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One of my best friends is a feminist lawyer and single mother of two feisty daughters. She's gorgeous and funny, smart and cool, and I've always deeply admired her spirit and her sensibilities. This is all by way of explaining why I nearly choked on my coffee when she told me she was having second thoughts about the burqua — the full-body veil worn by some devout Muslim women.
"They're kind of hot," she said, paraphrasing Paris Hilton, while describing her new Muslim neighbor. "I mean, only her husband gets to see her naked. And the way her eyes are covered in kohl and all that mascara . . . "
My friend described the way the neighbor seemed to glide on a separate set of rails than the rest of us, seemingly unburdened by the weight of the world's eyes assessing her relative youth and beauty. My only reply was that though she may enjoy some measure of privacy, plus a convenient way to hide bad hair, burquas are bullshit.
A few days later, the internet was flooded with a slew of fresh vulva shots — like virtual STDs — this time belonging to professional gum-chewer Britney Spears. Suddenly I, too, began to daydream about burquas. Perhaps it's part of some sorority dare she must perform in order to become the newest member of the Hammered Starlet Club, whose charter membership includes Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. But suddenly the burqua began to look modestly sexy to me — the equivalent of a white, faux-vintage, high-collar Prada blouse, rather than the ugly talisman of hate-fueled, religion-stoked misogyny.
You could argue the casual pussy flash was inaugurated by Sharon Stone back in 1992. But it would take another decade, and several wax jobs, before the musky pussy became ready for its shiny close-up. In fact, vulvic immodesty seems to have occurred only after the bum crack became as ubiquitous as boob cleavage.
The bum used to be the least politicized part of the human form, perhaps because we all have one. Bums are utilitarian, a thing for sitting, home to poo and farts. (Although John Lennon might disagree. He was big on showing his bum not just because he was a filthy hippy. He was also intent on demonstrating what united rather than separated humanity.) Used to be people assiduously avoided showing bum cracks because they elicited Lisa Loopner-esque fits and giggles. It wasn't until 1996, when Jennifer Aniston appeared bum-up on the cover of Rolling Stone, that the modern crack became sexy. It was also around the time Monica Lewinsky flashed a come-hither thong at the President and the average pair of blue jeans sat just above the pubic bone. But if the '90s were all about the ass crack — and nobody exemplified the era more than booty-blessed Jennifer Lopez — this could be the decade of the crotch.
The female crotch, in its current popular incarnation — shaved into pre-pubescent nothingness — is just so not hot. In fact, Britney's move, however accidental, seems to be eliciting a collective "eww", precisely because her pussy, from what we can see, has about as much sexual mystery as a doll's V. (The rest of her looks so blowsy and unkempt, its odd smoothness merely distracts from the whole scuzzy aesthetic.) The public's general revulsion also stems from the fact that she's a mother of two baby boys, one of whom escaped the scene of the crime mere months ago. And it's been rumored that her crotch flash was designed to devalue the rumored sex tape Fed-ex is threatening to broadcast on the internet.
But what makes the spate of Britney photos so repulsive is not that she's a young mom, or that these photos will live on in perpetuity, available for her sons to peruse in a few short years. Nor is it the company she's keeping in Paris Hilton, the female Iago; or Lindsay Lohan, the future River Phoenix, who will probably die splayed on some bathroom floor, her own pussy exposed in a tawdry forensic shot purchased for millions by Star, the tagline "Firecrotch Extinguished" above it. (Harsh? Too bad. A friend remarked that when Paris Hilton comes across as the sober one, it's time for a smack in the face and the church basement for you.)
No, what's most unsettling is that I see little difference between the yucky burqua, which cloaks the female form behind a wall of malignant desexualization, and the malignant way the female body is being radically desexualized by young women such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and the entire Girls Gone Wild sensibility. All attention is drawn to the overplucked crotch, the same way the burqua pulls the focus to the overly made-up eyes. The result in both cases (of wearing a burqua, or dressing like Britney Spears) is unrelenting lack of respect for the female form, and the relative lack of depth or soul inherent in those who would find either choice acceptable — let alone sexy.
So I've come up with a compromise, a Westernized version of the burqua that could be worn by Britney and her ilk. You could throw it over like a Klan sheet, but it would have a hole cut out at the crotch, big enough to get a gander at those sexy, bald vulvas, maybe a couple of holes for the bleached nipples, and a slit at the bum for maximum ass-crack enjoyment.
But where I really part with my best friend the feminist, and the fundamentalists, is the whole eye thing. Fuck eyes. I say cover 'em up. Who wants to see what an exhausted single mother really looks like the morning after keeping up with her new BFFs? I mean, eww. So not hot.