“A stupid girl gets nowhere”


While reading Scheherazade Goes West, I found myself becoming frustrated and somewhat annoyed by the content I was reading. At first I felt like Fatema Mernissi was an advocate for Eastern harems, arguing that Western harems should transform into what the East had started. All I could think about was how disturbing and degrading it must have been to be a woman living in a harem in the East, living just to satisfy the needs of a man. However, the more I read, the more I came to realize that the women in the Eastern harems were held captive in a very different way than the Western women. While Eastern women were physically captive to the desires of men, Western women still to this day are prisoners within their own minds. Instead of feeling sorry only for the women in the Easten harems…I began to feel sorry for the way many women in my own country are living…including myself.

I was so quick to believe that the women in the Eastern harems were seen only for their outward appearance, instead of realizing that these women were desired for their intelligence as well. Sadly, this mindset shows how I myself have been captive to thinking that outward beauty is all that matters. Fatema Mernissi was constantly told that, “a stupid girl gets nowhere”(92). Unfortunately, living in the West, I have been led to believe that an ugly girl gets nowhere. I am disgusted even typing out those words but I can’t ignore the fact that it something our culture tumblr_lculrahess1qaobbko1_500wrestles with. I have become numb to the norm that physical beauty is the main goal. It is so engrained within my mind that if one can just put on enough makeup, lose those extra pounds, eat less dessert, (the list goes on and on) then beauty will be obtained. I am embarrassed to admit these were my initial thoughts about the women in Eastern harems but it just goes to show the world I live in.

After reading several chapters, I started to see that harems were the culture back then and very well could have been an important role for these Eastern women. They didn’t know any different. This was life for them. These women may have been physically restricted but they were still encouraged to think. Mind and body are one when considering beauty. As a Westerner, I was blind to see the deeper role these women had, they weren’t minimized to just pure looks. They were intelligent women and nobody was telling them differently. We see this example in Scheherazade; she was capable of deep thoughts and was always one step ahead of her master when she was telling stories in order to stay alive. She had to take risks and her job required deep thinking. For those reasons, she is seen as a role model to many Eastern women. Contrary to popular Western belief, these women used their intelligence to their benefit, not only their physical beauty. While they physically might be seen as captive, they weren’t captive inside their own minds like the women in Western harems.

In the last chapter of Scheherazade Goes West, Fatema Mernissi shares her experience shopping in a store in the United States. While I was saddened and embarrassed by the awful experience she had when being told that the store did not carry her size because it was not “the norm,” I was able to relate too much to her and wasn’t entirely shocked by her awful experience. I have been so used to Western culture telling me what is pretty and what’s not that it is no surprise to me anymore. And yes, I fall intodo-you that trap daily; constantly thinking my worth relies on how I look that particular day. It’s alarming to think I am so numb to what culture has deemed as beauty. And what’s even worse is that I find myself believing it more often than not. It was refreshing to read an Eastern woman’s perspective on the West’s treatment and expectations of women. It’s a daily battle, but I am determined to look beyond the false images of beauty that are thrown at me on a daily basis. We are all different, yet we are all beautiful. Celebrating our differences is true beauty. When are we as a culture going to do that?


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