It's easy to argue that veiled women are not free, but just how free are women chained to hyper consumerism and a cultural imperative to be "hot"? This is the take-home message of Sex and the City 2, universally trashed by reviewers because they're looking at it through the wrong filter. SATC 2 is satire expressing vulgarity and demonstrating cultural tactlessness. Borat in haute couture. Pure camp. Muslim fundamentalists probably don't have camp in their aesthetic vocabulary, however, and what seems like a celebration of bad taste to us, to them is just more evidence of Western moral decadence.
Consider Samantha's meltdown in the market when flying packages of spilled condoms offend a crowd of Muslim men. We're supposed to see her behavior as a courageous challenge to men who oppress their women, but it doesn't work. Why? Because Samantha lacks moral authority to participate in the centuries-old Western effort to liberate Muslim women from Islam. When we watch Samantha simulating oral sex on a water pipe we know it is parody. And it is self-parody when she calls the Danish hunk she meets in the desert "Lawrence of my labia."
It is arguable that Sex and the City has done more to liberate Anglo-American women from Puritanism than many other influences. Throughout its 94 episodes, Carrie Bradshaw was a trailblazer by being boldly promiscuous. Her best friends were also sexually liberated, although to various degrees. Miranda was cynical about men. Charlotte was refined and idealistic. Samantha was predatory and the personification of every woman's fantasy of treating men like men treat women. Originally, these roles were fresh, honest and phenomenally appealing to millions of women who saw SATC as permission to shake off our Puritan heritage that sexuality is essentially profane.
Muslim culture has never shared this Puritanical attitude. It was Geraldine Brooks in 1995 that called our attention to Ali, the Shiite leader who proclaimed that "God created sexual desire in ten parts, then gave nine parts to women." This mythology undoubtedly contributed to what Edward Said called "orientalism" and the perception of Arab women as erotic mystery. Nevertheless -- unlike in traditional Christianity -- sexual pleasure is encouraged in Islam. Mohammad loathed the kind of sexual repression required by Christianity's monastic traditions. Even today, Shia Islam recognizes nikãh al-mut'ah, (sigheh in Farsi), a catastrophic "temporary marriage" or sanctified form of prostitution that is evoked to exploit women when sexual intercourse needs legitimacy.
There is no doubt that misogynistic Muslim clerics -- especially wahhabinists -- have interpreted the Qur'an to sustain patriarchy and retain power. Now they are on the defensive, however, as a powerful movement of Muslim feminists are using the internet to debate and share ideas. They are making existential decisions and setting an agenda for liberation that includes reinterpretation of controversial verses in the Qur'an. They do not admire the sexual ethic in SATC because they perceive the hyper-sexualization of western women as just a new form of imperialism. It robs women of their humanity, they say, by converting a woman's sexuality into crass, capitalistic, commercialism. Women in burqas infuriate western liberals when they claim their invisibility is comforting. Yet when Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte find sanctuary in a woman's reading club, the veiled women give them visual evidence that they can be just as glamorous in private as the four of them can be in public. These Muslim women seem to feel more confident in their femininity than the neurotic American ladies who need to traipse through desert sands in 4-inch stilettos and risk getting sunburned by wearing designer attire to a tent picnic. Let's admit it. It's perilous, expensive and a lot of work to be "hot."
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