ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: I will always remember those first pictures of the women coming out of post-Taliban Afghanistan. It was as if, after all the darkness, the loss, the war, the sun was shining again in those beautiful faces--a gender freed.
Gone were the mandated burkas, those head-to-toe garments where they had peered out at a world through a grille-like screen over the eyes, even if some still chose to wear them. Who had thought of such a thing? Who could be made to wear it? Why? So much fear, so much anger.
You know, as a woman, even an extraordinarily lucky and blessed American woman, that it is out there, that fear and that anger, and that in most places of this globe, women live harder, tougher, much more circumscribed and repressed lives. You are kin to them, conscious of them always, if only at the back of the brain, as you drive, work, go to the gym, laugh with men, at them, laugh to be alive, laugh at your freedoms, grateful for them and taking them for granted all in the same gulp.
But those women are out there, in their burkas and in their brothels. They are being circumcised in a ritual you rage to think about. They are being raped in tribal vendettas. They are being threatened with death by stoning for having a child out of wedlock. You live in this world, this 21st century world where AIDS is making orphans of generations, and yet sex education and contraception is still taboo for women, and where, yes, even in your own country, the poverty rates are up and single mothers are struggling to raise kids.
And then you read about Botox parties in L.A. and New York, Atlanta and Houston, and you are both amused and ashamed. How is this possible, this yin and yang: Women rich enough and vain enough to sit around sipping chardonnay while having something injected into their foreheads and frown lines to still the muscles, reverse time--this, at a time when women on other continents have just had their faces unveiled.
The disparities are astonishing. But then you hear about a dab of makeup, a flick of lipstick beneath the burka during the Taliban days, a touching assertion of femininity in a dark, male, veiled world where the religious police would beat a woman for showing an ankle in the street. In the months since, there has been a full flowering of that once-repressed vanity.
In Kabul, beauty parlors have sprung up. Cosmetic products are available. Can Botox be far behind? It's a strange thought: From burkas to Botox in the blink of an eye. And it's sort of distasteful and sort of wonderful all at the same time--because what it means is freedom of choice for women--no more and no less.
And it comes, of course, this flowering of vanity, with literacy classes and schools where girls can once again learn to read and write, and take their place in society. It is not either/or. It comes as a package, just as it does here.
I forget that sometimes, when feeling churlish about all the beauty rigmarole foisted on women. It's too much, too silly, too demeaning. But then I think of the lipstick beneath those burkas, and what it kept alive somehow, and I am struck with a tenderness for my gender--so brave, so saucy, and still so imperiled in so many places.
I'm Anne Taylor Fleming.