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Representations of Muslim women and the veil: questions of image and voice
Unformatted Document Text:  Representations of Muslim women and the veil: questions of image and voice. This work-in-progress paper explores the visual construction in Western media representations of the veiled Muslim woman. It especially investigates these images’ denial of voice, and their universalizing abnegation of the ambivalent, borderland position of many Muslim women both in the diaspora and in countries such as Iran caught between Western and Islamist values. It considers how this visual trope challenges the Western assumption that a regimen of the body inevitably produces ‘docile bodies’, constrained in their power of self-definition, and particularly in their expression of sexual desire. Dominant images of the veiled Muslim woman are repeatedly deployed in the Western media to present the Muslim woman as victim, and to derogate Islam. The complexity and contradictoriness of her situatedness in different cultural and political contexts (including the diaspora) is consequently lost. The concept of ‘the veil’ is deployed generically in this paper, to refer to all forms of body covering adopted by Muslim women that identify them visually as Muslim. The varieties of forms of veiling, and the differences between its voluntary or coercive use, are obscured within the generic trope of ‘the veil’, leading to an accentuation of the universalizing power of the image. While the full covering of the Afghan burqa has recently evoked the most severe connotations of women’s victimhood, even the Muslim headscarf becomes, by association, suggestive of the oppression of the Muslim woman. While this connotation has been evoked with especial frequency since 9/11, there is nothing new about this. The oppression of Muslim women has been regularly used in

Authors: Macdonald, Myra.
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background image
Representations of Muslim women and the veil: questions of image and
voice.
This work-in-progress paper explores the visual construction in Western media
representations of the veiled Muslim woman. It especially investigates these images’
denial of voice, and their universalizing abnegation of the ambivalent, borderland
position of many Muslim women both in the diaspora and in countries such as Iran
caught between Western and Islamist values. It considers how this visual trope challenges
the Western assumption that a regimen of the body inevitably produces ‘docile bodies’,
constrained in their power of self-definition, and particularly in their expression of sexual
desire. Dominant images of the veiled Muslim woman are repeatedly deployed in the
Western media to present the Muslim woman as victim, and to derogate Islam. The
complexity and contradictoriness of her situatedness in different cultural and political
contexts (including the diaspora) is consequently lost.
The concept of ‘the veil’ is deployed generically in this paper, to refer to all forms of
body covering adopted by Muslim women that identify them visually as Muslim. The
varieties of forms of veiling, and the differences between its voluntary or coercive use,
are obscured within the generic trope of ‘the veil’, leading to an accentuation of the
universalizing power of the image. While the full covering of the Afghan burqa has
recently evoked the most severe connotations of women’s victimhood, even the Muslim
headscarf becomes, by association, suggestive of the oppression of the Muslim woman.
While this connotation has been evoked with especial frequency since 9/11, there is
nothing new about this. The oppression of Muslim women has been regularly used in


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