Back when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts, I took several women’s studies classes and worked/interned at the Media Education Foundation. I have to say that throughout all my coursework and learning, one of the things that struck me the most was the blatant hyper-sexualization of women and girls in media. Sure, it made me want to puke back then, but as a single man, I never had to deal with that sort of thing.
It’s also been about a decade since then, and I haven’t ever owned my own television… so I’ve been kind of out of the loop.
Then, the other day, I read an article that got my wheels spinning again: The 7 Most Baffling Things About Women’s Clothing.
Now that I’m the father of an almost 6 year old WarriorPrincess, this stuff is back in my face. When buying jeans for her, I noticed that they didn’t feel right. They felt stretchy. And when she put them on, they hugged her bottom and her thighs and flared past her knee. I must’ve not been thinking straight, because I didn’t stop to check the label (like I do with all of our food) or question the cut of the jeans (riding low, accentuating curves she doesn’t/shouldn’t have). Against all signs from the universe, I bought them.
Well now that you know what’s been on my mind lately… here’s a little something on Sex in Islam and Sex with Muslims.
You don’t often hear about Muslims and sex. Maybe that’s because we always seem to be having babies — and you all know how much sex a couple with a baby (or two, or three…) is having.
But in the Media, the topic of sex in Islam is second only to niqaab and terrorism. Primarily because hetero sex, sexual expression, sexual freedom, sexual exploitation, and sexual stereotypes at times deals with female liberation VS male dominance, and the Western Media really, really wants to liberate Muslim women. How on earth can a woman who’s covered from head to toe in that black thing be having sex? Good sex? Enjoying sex? Selling sex? Kinky sex? How on earth indeed. How on a bed, in a car, on a train, in a shower, with herself, with more than one partner, with a same sex partner? Muslims? No way.
“Like gold or cattle, land or cloth, female virginity has long been treated as a type of property,” writes Hanne Blank, an independent historian, feminist author, and former sex educator. “But this practice, however long and well-established, is in many ways a paradox. Unlike other forms of property, virginity is essentially intangible… Using it as an object of trade seems almost like trading in wind, fog, or oceanfront properties in Luxembourg. But for thousands of years, virginity has been considered a form of real as well as symbolic property, and treated that way without a shred of irony.”
Blank’s latest book, Virgin: An Untouched History, recounts virginity’s cultural history. From the ancient Greeks to the Middle Ages, through Victorian England and Puritan America to Beverly Hills, 90210 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blank looks at the myriad ways female virginity has been defined, policed, purchased, sold, lost, and defended.
I recently met Ms. Blank at a reading in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and last week sent her an e-mail plea to let me interview her for this blog. She wrote back the same evening and said, “Oh! I’d love to. I am an occasional reader of HijabMan myself, actually.”
[Read Part I of this interview here.]
KufiGirl: You talk about the consequences for women who had sex before marriage, or were believed to have had sex before marriage, but you also talk about the consequences for women who chose to remain virgins in spite of societal pressure to marry. What motivated them, and how did their communities respond? Do you see any modern parallels?
Hanne Blank: Some women (and men) choose not to have sex, and/or not to marry, in any culture that permits it. This is true today and it has historically been true whenever (and wherever) the culture has made it possible for some people to opt out of sexuality and/or marriage. Not all do, and not all that do allow it without a fight. So it is hard to speak about how cultures/communities react in a general sense – some really don’t care, and it is quite a simple and easy thing, and some really do care, and people who want to not marry have to fight very hard for it and endure a lot of hardship.