The Western Harem and Its Effects on Women


While reading Scheherazade Goes West, I felt an array of emotions. I went from being completely intrigued at the beginning to more and more disturbed by the treatment of women in Moroccan harems. Fatima Mernissi uses her information from both family oral tradition and years of personal research to give insight to the history of Moroccan harems and its effects on women. Being a woman, I felt enraged hearing such subjects in the book such as how men responded when simply hearing the word “harem” and how a woman in the Quran was only referred to as “her” and not by her real name. I also quickly learned that this history has helped lead to the making of the Western Harem and how it is currently influencing women every single day.

In the last chapter of the book, Mernissi focuses on the West and the “size six.” She states that an American woman who can’t fit into a size six is the equivalent to an Arab woman who is veiled because it is an unfair expectation for women. After being denied service by a rude saleswoman, Mernissi narrates her own internal thoughts about the subject, showing years of being given attention from men about her curvy body, which is not seen in the same positive way in America. When she asks the saleswoman who decides what the norm is on page 210, the woman responds with, “‘The norm is everywhere, my dear… It’s all over, in the magazines, on television, in the ads. You can’t escape it. There is Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Mario Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo, Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, Christian Lacroix, and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Big department stores go by the norm… If they sold size 14 or 16, which is probably what you need, they would go bankrupt.'” This quote struck a chord with me because I can only imagine how hurtful it would be to receive such a comment, since I am above a size six. 

I can honestly and openly admit that I have felt the pressures to look a certain way. At a young age, I felt the need to do things such as wear makeup and shave my legs before middle school. Then, when I was given judgmental looks when I wore a bathing suit on a field trip which lead to my first diet… When I was only thirteen years old. After reaching a goal of being 120 pounds and a size 0, I didn’t feel the satisfaction that I expected. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t exercising and dieting for me and my own health, but for the approval of others. I succumbed to the pressure that fellow peers and magazines that put on me indirectly. Mernissi’s final chapter hit me hard because I know how it feels to be treated a certain way just because I’m not as small as others and because I have curves. Women need to embrace their bodies, like in the second ad below, instead of killing themselves for the first. 



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