"Sexy Syrian Lingerie?" Not That Sexy, Says Blogger

Fascinating response on Muslimah Media Watch to the "Syrian lingerie" media blitz, which, says the author, confuses "sexy" with "sexuality." But...we just want everyone to have nice bras!

It's true that the coverage surrounding Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design book has largely focused on this notion of lingerie as an expression of sexuality denied women in everyday life. The ability to - and more, to the point, desire to - buy racy underthings seems to the average Western reader like a sort of freedom, or at the very least a sense of self-expression or gratification. But, says MMW's Krista, this kind of thinking only serves to simplify the reality of the situation and, in some way, play into our notion of an exoticized temptress.

What could be a more titillating image than that of a Muslim women (presumably veiled, of course) picking out something sexy to wear when in her private harem home? It might as well be proof of the Orientalist fantasy of the seductive, exotic temptress that exists within every Muslim woman, if only we could unveil her. (*shudder*)

What's more, she adds, the "sexiness" is not for the women's sense of selves, but rather, mandated and cast in terms of pleasing their husbands.

it soon becomes clear from the article that Muslim women apparently "value sexy" only in a patriarchal and heteronormative context in which "sexy" really refers to whatever their husbands want. Mohammad Habash, the (male) head of the Damascus Centre for Islamic Studies says, "Islam orders the woman to keep herself pretty for her husband, that's well-known," implying that female sexuality equals "pretty," and that this "pretty" is only important insofar as the husband acknowledges it. One woman interviewed for the article reinforces this perspective, stating that "Muslim wives must be desirable and pleasure their husbands so they don't stray," and that it is essentially the wife's responsibility to mould herself into the object of her husband's desire. If he goes elsewhere, it is probably because she did not "value sexy" enough.

I think she makes a really strong point, especially in regard to Western coverage of the phenomenon - and I count myself guilty in oversimplifying the issue. However, I also think, at least in my case, this arises not from wanting to perpetuate an "Arabian Nights" fantasy, as much as hoping that women in other parts of the world can take pleasure in an self-expression that's not a normal part of their public lives. Basically, lingerie's fun; I'm glad other people can enjoy it, too.

In some ways, I think Krista strips the women of too much agency: while she's absolutely right to point out the problematic cultural imperatives at work, by her argument, these women are denied any of the freedom which we were probably too quick to assume. I mean, I find it hard to believe that every single one of the women shopping for the rococo underthings in the described bazaar does so joylessly, or doesn't feel remotely sexy doing so. There are a range of people, of marriages, of dynamics, at work, as in everything. Perhaps we should not assume these women are doing this for themselves; but we also shouldn't do them the disservice of assuming they're not, surely?


Sexy Things: Women Or Lingerie?
[Muslimah Media Watch]
Related: Undercover
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