Der Spiegel Highlights the Poor, Slutty Muslim Girls of Europe

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.

An ad for the hot-line mentioned in Der Spiegel's article.

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.

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  • Humayra

    These two articles of Der Spiegel’s are disturbing, and not just because they exoticize Muslim girls and women. Their implication that Muslim girls in Germany are forced into taking part in sex acts which “disgust them” (anal intercourse?) because their parents put harsh restrictions on their social lives and their communities require virginity glides over too many unexamined issues. How do we get from the (heterosexist) assumption that (all?) of these girls are just longing to express themselves sexually with boys, to the picture of girls who are being pressured into sex acts they don’t want (aka rape)? The articles muddy the distinction between consent and non-consent in a way that I doubt that they would if they were discussing white, German women.

    It is also disturbing to see how the articles present who or what is “at fault”–seemingly, just strict Muslim parents and community leaders. But what about the boys (Muslim and non-Muslim) who date these girls and (in some cases) take advantage of the fact that their parents can’t know about the relationship? Why is no public education campaign being directed at such boys? Is it because of the patriarchal assumption that boys and men are just “naturally” predatory, and nothing can be done about it?

    I have seen that sort of dynamic happening too many times in North America–girls being manipulated by boys through religious guilt, or the girls’ fear of parents finding out. It is a problem which the “don’t have sex til marriage” crowd refuses to deal with realistically (for one thing, some of these relationships are conducted by Muslims under the excuse of mut’a or urfi “marriages” unknown to parents or community elders).

  • Nahida

    This… is disturbing.

  • lark

    It seems to me you are assuming a point that should be argued. That is, “At the root, all violence and negative treatment [of women] is ultimately similar, finding source in social control of female sexuality and agency as well as unequal power politics.”

    How do you justify this? What evidence do you engage? Or, dismiss? What are the implications of this view?

    I am not persuaded by your assertion. Perhaps if you substantiated it, I would be. But it seems to me that the oppression of women is socially constructed, and thus cannot be separated from specific cultural contexts and histories. In my view it is not useful to lump all oppression of women together in some generic ‘social control’. In fact, that approach relies on a kind of hegemonic thinking and assumes similarity where it may not exist.

  • Dina

    I have to agree I am not convinced by your argument.. you seem to be saying oppression of women is universal, so let’s discuss universal violence against women. Now one thing that is not universal is the right to have selfdetermination over one’s body and sexuality, the right to explore sexuality in a consensual matter based on one’s own will and feelings exclusively. German women do have this right. Boys of both German and Turkish origin have this right as long as it is heterosexual exploration.
    Now obviously there is a specific sexist boundary put up for women of Turkish origin.. Papatya, an amazing organization whose members receive death threats, which personally is the thing I find disturbing, is a specifically Turkish oriented organisation, although it welcomes girls of other heritage or nationality, too. Womens rights activists in the 80s were shot by an angry father, one killed one badly injured (all three were Turk or Turkish Kurd, the survivor is called Seyran Ates and may not be all to your liking for her activism and emphasis put on Turkish girls in germany, I suppose). it is turkish women who from past experience unfortunately risk their lives and health – they make ads like the above in Turkish language, as you may notice, which means they are directed directly at turkish origin girls, not toward the “othering” sensational Germans.

    Lets face it: These are problems/boundaries Turkish origin or heritage girls and young women face ADDITIONALLY to domestic violence, which is a universal problem (although it shows very different forms in societies advocating it, accepting it or fiercely banning it, so while it may be universal in threat in all patriarchal societies, the form and scope is quite different; and may I say there are studies conducted by Turkish sociologists comparing Ankara, Berlin which find Turkish women overall experience significantly more frequent and graver domestic violence than German national women, and that Turkish women in Berlin are significantly more empowered than Turkish women in Ankara to know and seek state protection against domestic violence).

    What reason is there to not deal with specific boundaries on most basic liberties and rights of “brown” women and girls and “brown” gay men?
    Relativism and general discussion of violence against women washes down these excesses of constraints.

    Papatya is an amazing organisation, which I would like to place on a Muslim feminist platform as a matter of justice to them.


    @ Humayra
    You’re right they definitely muddy the concept of consent and force. The fact that these girls have to resort to having sex in public bathrooms (ewww) and to have sex that disgusts them shows that they’re being pressured to do these things. Let’s not forget peer pressure is also a very powerful influence.

    And I just want to rant here the stupid double standard applied to Muslim sons and daughters when it comes to who parents censure for fornication. I don’t understand why sons are excused from being advised against performing this practice. It’s like these parents are ignorant of the prohibition against fornication for both women AND men. Also haven’t these parents ever imparted to their sons the story of Yusuf (AS) and how he escaped from falling into the sin of fornication, even going so far as to ask for jail time? I bet most of these same parents would not appreciate their sons marrying someone not of their choice though!

  • henna

    I have always expressed my displeasure when MMW criticizes some form of violence towards Muslim girls as not so specific to muslims but a generic thing across geographies and religion.

    yes when we see from top of the world everything look same but then we can’t say that. Specific group studies are required so that those groups can get some help from within or outside community.

    You know it is like killing girl infants/abortion in some parts of India People say most of the communities/religion/parents prefer male child but then generic argument can hide the fact that couple of states of India are just poisoning their daughters.