Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems3.81 · Rating details · 776 Ratings · 123 Reviews
Fatema Mernissi, the world-renowned Islamic feminist, has shed unprecedented light on the lives of women in the Middle East, in works hailed as "enchanting" (The New York Times Book Review), "exuberant" (Elle), and "remarkable" (The Washington Post Book World). Now, in Scheherazade Goes West, Mernissi reveals her unique experiences as a liberated, independent Moroccan womaFatema Mernissi, the world-renowned Islamic feminist, has shed unprecedented light on the lives of women in the Middle East, in works hailed as "enchanting" (The New York Times Book Review), "exuberant" (Elle), and "remarkable" (The Washington Post Book World). Now, in Scheherazade Goes West, Mernissi reveals her unique experiences as a liberated, independent Moroccan woman faced with the peculiarities and unexpected encroachments of Western culture. Her often surprising discoveries about the conditions of and attitudes toward women around the world -- and the exquisitely embroidered amalgam of clear-eyed autobiography and dazzling meta-fiction by which she relates those assorted discoveries -- add up to a deliciously wry, engagingly cosmopolitan, and deeply penetrating narrative....more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 1st 2002 by Washington Square Press (first published November 1st 2001)
This essay is a critical response to the article by Mernissi Fatema titled “Size six: The Western women’s harem”. The author argues that western femininity is dictated by males, a scenario that she empathizes when compared to Eastern femininity (Mernissi 282). This critical response paper disagrees with the views presented in the article. It is apparent that women self-image and societal expectations associated with women physicality are core issues in the current society; however, Mernissi’s arguments are flawed since she claims that western men are in control of women femininity. Men’s control and power may be true for the case of the harem, but the case of ideal western beauty has nothing involving men’s control and power over women. In addition, Mernissi relation of size to maturity is flawed.
Summary of the Article
The article talks about gender socialization and the effects they impose on the gender roles of women, particularly the aspect of male domination in the fashion industry. This shapes how women perceive femininity in the western world. The author comes from the East, where male dominance is a common phenomenon. In the East, male domination is mainly used restrict women in the public arena. However, she empathizes for the Western women, where male domination involves manipulation of time and light, the ideal female beauty is viewed in terms of appearing childish and brainless, as typified by a “size six” physique (Mernissi 282). As a result, male domination condemns the visibility of mature women. In the Western world, self-assertiveness and maturity among women is associated with ugliness, resulting in a separation of youthful beauty of from ugly maturity. Mernissi (282) considers the western attitudes as extremely dangerous and cunning when compared to the Muslim attitudes since the weapon deployed against women is time. The Western man emphasizes on the image and spotlight, and romanticizes female beauty in light of an idealized childhood, which compels women to view aging as a shameful devaluation (Mernissi 282). As a result, the mature woman is veiled in the society as the western man continues to emphasize on the prepubescent female. The outcome is that women depict themselves as having the primary goal in life of pleasing men. Mernissi points out that it is only in the West where men are involved in controlling women’s fashion. According to Mernissi, women in the West accept the dictates of their men by relinquishing the ordinary signs of sexual hierarchy like old age and large body sizes. The outcome is that Western women instinctively embrace the subservient position (Mernissi 282).
The article makes use of narration and personal reflection by the author to outline its main theme. Mernissi considers Size 6 as the Western harem, which is more oppressive than the veil used in the Eastern societal discourse. From her reflection, it is apparent that the Muslim man makes use of space to enhance male domination by restricting women in the public sphere; in contrast, the Western man attains male domination by manipulating time and light, through declaring that a woman must appear young to be declared beautiful. This leads to the conclusion that size 6 is more oppressive than the Muslim veil since time is used against women, which is less visible. It is evident that the rhetorical strategies deployed in the article are effective in making the piece powerful enough to invoke emotional response from the reader. Irrespective of this, the ideas presented in the article are flawed, which is the prime focus of this critical response.
Mernissi argues that men’s control and power in the West plays an integral role in shaping femininity, especially with regard to women physicality. This argument is flawed in the sense that gender socialization is influenced by numerous societal factors that even affect men. For instance, the media plays a significant role in the gender socialization process through instilling specific gender ideologies on the society (Hoffman, Hattie and Borders 67). In the post-modern societal discourse, the athletic male is perceived as the ideal view of masculinity. On a similar account, ideal femininity is influenced by media glorification of skinny models. It is worth noting that men have no role in this gender socialization process. In fact, they are part of the victims of the post-modern societal discourse. Leach (38) argues that western ideologies of feminine beauty have nothing to do with men control and power over women. Self-image is an intrinsic characteristic of human nature. This is not consistent with the outstanding theme in the article that male domination due western patriarchy affects shapes women physicality. Mernissi considers the “size six” phenomenon as an instance of the Western harem, this may be true; however, this does sum up to Mernissi’s view that the western men control and power is responsible for the creation of the ideal western beauty. Sidani (498) points out that in the Western societal discourse, beauty is associated with being thin, which is ultimately true because of societal expectations of women physicality and self-image, but the ideology cannot be linked to men’s domination.
A critical evaluation of the article reveals that Mernissi attempts to link maturity with size, this is contestable. A fact is that maturity and body physique have no casual relationship. For example, in the western world, beauty is associated with being young, thin and brainless, which hinders the visibility of mature men (Mernissi 282). The precise inference derived from this view is that Mernissi is trying to claim that in the western world, bigger women are somewhat not mature and beautiful. The casual relationship between maturity and body size is extremely flawed (Hoffman, Hattie and Borders 68). According to Mernissi, being beautiful in the western world requires women to appear childish and brainless. Mernissi further asserts that when a woman appears mature and self-assertive, and grows huge in size, she is considered ugly. It is arguably evident that Mernissi is concluding that maturity is linked to size, which is a defining attribute of beauty in the western world; therefore, being mature is being ugly. This is emphasized in the phrase “the walls of European harem separate youthful beauty from ugly maturity”. The fact is that maturity is age-related, and not determined by self-image and societal expectations associated with women’s physicality (Hoffman, Hattie and Borders 80).
From a personal standpoint, the article only focused on the role that men play in the gender socialization process, and did not take into account the fact that men are also victims of the socialization process. Mernissi should have reflected on the broad societal factors that shape the Western attitudes towards femininity. Mernissi blames the Western man for what she views as the oppressive nature of size 6. It is vital to note that male domination may be true for the case of Western patriarchy that attempts to inhibit from the public; however, men’s control and power over women is not related to the “size six” conception, which Mernissi perceives as the oppressive Western harem.
This paper disagreed with the views presented in the article on accounts that maturity and body physique have no casual relationship, and male domination through control and power is not responsible for the creation of the ideal beauty for women. It is evident that women self-image and societal expectations associated with women physicality are core issues in the current society; however, Mernissi’s arguments are flawed in the sense that she claims that western men are in control of women femininity.
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