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Representations of Muslim women and the veil: questions of image and voice
Unformatted Document Text:  of its ability to liberate women from the constraints of Western discourses of female sexuality: Most women who wear the hijab believe they are fulfilling a religious duty while some, mainly university students, believe it is partly a statement that they are not Westernised. Being Westernised in this context reflects sexual promiscuity and decadence, fasad, which is perceived as being partly symbolised by Western fashions that constantly try to reveal a different part of a woman’s body. (Azzam, 1996, p. 225). At the same time as the veiled woman derogates Islam as a religion of oppression, it also significantly inflates Western belief in the progressiveness of Western cultures’ own acceptance of women’s rights. ‘Our’ progressiveness is asserted and enhanced by ‘their’ backwardness. The accomplishment of the modernity project in the West is validated by the alleged equalization of gender roles and aspirations, and the acceptance of female sexuality, without any questions being asked about the degree to which power relations remain in disequilibrium. At the same time, the image of the veiled woman, as female body inscribed within patriarchal religious practices, poses a challenge to Western secular feminism. Profoundly at odds with any system that is coercive of women, Western feminism’s antipathy to religion has been implicit rather than cogently argued. The oppressive institutions most open to attack have been the family, the work-place, the organizations of the state and the media, although Simone de Beauvoir grants religion early attention, noting how it ‘seems much less an instrument of constraint than an

Authors: Macdonald, Myra.
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of its ability to liberate women from the constraints of Western discourses of female
sexuality:
Most women who wear the hijab believe they are fulfilling a religious
duty while some, mainly university students, believe it is partly a
statement that they are not Westernised. Being Westernised in this
context reflects sexual promiscuity and decadence, fasad, which is
perceived as being partly symbolised by Western fashions that
constantly try to reveal a different part of a woman’s body.
(Azzam, 1996, p. 225).
At the same time as the veiled woman derogates Islam as a religion of oppression, it also
significantly inflates Western belief in the progressiveness of Western cultures’ own
acceptance of women’s rights. ‘Our’ progressiveness is asserted and enhanced by ‘their’
backwardness. The accomplishment of the modernity project in the West is validated by
the alleged equalization of gender roles and aspirations, and the acceptance of female
sexuality, without any questions being asked about the degree to which power relations
remain in disequilibrium. At the same time, the image of the veiled woman, as female
body inscribed within patriarchal religious practices, poses a challenge to Western secular
feminism. Profoundly at odds with any system that is coercive of women, Western
feminism’s antipathy to religion has been implicit rather than cogently argued. The
oppressive institutions most open to attack have been the family, the work-place, the
organizations of the state and the media, although Simone de Beauvoir grants religion
early attention, noting how it ‘seems much less an instrument of constraint than an


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