by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch
The original view of Middle Eastern/Muslim women was that of a lazily sensual harem woman reclining on a couch. Most recently, it has morphed into a cowed housewife bullied by her religion and the men in her life. From these icons arises a newer image of Muslim women: one that combines the two.
I’ll term this genre “veil fetish art,” because every featured woman has most or all of her face and hair covered. Although the woman herself is the main focus, the veil acts as a sexual catalyst: it brands the woman as forbidden, despite the fact that you may be able to see most of her naked body. So even though she’s exposed, the veil reminds you that she’s “forbidden fruit,” and pushes the viewer to want her even more.
So did I find these pictures while uploading porn? Nope. All I did was run a Google search for phrases like “Muslim women,” “burka,” and “veil,” and several not-safe-for-work results came up (FYI: moderate safe-search was on). The majority of these results came up within the first five pages. If you click on the pictures to find where they’re showcased, you’ll usually be taken to websites geared toward Islamophobic and xenophobic world views that fly under the flag of “anti-terrorism.” Or Islamophobic discussion threads. Or porn sites (sorry, no links for those).
Though it’s a possibility, these women are most likely not Middle Eastern or Muslim. It’s more likely that they’re white and/or western models with some spray-tans. The only thing that signifies their cultural or religious affiliation is a veil, which works in two ways: to brand the woman as a Middle Eastern/Muslim woman, and to arouse the viewer.
It’s something like an updated version of the French-Algerian colonialist postcards produced in the mid-nineteenth century. The primary difference is that the Orientalist postcards centered on domesticity, docility, and an exotic locale, aiming to showcase naïve young Algerian girls with their breasts exposed.
But the subjects of veil fetish art are neither girls nor innocent, and it doesn’t matter where they are: these women are hot under that niqab, and they want you to know it. They are positioned in pin-up posture: coy, curvy, and enticing. Or, they’re in a Maxim-style stance: they stare you down while your eyes roam over their partially-obscured form.
These women bear the “oppressive” niqab of their mothers, the badge of female Muslim submission to the Western world. But they also perform like their harem girl grandmothers, whose chests and hips protruded the same way over a hundred years ago. They are a combination of the silent and sensual, and they just want your attention.
So whose attention are they aiming for? Like I described earlier, the majority of websites that feature images like these usually carry heavy Islamophobic themes. Ironically, these outlets are often the same ones that call for the “liberation” of Muslim women while depicting these women in pornographic imagery. In these pictures, the veil adds a dimension of oppression that cries out for western male help: you can almost hear the women breathe, “Liberate me!” Take off her veil and get a prize…her body!
The type of liberation these images imply is a sexual one: erotic poses and come-hither eyes imply that this veiled woman just wants the freedom to be the dirty, dirty girl that she is. This simultaneously reinforces Orientalist ideas that Muslim women are oppressed (sexually as well as socially or religiously) and hypersexual. It also supports the idea that covering oneself is oppressive, and that the only way to be a liberated woman is to show some skin.
Taking into consideration the context of these images, it occurs that they might be a way to regain control over male egos bruised by a faltering war on terror and recent fears of women becoming suicide bombers. Since women in Afghanistan and Iraq are rejecting the faulty premises of women’s liberation that the Bush administration has been touting, the idea that Muslim women just want a (Western) knight in shining armor is dashed. And reducing a woman to a sex toy makes her a lot less scarier.
So…if you can’t beat ‘em, degrade ‘em!
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
Keanu ReevesJohn Cho newsflashes.
Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.
Use the "for:racialicious" tag in del.icio.us to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.
Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.
Follow Us on Twitter!
- ballewal on Quoted: Lucy Liu On Racial Image And Romantic Comedies
- racialicious on Friday Silliness: God (a.k.a. Morgan Freeman) Falls Asleep During An Interview
- Ruthie O on Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.8: “The Crash”
- littleeva on Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.8: “The Crash”
- SuperHyugaYoshichan on Friday Silliness: God (a.k.a. Morgan Freeman) Falls Asleep During An Interview
- Friday Silliness: God (a.k.a. Morgan Freeman) Falls Asleep During An Interview
- Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.8: “The Crash”
- Quoted: 100 Questions Toward Cultural Competency
- Book Review: Storm Warning by E.A. O’Neal
- The Racialicious Links Roundup 5.23.13
- Meanwhile, On TumblR: In Defense Of Beyoncé–Again
- Amitabh Bachchan In The Great Gatsby: Is Desi The New Jewish?
- Scandal Roundtable 2.22: “White Hat’s Back On”
TagsABC activism advertising african-american asian asian-american barack obama black blackface celebrities comedy culture diversity fashion feminism film gender glbt HBO hip hop hispanic history hollywood identity international interracial relationships latino media mixed race movies music muslim politics race racial stereotypes racism religion sex sexism sexual stereotypes stereotypes tv Uncategorized white youtube