Apparently, and without my own knowledge, I, as the generic Muslim female, have been gettin’ the haraam on in public washrooms. Der Spiegel recently published a two-part piece looking at the secret sex lives of young European Muslim women. The article surveys the “shame” that leading sexual lives can bring upon young Muslim women, from varying backgrounds, as well as the danger and general deceit:
Young Muslim women are often forced to lead double lives in Europe. They have sex in public restrooms and stuff mobile phones in their bras to hide their secret existences from strict families. They are often forbidden from visiting gynecologists or receiving sex ed. In the worst cases, they undergo hymen reconstruction surgery, have late-term abortions or even commit suicide.
The first piece, in particular, is filled with candid explorations of the secret sex lives of young Muslim women, members of a community hypocritical in their outlook regarding extramarital affairs. While women are condemned as “whores” for having sex outside out of wedlock, men are left alone as it is expected that “boys will be boys” (and in the process, become men). For men, nothing is ultimately at stake, whereas for women the honor and dignity relies on her hymen remaining intact.
For the girls, the worst thing is to be stigmatized as prostitutes, says Leila, an employee at a Berlin girls’ shelter for girls of Turkish origin. “The entire family’s honor is dependent on the virginity of the daughters.” Sometimes girls call their fathers from her office at Papatya, only to hear shouted responses like: “Now you’re a whore.”There is no doubt that many young Muslim women bear a great burden of guilt when delving into extramarital affairs, which do not necessarily need to be sexual in nature. Even just basic, platonic chill time with guys from the student council can be scandalous for the parents of countless young Muslim women in and outside the Muslim world. For many women there are indeed issues of family “honor,” which are ostensibly tied to beliefs regarding familial and patriarchal protection of the female from that which is bad, as well a general inclination in belief that women are and should be more sexually conservative and any casual social relations with males cannot be separated from impending sexual escapades.
There is something sincerely tiring about this voyeuristic obsession with not only the sex lives and sexualities of women but those, in particular, of Muslim (see also: ethnic, brown, “other”) women, because of the eerily “exoticized” and “submissive” frames of attention in which their bedrooms lives are presented. Though there is truth to the experiences of these young women and countless others, it’s a problem when these truths are made into issues specific to a group of people.
Women all over the world, Muslim and non-Muslim, are often forced to either lead double lives or be criticized for non-traditional relationships and may even face death or abuse at the hands of their families. All types of violence and negative treatments of women aren’t necessarily relative; rather, the way we discuss them is. At the root, all violence and negative treatment is ultimately similar, finding source in social control of female sexuality and agency as well as unequal power politics. Sometimes it’s referred to as an honor killing and sometimes it’s a crime of passion.
The issue of violence against women, particularly for relations with the opposite sex, is vast throughout the developing world, but the violence is a different manifestation of a universal. Articles like Der Spiegel’s highlight a prevalent issue – although not one only grossly in the majority – but essentially exoticize violence against women and further marginalize an already marginalized group (particularly in Germany, where Turks and Muslims of all stripes aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms).
Instead of discussing the problem of violence against women across the board and what the reason for this can be, we are encouraged to point the figure at another group and scoff at their disgusting hypocrisy and inhumanity, completely unaware of the mirror that is looking back at us.