Edith Rubinstein has translated into english of a very interesting text she received.
The West is only interested in persecuted Muslim women
A Moroccan iconoclastic sociologist, Fatema Mernissi is publishing Â« Le Harem et lâ•˙Occident Â» (The Harem and the West). A rebellious and provocative book which denounces the stereotypes about the Oriental woman, up to the paradox.
Talk gathered by ValÃ©rie Colin-Simard
Psychologies: You claim that the Western women are living in â•˛haremsâ•ˇ. Is it provocation?
Fatema Mernissi : Not at all. All the enterprises directed by men are harems and, as if by chance, almost all the western feminine magazines have men as boss. Even an enterprise based in a ultra futurist glasses building, as you can find at the DÃ©fense, can also shelter a harem. A place where the boss manages to surround oneself with dozens of women, whose salary depends of his goodwill. And the repression is there as terrible as in the East, but much more discrete by nature.
You are speaking of harem, but not of sex∑
The aim of a harem is not to have sex, but to show its power. If you want sex, you do not surround yourself with dozen of persons, you do not introduce among the women, rivalry and competition. Unless you have a weird sexuality∑
The size 38 for Western women would be the equivalent of wearing a scarf for Muslim women. Are you not going a little over the top?
In Teheran, if you do not wear the tchador, a policeman calls you to order. In the West, terror is more immaterial. It is enough to circulate images in order women exhaust themselves to resemble them. Everything is OK if you enter in size 38. Otherwise, you are not in the norm and you may even not revolt. It is surrealistic, as type of violence. Muslim women fast once a year; Western women, it is all the year around!
This Western woman â•˛obedient and willingâ•ˇ, you are speaking about, where did you find her?
In the phantasms of Western people. Just look at the naked odalisques of Matisse or read Kant and his conception of the ideal beauty! Le phantasm of the Western man, is a woman intellectually mute and passive. The phantasm of Easter people is Scheherazade, a woman essentially intellectual. It is by touching the man with words cleverly chosen that she succeeds to act on his emotions.
And what are the womenâ•˙ phantasms?
At home, there is a kind of flexibility between the sexes. For instance, a man who is tender is not repulsive, in the contrary. In the United States, a man who shows tenderness or is crying is ridiculous. The Western man must be hard and must not show his emotions. The Arab man, if he has no emotions, is terrifying. It is a fragile man, who express it and laughs about it.
In your opinion, Eastern women would like to undermine the power of men∑<
We use the word “kayd”, which means astute, shrewd. It is not simply cunning, it is worse. It is an irresistible and destructive power. Eastern women make men scare, because they have a subversive intelligence opposed to the power, to the system. They are recognized as intelligent and strategic when it comes to destroy masculine power. The first time I went to the United States, as a student, I was surprised to notice that the woman was not considered as intelligent as the man. I never felt that in a Muslim country.
You are saying that the Eastern woman is more rebellious than a Western woman. Is it a whim?
To resist discriminations and demand sex equality is a very strong reflex for the Muslim woman. It has nothing to do with the racist totally passive stereotype sold by Western media. This is why, despite all the extremisms, many of them reach important political functions. In Islam, the woman is considered as the equal of the man.
In theory. But do you really think it is the case?
In the years 1990, the percentage of women teaching in universities or equivalent institutions was more important in Egypt than in France or Canada. The percentage of female students following formations of engineer was twice higher in Turkey and in Syria than in the Netherlands and in Britain.
How do you explain then that in the West, Muslim women always are considered as submissive?
Because it is a preconceived idea, carried by the media. These images of miserable, submissive, beaten, raped women became a product of consumption for the West, like a drug which you refloats. It goes up excellently in the moral of Western women. They are told: â•˛Consider yourselves as lucky; you are not in a Muslim country.â•ˇ
You seem to say that Muslim women are not oppressed∑
Many of them run companies, but they have no media coverage. Only the ones who are persecuted are interesting in Western eye!
Yet Islam exists, for instance, with the Talibanâ•˙s!
I am not speaking of the extremists, I talk about normal people! The women I meet win battles everyday. These ones, you do not look at! You are just interested in those who wear the scarf or are victims of the dictatorship of the extremists.
During your investigation, what surprised you the most?
That Western women believe that their system is good for women. Just because they have some benefits, they do not see all the rest. They are absolutely not equal to men, but they behave as if it was the case. I find all this simply fascinating! In Easter, I know that the laws are against me, so, at every minute, I watch not to let me be â•˛eatenâ•ˇ
BORN IN A HAREM:
Fatem Memissi is born in 1940 in a harem in FÃ¨s, Morocco, from an illiterate mother. A painful experience she has told in â•˛RÃªves de femmes. Une enfance au haremâ•ˇ (Albin Michel, 1996) (Womanâ•˙s dreams. A chidhood in a harem). It is through an investigation about the representation of the harem in the West that she discovered the gap which separates the phantasms (mainly of men) from the reality. The embarrassed and ambiguous smiles of Western men when she evoked that space of reclusion and of veiled bodies, has pushed Fatema Memiss to write her last work: “Le Harem et lâ•˙Occident” (Albin Michel). For them, the word harem meant sex; when for her, it was before all synonym of family. The sociologist wanted to know more and she searched to discover what feminine ideal was concealed behind the Europeans phantasms.