examples.

To act in bad faith is a form of self-deception; a denial of freedom and transcendence. On the one hand, Helen Skelton wants to be seen a little too much, thus dressing in a way that promotes her as an object in the world. On the other hand, those that don the burqa conceal themselves from being seen, thus removing much of their objectivity in the world. (After all we cannot even peer upon the faces of those wrapped in a burqa.)

My point is this: we are both an object that can be seen by others and a subject with a view upon the world. Swing too far in either direction and you’re transgressing the grounds of bad faith.

This post isn’t a slant on women who choose to wear short skirts or dress in burqas. However, we all have a personal responsibility to act in good faith. To not deceive ourselves. To promote authentic relations with others. And that includes men.

Bad faith, in terms of sadism or masochism, is when we reduce the subject/object world view. People flee from the problem of being both for-oneself and for-others — with sadism or masochism acting as the resolutions. Conventionally, a sadist is someone who revels in the suffering of others. The sadist could be described as the unseen seer. It is the person who is looking but not looked at. For example, the sadist is the person who claims; ‘I don’t care how other people look at me, I am who I am and that is all that I am. What I think of me, is what I am. If I think I am beautiful or ugly, kind or horrible — that is what I am.’ In no way does this outlook relate to what other people think.

Cue the burqa.

Contrastingly, a masochist is someone who finds pleasure in self-denial or suffering. The masochists say; ‘I am nothing other than what other people say I am, I am who they say I am and that is all that I am. What they think of me, is what I am. If they think I am beautiful or ugly, kind or horrible — that is what I am.’ In this way, the masochist is the unlooking looked at, or the nonseeing seen. The masochist is not seeing, they are just the seen objects. They believe that if others tell them they are ugly then they really must be.

Cue Helen Skelton.

Now, I’ll admit, I don’t know anyone who wears a burqa, nor do I know Helen Skelton. But, I do understand what it means to want to cover up and what it means to flaunt it. I think every woman does.

The task is to learn how to manage the tensions on either side — to conduct one’s actions, instead, in good faith.

The following sentence can help us to see what it would mean to act in good faith: “Don’t ever treat me as if I’m a woman, but don’t ever forget that I am a woman.”

We may remodel the above example to: “Don’t ever treat me like an object, but don’t ever forget that I am an object.” This may sound contradictory but the person who makes such a statement is a person struggling for good faith amidst a world awash with people acting in bad faith.

The person who makes this statement is not Helen Skelton and certainly not a woman in a Burqa. Being at either end of the spectrum of deceit leads to A) wanting to reveal too much and B) not revealing enough. The middle way would be someone who hasn’t deceived themselves into adopting an object or subject mode of being.

The truth is, we are objects in the world, but we are also much more than that. No one ever really gets the last word on who we are. The struggle that goes on in bad faith is that it is only me that gets to decide who I am or others. The reality is that it is an interplay between the two; we are what we think we are, and we are what others think we are. But we are also none of those things.




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