After outlining the aims of this thematic section, I introduce the articles that follow. Although they reflect different geographical interests and theoretical orientations, the articles raise some interesting issues, of which I take up two. One is the role of Islam. It appears that both Islam's historical role and its contemporary effect are critical, yet indeterminate and contestable. The other issue is comparative. There is much in common between the way sexuality is configured in Europe, on the one hand, and in the Middle East and North Africa, on the other. But there are also significant differences. I discuss some of these differences in the way sex and sexuality are culturally mobilized to construct genderedness.
Reflections on the Study of Sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa
Allon J. Uhlmann
Controlling Women’s Sexuality in the Ukrainian Nationalist Underground
This article examines how the constructions of gender, female sexuality, nation, and war by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army influenced their attitudes to intimate fraternization between women (both members of the nationalist underground and civilians) and enemy men between 1939 and the mid-1950s. Conclusions are based on the analysis of a wide range of sources. The article highlights various forms and methods of repressive measures against women who transgressed sexual norms. The article argues that the violent practices against women were not standardized, and largely depended on subjective decisions of the local leaders and commanders, as well as on the level of women’s engagement in the underground activities. Violence against women represented a tool of preservation of patriarchal power and traditional gender roles but became one of the means of constructing power relations among the nationalist men, as well as their relations with enemy men.
This article aims to provide a broad overview of the enormous transformations of gender and sexual relations and sensibilities that occurred in Iran from the early nineteenth century through the first decades of the twentieth century. In particular, it seeks to investigate how these changes—while not directly linked with a project of production of modern governmentable bodies in the sense that Foucault had proposed for a similar period of European history—were deeply connected with what it meant to 'achieve modernity' for the Iranian cultural elite of this period. The article ends by bringing this historical background to bear on some very recent developments that have come to public attention through the discussions of sex-change surgeries in Iran.
Sexuality, Violence, and the Body (Politic) in Richard III
Building on Katherine Schaap Williams’s (2009) reading of the play, this article uses a disability studies approach to consider Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Loncraine’s adaptation allows modern-day viewers to experience a highly visual (and often intimate) exchange with Sir Ian McKellen as Richard Gloucester. Specifically, Gloucester’s verbal claims of a disability that renders him unsuitable as a leader and a lack of sexual prowess are juxtaposed alongside sexually violent visual actions and imagery—particularly in the form of phallic symbols. The juxtaposition of verbal passivity in opposition to visual aggression demonstrates how Richard showcases or hides his disability as he pursues the throne: the first half of the film features Richard masquerading ability, while the second half features him masquerading disability.
The Disappearance of Sexual Discourse in the Late Ottoman Middle East
From Belgrade to Baghdad, from Algiers to Aleppo, sexual discourse in the pre-modern Ottoman world was rich and variegated. Its manifestations were to be found in literature and poetry, in medicine and physiognomy, in religious writings and popular culture. During the nineteenth century, much of this panoply of discussions about sex disappeared or was attenuated to such an extent that it became virtually non-existent. A similar phenomenon can be perceived in Western European attitudes toward sex several decades earlier. Yet while in Europe the old sexual discursive world was replaced with a new one in short order, the Ottoman Middle East did not produce a new sexual discourse to replace the one that vanished. This article presents some of the premises of the old Ottoman sexual discourse, describes the process of their demise, and suggests an explanation for the failure to produce a new (textual) discourse of sex.
Notes on an ethnography of secularism
Oskar Verkaaik and Rachel Spronk
In Europe today, the most heated identity politics revolve around matters of sexuality and religion. In the context of “integration” debates that occur in different forms in various countries, sexuality has gained a new form of normativity, and new sexual sensitivities have replaced former ones. So far, scholarly discussions deal with these sensitivities in a deconstructivist and critical manner, denaturalizing discourses on culture, identity, and religion. However, these debates do not consider the experiences of people implicated in these debates, and their often emotional and political engagement in matters where sexuality and religion intersect. Joan Scott’s coinage of the term “sexularism” denotes a particular form of embodiment that is part of secularism in Europe today. Rather than studying the discourse of secularism, this article focuses on the practice of secularization; how do people fashion their daily lives concerning sexuality, religion and its intimate intersection?
Sexuality and Marriage between Egyptian Men and Western Women
This article examines relations between older Western women and younger Egyptian men in South Sinai, Egypt. Eschewing the label 'female sex tourism', it analyses the practices that these couples adopt in order to legitimate their relationships and further refers to alternative modifications of urfi marriages and polygenic relations. The article argues that these partnerships, as practised in the Sinai periphery, have come into existence in an effort to overcome changes caused by globalisation in the original cultures of these men and women and present alternatives to the otherwise difficult choices that they face in their mainstream societies.
Secular constraints, Muslim freedoms
Katherine Pratt Ewing
Terms of a Western discourse of homosexuality shape conflicts surrounding sexual identity that are faced by many Muslims, especially those who live in diasporic communities. Many use essentialized categories to articulate their sexual orientations and express incommensurabilities between their sexuality and their identities as Muslims. This article argues that discursive constructions of the Muslim as traditional other to the secular sexual subject of a modern democracy generate an uninhabitable subject position that sharply dichotomizes sexual orientations and Muslim family/religious orientations, a dichotomization that is reinforced by well-publicized backlashes against open homosexuality in several Muslim countries. Yet observations made during ethnographic field research in Pakistan, as well as scholarly evidence from other Muslim countries, suggest that many Muslims are less troubled by sex and desire in all their possible forms than they are by the peculiar modern practice of naming our sexualities as the basis for secular public identities.
'New' Female Sexualities, 1870–1930
In her study of the relationship between sex, gender, and social change in Britain since 1880, Lesley Hall justifies her starting date by pointing out that ‘recent historians of the nineteenth century have perceived a definite change in sexual attitudes, and in ways of talking about and dealing with sexual issues, around 1880’. She suggests that this marks the beginnings of ‘certain ways of thinking about sex which are essentially “modern”’. This special edition, which focuses on readings of texts published from the 1870s to the late 1920s, examines these ‘modern’ ways of conceptualising sex in relation to the dangerous figure of the sexually active woman and to female sexuality in general. It takes its impetus from such recent developments in the historicizing of sexuality that have designated the fin de siècle and early twentieth century as particularly important for understanding the early formation of ‘new’ female sexual identities. At this time the new science of sexology, the development of psychoanalysis, the social purity movement, the rise of the New Woman and the proliferation of more sexually explicit texts all contributed to increased public debates about the nature of female sexuality. As Frank Mort has argued, this was a period when social purists and feminists increasingly felt compelled to ‘speak out about sex’ and ‘to confront the conspiracy of silence and shame which surrounded the subject’, a confrontation which also took place in New Woman fiction.
Sexuality, Culture and Public Politics in the Middle East
The role of sexuality in the construction of various social institutions and in the maintenance of power hierarchies has long been a significant focus of anthropological research (Leacock and Safa 1986; MacCormack and Strathern 1980; Wolkowitz et al. 1981). Indeed anthropologists and sociologists have been mindful of the extent to which sexuality constitutes a highly contested terrain that is tightly patrolled by religious forces, morality codes and state institutions in all societies (Gole 1996; Hélie and Hoodfar 2012; Lancaster and di Leonardo 1997; Lee 2011; White 2002). However, in recent decades, the fragmenting of sexuality studies into studies of gender roles, reproductive rights, sexual orientation, studies in masculinities, and even honour killing and violence against women, has resulted in depoliticising sexuality: without clearly linking the various aspects and arenas in which sexuality is salient, the centrality and complexity of politics of sexuality to power structures are easily lost.