When sexist stereotypes collide

mmwveilfetishart.JPGWhat do you get when you combine the “lazily sensual harem woman reclining on a couch” stereotype with the “cowed housewife bullied by her religion and the men in her life” stereotype? Veil fetish art. Zeynab at Muslimah Media Watch breaks it all down.
And in a follow-up post, Zeynab writes about the art of Makan Emadi, and how it deals with issues of concealment and exposure of Muslim women’s bodies. Is it a powerful critique of both Eastern and Western sexism? Or is it just perpetuating the worst Eastern and Western sexist stereotypes? She has some interesting thoughts.

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16 Comments

  1. zoelawgirl
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I think this is the ultimate objectification for a lot of reasons. Let’s start with the fact that in each picture, her face is covered but her body is exposed. The viewer doesn’t have to know who she is– i.e. that’s she’s an individual– he can just be aroused by her body.
    Also– look at her body. It is not a realistic body for most women. This plays into the biggest reason I don’t like pornography: these images are not a true expression of the model’s own unique sexuality. They are feeding a man’s image of women’s sexuality back to viewers. That image is often harmful in that it creates an unrealistic standard for women’s bodies and sex between men and women.
    Finally, these images are not freeing because they do not represent real women’s struggles with the systematic misogyny in their culture.

  2. Sarah Connor
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    “To imagine Western art without the nude is, in contrast, impossible. These paintings revisit the Western tradition of pin-up art and its ‘celebration’ of the female form while ‘lovingly’ objectifying it through overexposure and unnatural posing of the model.”
    well the guys just contradicted himself there already. In order to celebrate women you must objectify them first. Oh and right on zoelawgirl-you hit everything spot on.
    I guess i’m the only person who actually see’s these pictures as funny? There’s a strange sense of desperation on the artists behalf coming thorugh when i view these pictures.

  3. Posted January 30, 2008 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I think that the picture above is an amazingly succinct and accurate representation of the sexism that permeates both cultures.
    That women are expected to simultaneously be sexually available AND modest is depicted perfectly, in my opinion.
    Personally, I really like it.

  4. vtcheme
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    “In order to celebrate women you must objectify them first.”
    Although I think I know what you mean, you just stated that all feminists objectify women since we also celebrate women.

  5. Muchacha1
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Anyone interested in this issue should read ‘Scheherazade Goes West’ by Fatema Mernissi!
    She writes about the representations of harem women by Arab and Western men and the differences in how the women are portrayed and why.
    A fabulous read!

  6. Muchacha1
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Anyone interested in this issue should read ‘Scheherazade Goes West’ by Fatema Mernissi!
    She writes about the representations of harem women by Arab and Western men and the differences in how the women are portrayed and why.
    A fabulous read!

  7. Muchacha1
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Anyone interested in this issue should read ‘Scheherazade Goes West’ by Fatema Mernissi!
    She writes about the representations of harem women by Arab and Western men and the differences in how the women are portrayed and why.
    A fabulous read!

  8. Posted January 30, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Sarah Connor
    I think that the picture above is an amazingly succinct and accurate representation of the sexism that permeates both cultures.
    That women are expected to simultaneously be sexually available AND modest is depicted perfectly, in my opinion.
    Personally, I really like it.
    ***************************
    Well said.

  9. crshark
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I believe the artist’s intent was not necessarily to create a positive, affirming image of Muslim women. It was to critique the sexist portrayal of women in both Eastern and Western art. The artist did so by combining the sexist, objectifying excesses of both art forms into an absurd and grotesque amalgamation. In other words, I believe the artist is saying to the fetishizers of Western pin-ups and Eastern veil fetish art, “You like women portrayed like this? You think this is sexy? Well, look how ridiculous it is when the two forms are combined. And how ridiculous you are for liking this.�

  10. Posted January 30, 2008 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    You know, we need to start giving artists a little credit. Given the highly subjective nature of people’s reaction to certain pieces, asking “Is it (x)? Is it (y)?” is highly limiting and says more about the reviewer’s insights than the artist’s.
    I don’t like this approach with The Golden Compass, with Mapplethorpe’s photography, or here.

  11. Heina
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    As an ex-Muslim who used to be a proud head-covering Muslimah, this stuff just seems funny to me. There needs to be more out there that stimulates discussion about ridiculous Orientalist fantasies as well as the stark realities of Muslim female life.
    One of the fantasies the blog criticizes is the idea that all Muslim women are sexually repressed. To say that all of them are is an untrue statement, but a hell of a lot of Muslim women are, just as the women of other patriarchal religion struggle to get in touch with their sexuality in a guilt-free manner. For a Muslim woman, even simple (and inadvertent) arousal in an extramarital or premarital is a sin on her part as well as on the part of the man who is aroused by her (and no, Islam hardly addresses women as sexual beings at all, so there’s nothing on sin when females are being aroused by males). Women’s sexuality is cast only as object, never subject, of desire.
    I challenge any Islam-defenders to find me hard theological evidence within Islam itself to the contrary. The only so-called defense is “cultural context” or “progressive Islam” (oxymoron, since teh Quran considers and calls itself the clear and eternal Word of God).

  12. Mina
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    “Also– look at her body. It is not a realistic body for most women.”
    …and especially unrealistic for most Middle Eastern women, given how much body hair we tend to grow and how much effort it takes to remove.
    “One of the fantasies the blog criticizes is the idea that all Muslim women are sexually repressed. To say that all of them are is an untrue statement, but a hell of a lot of Muslim women are, just as the women of other patriarchal religion struggle to get in touch with their sexuality in a guilt-free manner.”
    Indeed. I mean, I don’t feel guilty about my sexuality at all, but assuming every Muslim woman has it as easy as me that way is ridiculous since not all Muslim women are third-generation secular Muslim.

  13. Nakia
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    The work certainly captures the forms of objectification that I’ve had to deal with- but it doesn’t say much about the way forward.

  14. viceabbess
    Posted January 31, 2008 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    this art is amazingly absurd! i love it and think it is brilliant- taking these iconic, superficial images of east and west (the marilyn pose over the grate, the woman in the martini glass, the burqua, the hand cymbals) and combining them to highlight the ridiculousness (well said, crshark) is awesome.

  15. Commodore Angryy
    Posted January 31, 2008 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but i have to put my opinion here. It’s just art, and most likly not the artist trying to convey sexism at all, or objectificaton, or anything of the sort. Alot of art at the moment is just contrasting … anything. Water and fire, black and white, clothed and not clothed. It’s just art, and from my recent visit to an art gallery, i can assure you that extremely little of it means anything significant.

  16. Sarah Connor
    Posted February 2, 2008 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    vtcheme, what i meant was-what the guy was saying is a contradiction because he’s saying In order to celebrate women you must objectify them first. which is a rediculous notion. oh and jenny dreadful-you’ve analysed these pictures perfectly!

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