The Harem: the Western Man’s Worst Nightmare


“A harem woman had no other alternative but to invest in her intellect. To follow Kant’s advice, and cultivate intellectual mediocrity, would have been suicidal.”

It’s interesting that the classic Western views harems are completely opposite of what harems actually were – instead of sultans oozing with power, perusing their night’s selection of brainless bimbos, the harem consisted of insecure men in the presence of beautiful women who have pursued just about every kind of knowledge.

No wonder the Caliphs were terrified – I sure would be.

I’m sure it would have been a bit of a buzzkill if a cultured man of the West found his way into a harem. No doubt, he would have been thrilled at first (except for the fact that, apparently women dressed like men), but after a while I’d imagine him feeling a bit insecure after being corrpaected on the dates of military battles, or geographical features of far away lands. I have no idea if this would have even been permissible, but I imagine that if it ever happened, many a man left with a hefty limp in the ego and a craving for several stiff drinks.

Regardless of whether or not westerners esperiences the harem for what it was, the fact remains that, for women in the harem, following Kant’s social structure may have been much more than social suicide – the life of a Westernized, passive, brainless broad would have been a short one.

Continuing on the theme of misconceptions, I found this to be quite interesting:

“By competing in the arts and sciences, [jaryas] could not only climb the social ladder but also raise their value in the slave markand thereby subvert the ruling male hierarchy altogether. Since the slave buyers were by necessity the richest and most powerful men in the Muslim world, a woman couldellectual proficiency and professional achievements to narrow the distance between her and the decision-makers.

And here we stumble upon a key, albeit the hidden and potentially fatal trap of the harem: a man in love risks becoming a slave to his jarya.”

I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on this, but the irony of the Western Harem becomes exceedingly clear: although not ideal, it was a place where both making and falling in love happened. Because of this ethereal connection that is so absent in the Western harem, the harem became a place where men became vulnerable because of their emotions, and women took control through their intelligence. It was a place where Western tables were not merely turned, they simply did not exist, and for the women in the harem, to have a mind was to have freedom and control.


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