Becoming the Unbecoming

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Upon beginning my summer reading of Scheherazade Goes West by Fatema Mernissi, I felt excited and hopeful for the experience to crack open an eastern perspective on a cross-cultural issue: the social and emotional injustices women face. As a woman myself I can hardly say I don’t agree with many of Mernissi’s original points involving the objectification and focus on the physical beauty that most all western woman face. In the United States, a supposed progressive country, we are, in fact, still making less than men financially in nearly every occupation and receiving far less credit for our social and political contributions. I am no expert, but I can say that as an intelligent and well-versed American woman I am not blind or undefined by the harsh boxes my culture attempts to force me into. Still after reading Mernissi’s novel, I was struck by the boldness with which she attacked the Western woman’s looking glass and the blanket she put over our potential within society, as if to comfort and trap us with the reality of our own conditioning. I understand her intention was not to offend; I just couldn’t help but feel scrutinized by her, picked at like a piece of chewing gum on a white wall of so many social injustices. “How unbecoming!” I thought to myself and frivolously finished her novel trying to get closer to understanding why it had upset me so much.

I guess the truth is it’s embarrassing. Embarrassing to assume that your country is ahead of the times, your country believes in and supports equality, when all it took was an educated woman gazing thoughtfully across the Atlantic to realize that I had been manipulated. It’s offensive because I am the girl who stands up and speak out, not in, when I’m passionate and I have a thought to share. To confess, I’ve always wondered a little why I am told I have all these rights – freedom of speech, religion, right to vote and bear arms. Why then am I persecuted for using them? I remember my second year in college when I heard an overgrown boy in my Into to Logic class mumble to another classmate that with a mouth like mine I might never find a husband. I don’t remember what I said in class that day, but I remember what he did. It’s also why I got a 4.0 because I discovered I had an immaculate motivation to create a logical argument against him. I have been laughed at before for telling people my vision of starring in a music video where I can sing, fire guns, and ride around in a bright green Mustang because I guess even if it is my right, it’s still unbecoming. I don’t mind laughter; I’m a happy person. Still it would be glorious and reassuring to instead be treated like a beauty queen or an empress for having such lavish visions of myself, should I follow through with them.

Scheherazade Goes West struck a chord with me that had yet to be hit so deeply, mostly because I whole-heartedly agree with Mernissi – western women are more oppressed than eastern woman in so many ways because we are objectified down to an image of beauty with no texture. Even a series of harem sculptures by Ingres or Matisse might at least serve to give women depth, not to mention the time deserved, as sculpting involves the full-fledge task of molding a piece of art.

Western men now seem far less artistic to me.

I guess it just shocked me to realize the extent of this reality that pervades our society. A hard pill to swallow and begin a journey into the eastern women’s harem with but definitely one that will ease my troubles as a western woman who prides myself in not asking for but demanding justice be done to my womanhood. Unbecoming perhaps? I hope so.

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