Restrictions Upon Women
In the article “Size 6: The Western Women’s Harem”, Fatema Mernissi talks about how Western beauty standards harm and embarrass the female population even so as the veil does the same in extremist nations, if forced by authorities. She explains how the Eastern countries do not have such a rigid standard of beauty and how men are simply not part of fashion, in contrary to the West where fashion is used by men to control what women wear. She does this by relating her experience in a western chain store in comparison to her experience in her home country of Morocco. She compares men controlling women with fashion to men controlling them with the veil, preferring the latter, since it is less dangerous and more visible.
The former, she says, saps women of their power to protest for their rights, and leaves them as brainless individuals that hanker after ‘the right skirts’. Even though some of her arguments are valid, I hesitate to agree. Firstly, no support was provided to her argument of veils hurting women, as she may have thought the argument to be obvious. Hence she misjudges her readers and fails to target the general audience. Her thesis claims that the veil “can hurt and humiliate a woman… when enforced by the state police in extremist nations such as Iran, Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia.” Her choice of words here are not accurate because women in these societies are not hurt by the veil, but being oppressed by the extreme patriarchy system established in these societies. For example, Afghanis have a Pre-Islamic unwritten code called the ‘Pashtunwali’ which takes precedence over any kind of state law or Islamic law and vouchsafes family honour. It supports many abusive male attitudes to subdue their women. (F. Shirazi, p56) In Iran, literal images are being used for propaganda of the ideal Iranian woman, and that image is being forced on the women there, forcing all of them to conform to that ‘ideal’ woman. (F.Shirazi, p116). Some may say that the hijab is a tool for such behaviors but we only need to look at Muslim women in the West and liberated countries in the East like U.A.E. to know that it is not the hijab restricting the women. “It’s pretty ludicrous to think that oppression is somehow proportional to how covered or uncovered someone’s body is” says blogger and writer Sara Yasin. “What these women need is education,
political rights and spaces for dissent.
They need to be empowered to shake up institutions. But in focusing on what someone is wearing, we ignore the issues we can’t necessarily see.” The definition of oppression is to force someone without regard of their opinion, thus it is not the veil that oppresses women, but the patriarchal system. Furthermore, the author has made little generalization and has only focused on her own viewpoint, failing to show a bigger picture of the issue. She compares only her experience in Morocco and the western chain store she entered, basing all her opinions in the essay about the west on this experience. She actually generalizes that one store and its saleslady’s opinion to represent the entire West. This in itself is a logical fallacy, because she didn’t follow her experience with some kind of proof to show how other stores across America have this kind of effect on people as well. In fact, I have been to various chain stores in America and Canada, and most of them had clothes of various sizes up until size fourteen or sixteen. Exceptions are some of those rare niche market boutiques that only offer up to size six or less, or maybe stores for teens that offer until size twelve.
Thus, it is groundless to assume that all chain stores in America don’t cater to customers above a size six, which they do, and there are hardly any outbursts from the salesladies about losing customers because of deviant sizes, since the average size of women in America is around twelve to fourteen. However, that is not to say that there is no pressure of physical appearance in America, as one to two percent of American women are anorexic. (Wolf,N. (2002). Pg 5) Also, the author fails to link her anecdote to her thesis to reinforce direction to her argument; hence the reader forgets the original argument. She does this by giving an overly long anecdote that stretches for one and a half a page and discusses every dialogue. After every dialogue she expresses her amazement at how things are done in that store and compares it with her home in Morocco. “Her words sounded so simple, but the threat they implied was so cruel that I realized for the first time that maybe “size 6” is a more violent restriction imposed on women than is the Muslim veil”. She leaves the store after this to form her conclusions. It is a conversation that explains the culture contrast between two different worlds, but it hardly proves a point, since the author gets offended and leaves, considering all stores in America to be like the one she went to.
Her explanation of personal experience but lack of connection with the thesis leaves the reader confused as to what is being proven here. Further in the essay, when she explains the psychology of women, she reconnects with the reader and gives convincing arguments. However, basing her argument of the Western man’s control over women on a single personal experience is too unreasoned, and this issue is more complex than the author makes it to be, since it is not only the Western man’s contribution to this control. Hence, her anecdote simply comes off as distracting from the main argument and confusing, as most of her points later in the essay don’t mention the anecdote at all. The essay has an ironic and outraged tone to it, suggesting she wrote it in a passion, which accounts for the logical fallacy of her showing just one point of view to support her argument, and oversimplifying the argument to just blame western men for women’s obsession over fashion.
It also accounts for the long anecdote explaining her feelings of being taken out of the picture of a normal woman, so that she can explain the absurdity of the situation she felt. In general, I cannot agree with her arguments because they leave a lot of proof to be desired of the present situation in America, since her point of view is so focused. But, neither can I completely disagree with her arguments since the problem exists, although in less exaggerated levels. I feel that Western women have the power to choose what they want for themselves and can overcome any psychological attacks if they stand up for themselves and have confidence in who they are. They are different from Eastern women in extremist nations, since they are not limited by physical barriers, and have only the psychological factor to deal with. Western women are better off in terms of physical freedom, but worse off in terms of psychological liberty.
Mernissi, F. (2002). The Western women’s harem. In A. Abusalem (Ed), Where I stand: the center and the periphery. (1st ed.) (pp 422-427) London: Pearson. Shirazi,F. (2010). Muslim Women in War and Crisis: Representation and Reality. (1st ed.) Austin: University of Texas Press. Yasin,S. (2013). On Both Sides: A Weak Vision of Feminism. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/24/is-the-hijab-worth-fighting-over/in-hijab-debate-a-weak-vision-of-feminism on 4/15/2013. Wolf,N.