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Scheherazade Goes West:
Fatima Mernissi's unclassifiable book, at turns scholarly, playful, watchful, and admonitory, perfectly juxtaposes the relations between men and women in Europe with those in the Muslim world. In Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems, there is a studied casualness in Mernissi's observations, which she presents as a series of discoveries reached through conversations with friends, through reading and travels, and through her own lived experience as a liberated Moroccan woman, a feminist professor of sociology at a Moroccan university. In 1994, Mernissi traveled to 10 Western cities to promote her bestselling book, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, a luxury not available to her illiterate grandmother Yasmina, to whom the harem was a prison, rather than the idealized sanctuary of Western myth.
The contrasts Mernissi discovered between East and West were not as simple as one might imagine. In Berlin, for example, she leafed through pornographic German photo books of "harem women," produced for an eager audience of Western men, and in Paris, she accompanied a male friend on a walking tour of his favorite odalisques, from Ingres to Matisse, while he explained how comforting an insecure man found these nude, silent women. While the medieval caliphs tended to prize intelligence and erudition among the women of their harems, Western writers have lauded beauty over every other quality; as Kant put it, a learned woman "might as well even have a beard." In deceptively light prose, Mernissi introduces the sexual politics of Islam to a Western audience, while pointing out the inconsistencies and illogic in the Western tradition. --Regina Marler [via]