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Feminism colluding with religion to manage men's sexual desire

  • 03 July 2015

On a recent overseas trip I spent a night at a beach resort frequented by Saudi Arabians. Families frolicked in the swimming pool, cooling themselves off in the 36-degree heat and suffocating humidity.

The men and children were dressed in swimming costumes, their fleshy bodies on full display. The women sat on benches beneath pitch-black burkas – a colour guaranteed to attract and retain heat; the only part of them that could be discerned was their eyes, expressionless in the absence of a supporting facial structure.

It was a disturbing sight in the context of all that sand and sun and happy, smiling, splashing bodies. What sort of husband takes his family to a beach resort and commits his wife to a uniform of such discomfort and exclusion, I wondered?

What kind of man exposes his own body to the watching world, yet doesn’t question his wife’s segregation from it? Were there any strict Muslim men here who had worn the burka themselves for any length of time in an effort to understand the sort of purgatory their religion was imposing on their wives? And if a wife was to be cocooned within a burka so as not to tempt the men around her, surely her husband should be similarly quarantined from temptation, from all those western women lounging around in bikinis? A beach resort couldn’t possibly be the place for them.  

This acceptance among many Muslim men and women of restrictive Islamic clothing is a conundrum that was raised again recently when The Guardian published a video in which British student Hanna Yusuf (pictured) declared her hijab to be not an instrument of oppression but rather a feminist statement. 'In a world where a woman’s value is often reduced to her sexual allure, what could be more empowering than rejecting that notion?' Yusuf enquired.

The statement is logically flawed, since reducing a woman to her sexual allure is precisely what the hijab does: it fetishises her hair and holds her responsible for obscuring it – a practice that has the very effect of objectifying it, though it lies beneath a piece of cloth.

Yusuf doesn’t explain why women’s hair is so obscene in the first place, why it would drive men wild if left uncovered, and why men’s hair doesn’t have the same effect on women. She doesn’t clarify how it is that Muslim men living in western countries aren’t driven into a