Foreign Policy "Sex Issue" CoverThe “Sex Issue” recently published by Foreign Policy magazine has received a fair amount of publicity this past week. And, from the responses I’ve read, it’s Mona Eltahawy’s article “Why Do They Hate Us? The War on Women in the Middle East” that’s been greeted with fanfare by some Western media outlets, as in this response by Newsweek:

“Some powerful photo illustrations come with Foreign Policy’s stunning cover feature on the real war unfolding on women in the middle east, written by the awesome and oh-so-brave Egyptian revolutionary Mona Eltahawy. Read it.”

I’m unsure of why Newsweek refers to these images as “photo illustrations” but I think they miss out on the complexities of the issues at hand when they frame it in this way. To be sure, I can understand why many people like these photos. They are stunning images; the article’s title is gripping. But, most of us in the U.S. lack an understanding of the history and the cultural context of using such provocative imagery. For many Arab and Muslim women, these images are offensive. The pictures represent a problem that dates back centuries: the hypersexualization of the veil and the women who wear them. Perhaps we should tread more lightly upon this sensitive ground.

For Samia Errazzouki, these are images of “a nude woman covered in a black body-painted niqab.” In her Al-Monitor rebuttal, ”Dear Mona Eltahawy, You Do Not Represent Us,” she writes:

“All of the women close to me who wear the niqab do so for different reasons. One friend only wears the niqab when she attends protests because she feels comfortable in it. Another friend has chosen to wear the niqab, against the will of her family since she was 14. The representation of the niqab as splattered body paint on a naked woman degrades the decision of women who wear the niqab as a choice. …

Foreign Policy "Sex Issue" Photograph with Pull Quote

The monolithic representation of women in the region, illustrated by an over-sexualized image of splattered black paint over a nude body, however, does nothing to rectify the position of women in any society.”

Leila Ahmed, a revered and oft-cited scholar of women and gender issues in Islam and the Arab world, takes issue not so much with the choice of photos used but with Ms. Eltahawy’s “sweepingly dismissive views of prayer and religion” finding “almost every paragraph of Eltahawy’s essay similarly troubling as, again and again, broad brushstrokes and sweeping generalizations erased subtle nuances and garbled and swept aside important differences.”

If you’re interested in reading more responses, I recommend Muslimah Media Watch’s excellent survey of other female voices appearing in various posts and articles. The opinions vary widely. And, I’d definitely read their round-table discussion with five women who reflect on the larger issue at and and the Foreign Policy issue itself. You’ll gain a better sense of the range of opinions on the issue and the really smart women who wrestle with these issues every day.

Share Your Reflection

12Reflections

Reflections

Because we take their resources and bombed their people....

Does one believe that there are parts of Africa and South America where it is the norm to wear little or even no clothes!

I would hate us too if I were a woman in the Arab world being deffined by western values and assumptions.

I am a divorced man and alone. I must admit that I am attracted to women. Through time I have noticed that some men have more of a difficult time dealing with lustful desires. I am not talking about the issue of sin as much as that that is the way God has made them. They must control their desires yes, but also they should not be taunted. A woman dressing moderately is a act of humility towards oneself, I think, but also an act of respect towards men. God has the right to demand complete devotion, do we have the right to demand that others be devoted to God.
I mean if a woman in America is walking down the street with her breasts sticking out of her blouse, who has the right to demand that the man passing by not look?

Dealing with these desires as a younger man is more difficult for sure. At 48 it is not so much an issue personally. But having diabetes and finding something like Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt, well that's just not fare.

Patrick, I appreciate your honesty. However, it is not the responsibility of women to dress i a
way that makes men more comfortable. No, we do not have the right to demand that others be devoted to God.

As an artist who is male, I have done performance dressed in jeans, boots, army jacket and a balaclava helmet. I get the impression from some people reactions that they find me scary. Maybe its because they know its a man whos face they cant see, or my choice of clothes. Yet as an artist and a free individual who should be able to walk down the road here in England in any dress which covers at least my genitals it does make me wonder.
I could scare some people just walking through the town dressed as a clown! 
Is it them who shouldn't be scared or me who should dress more like those around me?
When in Rome do as the Romans do.
When in a nudist camp do as the nudists do.
When in a temple do as worshipers do.

Lets all just live and let live.
We can think good thoughts.
Speak good words.
Do good actions!

Brother P.G.Kimble  

One thing I found most disturbing is that the woman in the pictures is clearly underweight to a very unhealthy degree. Yes, women are oppressed in many parts of the world, and it often comes hand-in-hand with the veil, but maybe a less hypocritical topic for Western writers to cover would be eating disorders, instead of glorifying the models who starve themselves.

 I carefully read the article and I found no sweeping dismissal of prayer and religion, just a long and credible list of outrages perpetrated against women.  Against this massive backdrop of abuse, Leila Ahmed's insistence on subtle nuances is a bit disingenuous.  The general gist of Eltahawy's detractors is to deflect her criticism by pretending that it's about religious beliefs that current orthodoxy does not allow us to challenge.

In this case the culture is a highly patriarchal, gender repressive society- is it insensitive to point this out? The trurth is often painful but necessary if a society can ever hope to evolve.

Where is the dismissal of religion in the article? I can't find it. I am not a Muslim, but I am well-acquainted with Islam and have great respect for it. I do not,however, believe we show respect for Islam by treating It as if it is not to be crticized as we would criticize any other group. What's more, this is an Arab (and presumably Muslim) woman who has written this article. Surely she can have views on life as she has known it. But beyond that she has given some pretty strong examples to support her argument.

All very interesting but since seeing that picture all I can think about is banging that girl, all painted in black-- that's SOOO HOT!

Laugh, people. It's a freaking joke. Sheesh. No one has a sense of humor these days. (Well I guess I can understand, after 10+ years of nonstop warfare...). But still, laugh for Chrissakes...