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Jones writes: "Can you judge a magazine by its cover? Or to put it another way, should you judge a society by the images it circulates, or by the laws it enacts and the customs it lives by?"

These two covers of American magazines might mistakenly be seen as an indictment of the hypocrisy and shallowness of western secular society. (photo: Guardian UK)
These two covers of American magazines might mistakenly be seen as an indictment of the hypocrisy and shallowness of western secular society. (photo: Guardian UK)



Sex Can Sell Feminism

By Jonathan Jones, Guardian UK

29 April 12

 

Does Newsweek and Foreign Policy's double act of covers objectify women or simply draw attention to good journalism?

an you judge a magazine by its cover? Or to put it another way, should you judge a society by the images it circulates, or by the laws it enacts and the customs it lives by?

These two covers of current American magazines might mistakenly be seen as an indictment of the hypocrisy and shallowness of western secular society. While Foreign Policy promotes a feature on women in the Middle East with a photograph of a model with her naked body painted to look as if she's covered up according to Islamic principles, the cover of Newsweek uses another naked model, this time wearing a black silk blindfold, to sell an article on what it claims is a vogue for submission fantasies among America's women. The pictures make an entertaining double act as they seem to play off one another in so many ways – one of which is the contrast between recreational submission and actual submission.

Katie Roiphe's piece in Newsweek, to which which the blindfolded nude draws our eyes, is inspired by the bestselling e-novel Fifty Shades of Grey to argue that American women, while enjoying more economic and social power than ever before, are currently fascinated by a "watered-down, skinny-vanilla-latte version of sadomasochism". I would say the cover of Newsweek is actually a subtle illustration of this thesis. It pastiches that contrived "skinny-vanilla-latte" image of sadomasochism. It is closer to a Valentine's card than it is to the X Portfolio. The relationship between image and word in the case of Foreign Policy is a lot more challenging.

Mona Eltahawy's article, which the image of a nude cover-up promotes, argues that the battleground of modern feminism should be the middle east and that women are the true victims of oppression in the region, both before and after the Arab spring. She accuses Arab societies of institutional misogyny. Her article is full of horrifying examples. In Saudi Arabia, she points out, women are perpetual minors who are forbidden to drive and will acquire only very limited voting rights, finally, in 2015. When a school in Mecca caught fire in 2002 "morality police" caused the deaths of 15 girls by forbidding them to escape because they were not wearing headscarves or cloaks. Meanwhile 55% of women in Yemen are illiterate.

Clearly, Eltahawy has said goodbye to a broad swath of relativist, liberal opinion in this article, by rejecting the intellectual respectability of the idea that Islamic practices on gender should be respected and understood as different. The cover of Foreign Policy might be seen as a final parting shot, except of course the writer probably had no control over how her work was illustrated. Does the picture offer ammunition to critics of her piece who can point to its "orientalism" and its graphic evidence of the forces that oppress women in the free western world she apparently so admires? After all, when Naomi Wolf said she felt free wearing the hijab, it was presumably images such as these she felt liberated from.

I would argue the contrary. Some might say that western society's endless representation of women as sexual commodities – as typified by these pictures – is a pretty good argument for religious "modesty". But in reality they reveal a genuinely free society in which women speak powerfully. Both draw attention to incisive pieces of journalism about women, by women. Sex sells, but it can sell feminism, too.

 

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+11 # bluebluesdancer 2012-04-29 09:13
To 'feel free' in a hijab probably related to the fact that it is a disguise, and not to the fact that it is also a way of controlling and 'owning' a woman.
To be able to move about like a shadow would be intriguing from time to time, but to be forced to live inside something that removes your identity should never be a 'forced' situation. That world cannot be a democracy, no matter how much it tries.
 
 
+2 # Pallas 2012-04-30 05:51
Have you ever taken a good look at what Arab MEN wear? Traditional dress is a long, free-flowing gown and full head cover - like the dress and head scarf women wear! That's because a blazingly hot, sunny, sandy climate requires full coverage as protection from sun and wind. From this necessity grew sensibilities about what constitutes modest dress. People are most comfortable in clothes that conform to local norms. I don't know if you would feel comfortable walking down Main Street in a bikini, but I certainly wouldn't, nor would most women -or men- I know. No one should be forced to wear what they don't want, but in much of the Muslim world hijab is voluntary. Don't cite forced codes in one place and generalize to all others. Many women do indeed feel more comfortable in it, and NOT because it's a disguise. You are confusing fashions. While "hijab" can connote modest dress in general, specifically it refers to the head SCARF, not to the black robe (abbaya) mimicked on the magazine or to the facial veil (niqaab). Some women do like those because they confer anonymity, but as someone who was once caught in a sandstorm in the Arabian dessert, I assure you they have other practical uses as well. In the 19th century, traveled English women tried to make the abbaya fashionable in London because they found it so much less restraining and more practical than British clothes. They saw it as FREEDOM! Let Muslim women wear what they want. They can pick their own liberation battles.
 
 
+1 # bluebluesdancer 2012-04-30 09:03
@Pallas: Absolutely right - People should not be forced to wear clothes that are not 'environment-fr iendly' but neither should they be forced to wear a certain 'style' of clothing just because it is traditional (male created) 'modest' garb. Going un-covered in the blazing sun would indeed be ridiculous, but equally illogical, based on that argument, is the fact that the standard abbaya is black, which absorbs more sun and heat! On the other hand black makes a person vanish, and despite your argument, I am still convinced that it is 'restrictive' and not a 'freedom' for women, especially since many women have been stoned to death for not adhering to the 'rules'.
 
 
+1 # Pallas 2012-04-30 12:28
You obviously care greatly about injustices women face in Muslim societies(as well as worldwide, I assume).If you really want to help, you need to know more about these societies,and please note the plural.We are not discussing a monolithic cultural entity.To be constructive, you have to understand the complexity.In places where women are forced into uniform, it's oppressive.Othe rwise it's not.You can't compare Saudi(mandatory ) and Kuwait(voluntar y),or assume the horrific school girl incident would occur everywhere.It's unimaginable in most places.Hijab is usually voluntary.Men did not create the clothes and head cloths.Those were dictated by environment and probably invented by women tailors.Men wear them, too, and many women are more comfortable in them, as both sexes have historically been covered up for millennia.As to robes,in parts of Africa abbayas are white. Farther east they're black, black being considered classy.Hijab scarves can be gaudy and burkas are colored.Muslim women defend conservative dress on grounds western feminists should understand: they don't want to be simple sex objects!Many women here eschew revealing clothes for the same reason. Most Arab feminists do not understand,and often resent,our fixation on hijab.It just feeds racism.They want our support fighting poverty,dictato rship, and ignorance through contributions to health, education, refugee relief and women's cooperatives.Th at makes a positive difference and effects real change.
 
 
+3 # Glen 2012-04-30 16:00
I do hope you are keeping in mind the difference between Muslim and Arab. Not all Arabs are Muslim. Fashion relative to clothing is not the same between the two unless there is the environmental considerations, as you say.

Muslim women I have known, though, do wear a headscarf with the same sentiment as many Christians wear a cross on a necklace. That has nothing to do with how they dress in general.

Islam has as many roads and highways as Christians and each leads to something other than what is expected according to their religion.
 
 
+1 # Pallas 2012-04-30 21:31
Thank you, Glen, for drawing attention to the distinction. You are quite right. People often think all Arabs are Muslims - and the reverse, believing Iranis and Turks, for example, to be Arabs. It was precisely that tendency to make sweeping and erroneous generalizations that I was trying to counter, but I managed to be sloppy with my own terminology. I'm glad you caught it. I was discussing hijab in general but using Arabs as an example, partly because Islam began in Arabia but largely because Arabs usually get the blame for anything people think they dislike about Islam, even if it's a south Asian tribal custom that has nothing to do with Islam OR Arabs. What began as practical became custom became religious, and people often choose to follow custom because they like it. The subject is too complex to cover in a short space. I'm not in a position to say whether modern "Islamic" dress in Indonesia came only from religion or had indigenous precursors, but it is traditional now. The maligned abbaya came from Greece by way of Turkey and is not truly Arab at all. In parts of the Middle East, Christian Arab women wear the head scarf like their Muslim neighbors, not by force but by their own preference and custom, so even that is not strictly "Islamic." And on and on....So many highways, as you say. I'd like people to understand that before they condemn everything about a region or a religion, as feeding our own prejudices accomplishes nothing.
 
 
+1 # Glen 2012-05-01 14:34
Yes, the issue is complex. Folks desiring a hate campaign will use that complexity to encourage complex hatred and confusion. Culture is rarely discussed when it comes to politics and those who wish to control territory will use misinformation to encourage further hatred. Many people on this earth are very much alike, regardless of dress.

Thank you for your comments.
 
 
+1 # Pallas 2012-05-01 18:50
"Many people on this earth are very much alike, regardless of dress."

Beautifully put. Thank you.
 
 
+16 # WestWinds 2012-04-29 09:41
Part I of IV



Men have always used women as a blank canvas for their wishes and wants. It is ironic that although men systematically put women down, it is a beautiful wife, a bombshell girlfriend on their arm, a hot mistress for illicit sex, or 72 virgins in the afterlife for a reward, which are the pivotal items men see/seek/choose to prop up their egos.

In other words, men need women to make them real men, just as in fiction the hero needs an extra bad antagonist to lift him higher and higher still in the eyes of the reader.You can't have a hero without a strong antihero and you can't be considered kewl unless you have women submitting to your charms or your power. Women are perceived by men as a force and to control that force means you are a manly man.
 
 
0 # DrEvel1 2012-04-29 22:22
I think you'll find that 19 out of 20 gay men reject your basic propositions, and find themselves quite fulfilled and capable without women in any capacity; our "kewl" is supplied by ourselves and our own interpersonal dynamic and energy. Being "manly" has nothing at all to do with dealing with women in any capacity - it has everything to do with dealing with men.

Don't get me wrong - this has nothing to do with putting women down or devaluing them in any way. They are fine people. And I don't doubt that a lot of men behave as described in the above post. But those men with the imagination and character to be homosexual don't need to play such stupid games. Let women be women; this should have nothing to do with men being men.
 
 
+4 # bluebluesdancer 2012-04-30 09:06
Well...yeah! I think that WestWinds was only referring to heterosexual males. I am sure that you are completely right.
 
 
+17 # WestWinds 2012-04-29 09:42
Part II


Men are all about power and women represent a threat to that power. Men are born of woman, raised by women (mother, grandmother), and are outnumbered by women. If men can get women to submit to them, it is a powerful power statement and men will use force, or some God, or the power of the purse strings (withholding jobs as well as cash,) and any other tool as long as it gets them the results they want.

Thus it is that we hear things like the Southern Baptist Conference declaring "We have decided that the women shall submit to the men." Or Rev. John Hagee's declaration that "All women who hold jobs are whores, tramps and sluts because all jobs rightfully belong to men." These statements of power have been made here in America but in places like the Middle East it's the burqua, just as in Africa and elsewhere it is the clitorectomy men employ to allay their fears of autonomous women. (I’m not going to say women’s autonomy because we only have isolated incidences of autonomous women and no state of women’s autonomy exists yet across the board.)
 
 
0 # barbaratodish 2012-04-30 23:30
Quoting WestWinds:
Part II


Men are all about power and women represent a threat to that power. Men are born of woman, raised by women (mother, grandmother), and are outnumbered by women. If men can get women to submit to them, it is a powerful power statement and men will use force, or some God, or the power of the purse strings (withholding jobs as well as cash,) and any other tool as long as it gets them the results they want.

Thus it is that we hear things like the Southern Baptist Conference declaring "We have decided that the women shall submit to the men." Or Rev. John Hagee's declaration that "All women who hold jobs are whores, tramps and sluts because all jobs rightfully belong to men." These statements of power have been made here in America but in places like the Middle East it's the burqua, just as in Africa and elsewhere it is the clitorectomy men employ to allay their fears of autonomous women. (I’m not going to say women’s autonomy because we only have isolated incidences of autonomous women and no state of women’s autonomy exists yet across the board.)

Unless and until women have autonomy, mens' autonomy HAS THEM! When we all have human agency then, and only then can there be INTENTION to love, otherwise we will have to settle for RELATIVE (and I do not mean the incestuous kind of ) LOVE.
 
 
+15 # WestWinds 2012-04-29 09:43
Part III


For the last two millennium, we have had a patriarchy that has taken us to war, untold unnecessary deaths of innocent people, imperialism, economic enslavement, military enslavement, terrible health policies, torture, lying, cheating, stealing... along with the sexual denigration of women because women have the power to reproduce life and as such they have a more tempered attitudes toward war and warfare. Marija Gimbutas, a Lithuanian archaeologist/s ociologist/anth ropologist found evidence of a female dominated society where Pagans, Christians and Jews all lived together in peace; there were no implements of war. But outside of this article, who ever heard of Marija Gimbutas and her theory smashing find?

One of the reasons the Religious Right wants to float the "intelligent design" model and deny science is because science supports the notion that it is the female which is sovereign, not the male. It is during the 12th to 14th week in utero that the fetus receives a
testosterone flush that creates the male child. Until such time, all babies in utero are female. (This is why all males have nipples on their chests.) There are those who would tell you different to offset an inconvenient truth. Consider: If you remove all the women save one, the human race would soon go extinct. If you remove all the men save one, life will go on. If men can’t be that power then they seek to control that power.
 
 
+14 # WestWinds 2012-04-29 09:43
Part IV


Life is about balance. The Universe is constantly seeking homeostasis. We have had two thousand years of male domination and too much of anything and it becomes something else. In this case, pure and out-of-control corruption. It is time for the patriarchy to retire. A new era is beginning. The new millennium promises peace, prosperity, good health, coupled with good stewardship of the planet. So mote it be. ***
 
 
+6 # Majikman 2012-04-29 10:53
Brilliant, WestWinds. I read about Gimbutas years ago and the lengths to which academia went to cover up her inconvenient truths. The other important scholar in the same venue is Riane Eisler.
The writer of this article (not yours) is a one dimensional light weight with a garbled message, if he's, in fact, attempting to say that sex sells feminism. I don't think he knows the meaning of either.
 
 
+3 # lincolnimp 2012-04-29 11:08
West Winds...if this is a call to action (peaceful and non threatening action) count me in. Every word you wrote in this four part essay resounds with me...thanks for posting it.
 
 
+3 # bluebluesdancer 2012-04-30 09:40
My theory, regarding how many recent laws that remove women's rights either have already been enacted, or are in the process of being put forward, is this: Ever since women got the vote the "Christian Right" has had to deal with having less control over women.
The Bible insinuates that women should be subservient to their husbands, and they are only there to produce children, and be a slave to their husband.
Women had no rights, but as times changed women have become independent by working & realizing they don't have to stay married to someone who is abusive, and more recently that they can survive on their own & can have children without a man being involved other than via a sperm-bank.
This is very distressing to a Fundamentalist Conservative Male.
But how can this be changed? Remove a woman's independence. A woman who cannot get birth control and who had sex outside of marriage would probably get pregnant and would then be labeled a 'whore', as opposed to a man who is just considered 'more manly'! and if she tried to have an abortion she could be imprisoned for manslaughter. So the current Bills, that will certainly be passed if a Republican gets into the White House, would instantly put women back 100 years and leave them barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.There is more to it than just what I have mentioned, and not all men feel emaciated by modern women, but the Christian Right definitely do!
 
 
-5 # oldman68 2012-04-29 10:27
WestWinds, tell us men how you really feel?
 
 
+4 # NanFan 2012-04-29 10:40
I'd like to see if the Newsweek cover for this issue was the same or different in the US and Europe or the rest of the world.

I'll look it up.

Great analysis, WestWinds.

N.
 
 
+13 # oddworker 2012-04-29 10:54
Roiphe’s article is a flagrant example of the divisions within women’s identity. Writing about women fetishizing their own oppression while ignoring the fact that most women are not in control of their economic and political circumstances reinforces the idea that women have created the roles that subjugate them. Women have not chosen economic inequality. Roiphe states,"It may be that, for some, the more theatrical fantasies of sexual surrender offer a release, a vacation, an escape from the dreariness and hard work of equality." Let's be clear. Women are not equal, not economically and not politically. The dreariness lies in consistently reading about women of privilege "bemoaning" their equality while women in low paying jobs have their lives fetishized and thus ignored. Articles which discount important differences, such as economic class, skew the complexity of such issues and misrepresent an entire group by the characteristics of only one, very privileged, sub-set. This marginalizes the majority of that group, and renders the fact that women are still treated as second and third class citizens invisible. If we wish to speak of the fantasies of women in equal terms, then why not talk about the fantasies of a living wage, well-earned vacations, and being able to pay one’s bills? Claiming that women "are more comfortable being wanted than wanting" is insulting to those of us who fight every day to create situations of empowerment for ourselves and others.
 
 
-6 # MidwestTom 2012-04-29 11:12
Say what you want about western men's views toward women, but acknowledge the fact that our society is very pro-wemen's rights, as evidenced by the open door to education at all levels. What I fail to understand is the reluctance to criticize Muslims for their treatment of women.
 
 
+13 # Majikman 2012-04-29 11:37
And what universe do you live in? I wouldn't call a society "pro women's rights" that wants to strip away her rights to her health care, reproductive choices, equal pay, protection from violence, etc. Compared to Saudi Arabia, of course, the US is a paragon of freedom....hard fought for and won by women, not "given" by men.
 
 
+2 # shraeve 2012-04-29 19:01
That is because the USA has its own, homegrown Taliban.
 
 
+6 # GeeRob 2012-04-29 13:46
An open door to education is how you claim our society is pro-womens rights? Isn't education a human right? Majikman wants to know what universe you live in. I'm asking in which century you reside.
 
 
+8 # jpena16 2012-04-29 11:58
the question of whether the Habib is oppressive or not comes down to the question, Is it voluntary ? Different people have different motives for wearing it. Clearly though the coerced wearing of the Habib is oppressive.The very idea of anyone being considered as and subsequently being treated as property is repugnant.The alleged rise of vanilla S&M eludes me.I haven't noticed it. I suspect that in the world of sex there have always been women as well as men that have been attracted to that kind of thing and all we are seeing is it stepping out of the closet for women.In psychology I always wondered why would Freud come to the belief in penis envy when medically women are physically capable of multiple orgasms without the waiting time of a refractory period required of men. If anything it should be men who have vaginal envy. I can not think of Freud coming up with a more idiotic conclusion. Personally i think vaginal envy is one of the main reasons men behave badly.
 
 
+7 # Glen 2012-04-29 16:18
jpena16, fear is also a reason for men behaving badly. Any perceived power that might challenge them is viewed as a threat to their position and their control. The extent of their perception of a threat depends on the society in which they are raised, and, obviously, the religion that influences them.

The need for girls/women in a boy's/man's sexual experience, may be considered a threat early on. A need may be considered a threat. In my experience I have witnessed parents telling boys to beware of girls who might want to "catch" them, and persuade them to mate or marry, completely ignoring the boys desire to do the same. Girls/women were the "other". On the flip side, girls/women are taught that men are a challenge to be conquered, but at the same time to be feared as wanting to only have sex with them, rather than being their partner or friend.

Healthy sex is completely ignored. These magazine images and so many others renders men and women victims of their gender, rather than engendering pride in their gender and the wonderful beauty of both.
 
 
+2 # cynnibunny 2012-04-29 17:45
We men really need to shut up! We know nothing about what it means to be a woman. We need to ask women what it means. We need to find dramatizations that are written by women, not men. We need to quote women, not mealy-mouthed platitudes about not being mean.

Otherwise, we get ourselves into the embarrassing foot-in-mouth situations (I know, I've done it) like Tim Wise gets himself about racism, and the author of this article gets himself into here. While it is true that both the magazines featured have created covers that are objectifying and insulting, and while it is true that at least one of the articles (I read the Newsweek one) is a sensationalist exploration of behavior that a distinct minority of women participate in, I for one have grown to expect such crap from Time and Newsweek.

Back in the real world - as opposed to the journalistic 'Matrix', women are finding it more and more unnecessary to have men around. In my student population (I teach at a southwest washington community college) men are kept around for as long as necessary to impregnate, and then they are despised and ignored. Ultimately, if we men ever hope to become significant again in the lives of women, we must deliberately seek out what women want, what women think, and what kind of man they think they will love and respect.

Otherwise, we're just a means to an end.
 
 
+5 # Majikman 2012-04-29 18:52
Wow! cynnibunny, if this is true "men are kept around for as long as necessary to impregnate, and then they are despised and ignored" we're in worse shape than any nest of slimy politicians could conjur. I, for one, cannot believe that is true as it is antithetical to human nature (certain animal species behave that way...cats, for ex., because the male will kill the kits and the mother needs to protect them)and would suggest you take your own path and start asking some in depth "why" questions of these young women. Perhaps you misinterpret bravado ("the sob done me wrong, who needs him") as a response to devastation.
As Glen so eloquently states, both sexes are fed fairy tales from early childhood and finding the truth is often a long,lonely and confusing path. Glen is on the right path...seeing the opposite sex as first a friend and partner to be celebrated not conquered.
 
 
0 # nateb1150 2012-04-29 20:36
http://www.helium.com/items/2319932-is-morality-based-in-ideals#!
 
 
0 # nateb1150 2012-04-30 06:16
http://www.helium.com/items/2319932-is-morality-based-in-ideals
 

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