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Representations of Muslim women and the veil: questions of image and voice
Unformatted Document Text:  Mernissi concludes ‘what is attacked is not [female] sexuality but women’ (1985, p. 44). At the same time, female sexual pleasure is constructed as fundamentally heterosexual, leaving Muslim feminists ambivalently placed in relation to Western assertions of the need for full recognition of diversity in sexual orientation and practices. None of the complexity of these Islamic constructions of female sexuality is inscribed in Western representations of the veiled woman. As a silent (silenced) figure, the image of the veiled woman is that of the victim of imprisonment, bodily repression, sexual abnegation, regardless of political context. The overwhelming absence of interiorized representation of the Muslim woman (whether in fictional drama or documentary genres within the mainstream media) prevents access to the private space of the bedroom, and situates the Muslim woman in the least self-expressive context of the public forum. A documentary by Canadian Nora Kevorkian, Veils Uncovered, filmed in the Souk Al Hamidiyyah in Damascus in the summer of 2001, is unusual in exploring the voices and consumption practices of working-class women as they openly seek sexy lingerie to entice their men. A shot from this film of a veiled woman eyeing a public display in the market-place of erotic underwear, disturbs conventional boundaries of public/private, the desexualized connotations of the veil and a latent sexual activity. The veiled woman is normally denied pleasure, fun, or bodily self-expression. Veiling is a means of ‘performing femininity’ that has no place in the script of experimentation, self-exploration and play with identity, familiar to Western conceptualizations of freedom for women. Confined to static or contained imagery, we are rarely enabled to see the

Authors: Macdonald, Myra.
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Mernissi concludes ‘what is attacked is not [female] sexuality but women’ (1985, p. 44).
At the same time, female sexual pleasure is constructed as fundamentally heterosexual,
leaving Muslim feminists ambivalently placed in relation to Western assertions of the
need for full recognition of diversity in sexual orientation and practices.
None of the complexity of these Islamic constructions of female sexuality is inscribed in
Western representations of the veiled woman. As a silent (silenced) figure, the image of
the veiled woman is that of the victim of imprisonment, bodily repression, sexual
abnegation, regardless of political context. The overwhelming absence of interiorized
representation of the Muslim woman (whether in fictional drama or documentary genres
within the mainstream media) prevents access to the private space of the bedroom, and
situates the Muslim woman in the least self-expressive context of the public forum. A
documentary by Canadian Nora Kevorkian, Veils Uncovered, filmed in the Souk Al
Hamidiyyah in Damascus in the summer of 2001, is unusual in exploring the voices and
consumption practices of working-class women as they openly seek sexy lingerie to
entice their men. A shot from this film of a veiled woman eyeing a public display in the
market-place of erotic underwear, disturbs conventional boundaries of public/private, the
desexualized connotations of the veil and a latent sexual activity.
The veiled woman is normally denied pleasure, fun, or bodily self-expression. Veiling is
a means of ‘performing femininity’ that has no place in the script of experimentation,
self-exploration and play with identity, familiar to Western conceptualizations of freedom
for women. Confined to static or contained imagery, we are rarely enabled to see the


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