Essay: Sexuality and Orientalism

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Sexuality and Orientalism

The purpose of the present paper is to discuss the theme of sexuality ad Orientalism. The main issue that will be put under analysis are represented by the obligation to wear the veil and bell dancing. While analysing these matters the paper will attempt to make some considerations regarding gender.

In analyzing the dynamics of human relationships and their contribution to the creation and the functioning of society there has always been the tendency to divide the situations according to the influence of gender. And gender has always been considered in binary terms, that is male -- female. Third and fourth parties have been given little of no attention at all throughout history. What are the implications of this? First and foremost what one can read between the lines from this kind of interpretation is that the differences between men and women are insurmountable.

Besides this, it must be clear for everyone that there are various advantages as well as disadvantages deriving from gender. Our gender has a great influence upon our social status regarding of the society we are taking into consideration. But how and when was a direct connection made between sex and gender? Who made it and on what basis? We realize how important these aspects are when we consider the status of the woman, generally speaking and particularly in the Muslim world.

Analyzing things even deeper it is safe to say that gender is not a strict factual reality, but a concept. The fact that all societies accept its rigour does not change things. Yes men are different from women, but at the end we are all human beings. A man in his adulthood is not the same thing as a man in his teenage years. Yet they both belong to the same "male" category. Why is this difference less important than the one between "male" and "female." And furthermore, why are differences, generally speaking, more important than similarities between people belonging to opposite sexes?

Let us take the Iranian culture into consideration. Modern sexuality is clearly divided into this classification, male vs. female. If not all the male-ness characteristics are fulfilled by a person being to the male sex, then these traits are considered effeminate. This may seem absolutely normal to us because we are used to the values of this thinking paradigm.

However such was not the situation in the nineteenth century when a man or a boy who positioned themselves as objects of desire for other men were not considered or called effeminate, but simply conceived in a different manner.

At this point it is very important to underline the fact that while there are various names for the variations of the status of the man, there is no such thing as far as women are regarded? Why is this possible and how did the historical circumstances allow for this to happen?

It is also interesting to notice the contemporary tendencies to name homosexual relations with the following terms: same-sex practices and interests. The focus is mainly on the men. The women are treated as if they were asexual. And if gender and its power derives from having certain genitalia, then it is obvious that the women, having "no sex" will also have no power in a world where sex-based gender has such a profound importance.

We could thing about the Middle Ages for example and the role of women in that period or their predominance in important social roles. Perhaps the most important consideration upon which we should reflect is the one regarding the conceptual (philosophical, social) division which has been made between nature (man, woman) and culture (male, female).

A further interesting issue that we can discuss is represented by belly dancing. Where does it come from? What does it mean? Who is practicing it? Well, everybody knows that it is a practice commonly practiced in the Middle East. It involves the Arab women dancing in an alluring way which shows how attractive their body can be. It is important to mention right from the very beginning the fact that this particular practice has become incredibly popular amongst American women.

This is interesting from several pints of view. Let us think for example about the terrorist attacks which occurred on September 9th. The attacks were planned and implemented by Arabs so as a consequence it is safe to say that (under the influence of the media) Americans generally fear and hate Arabs. In addition, Americans know that in many Arab countries women are treated differently from men. They must obey men and their freedom is limited. A man can have more than one wife while the woman can not even have her body seen by other men other her husband (see the case of the veil and the burka). So why are white American women so attracted to a practice which belongs to this cultural environment? What does belly dancing have to do with American cultural imperialism?

It is safe to state right from the very beginning that belly dancing an be considered a symbol of the middle east culture. It is a very passionate and physical incarnation of certain values. It is a live material representation of these values and not a mere hobby lacking meaning nor implications.

It has been argued that belly dancing is an interpretation (conscious or subconscious) of imperial values translated into feelings. Under the circumstances of the 9/11 terrorist attacks made by Arab citizens, these imperial feelings include fear, insecurity, ambivalence, anger, hatred, denial, etc. However it would be an unilateral view to consider this aspect only. It is important to mention at this point the fact that Americans might also hate their own empire for killing and harming people outside it. Being ashamed for being part of the empire and feeling guilty are other important factors. From this point-of-view the imperial feeling are contradictory. Therefore we could interpret the appeal of the belly dancing act as being based on this contradiction. Women express their femininity through it and at the same time they demonstrate a vision of their own country which is not uni but multicultural.

The Bay Area in the United State is a huge consumer of middle east cultural elements. The reasons for this situation are to be found in statistics. This is an area with a huge number of immigrants coming from the middle east. They promoted this element as an important factor belonging to their culture and therefore helping them maintain and communicate their own identity. The dance is naturally associated with music, but this music is not purely Arab. There are influences from various other cultures which mark it but this only draws attention to the fact that the Orient is perceived as being something exotic and not completely and exactly defined.

It might be stated that the Arabs themselves are trying to render themselves more exotic. This would be a legitimate way to fight the prejudices according to which they are barbarians who know nothing better than killing others and mistreating their women. On the other hand belly dancing is an artful gesture with an intrinsic beauty. If the Arabs are trying to make it popular among people from other continents they are doing it as an attempt to make the other people understand that there are beautiful things in the Arab world as well (besides oil).

It is all the more interesting to notice how small the percentage of the middle east women living in the United States of America who practice belly dancing. For them this dance is taboo. They enjoy watching it but they do lot like having someone from their family performing it. From this point-of-view it might be asserted that it is white women who are making sure that this practice is maintained. One could also ask himself how was in possible for such a sensual practice to have been born into such a strict culture. In the lack of an answer one could only stand amazed of the fact that the tradition managed to survive.

As far as the dynamics between human relations are concerned there are also some considerations which need to be made. On the one hand the non-Arab women who practice belly dancing manifest an ambivalent attitude towards Arab women. They fear / hate them but at the same time they like/admire them. On the other hand there is the relation between Arab men and non-Arab belly dancers. Although it is a generally known and admitted thing that white men regard belly dancers as a sort of strippers and sexual objects, these women are more likely to fear Arab men. Arab women however contribute to the creation of this situation as well. It can be stated that the attitude of the non-Arab women towards the Arab men is also ambivalent reuniting lust / attraction and fear / disgust.

Does belly dancing have anything to do with politics? Well white American women who wear henna designs and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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