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Hiding Sexuality

The Disappearance of Sexual Discourse in the Late Ottoman Middle East

Dror Ze'evi

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.

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Naming our sexualities

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.

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Michael G. Cornelius

In the Nancy Drew mystery series, whenever the subject of marriage arises, Nancy interrupts the conversation or changes it altogether. Rather than discuss or confront issues of sexuality, Nancy forestalls any mention of marriage and the ensuing responsibilities (and identity shifts) that it—and mid-century womanhood in general—implies. Interruption, as both a conversational tactic and a social act, can be used by women to assert agency. Thus for Nancy, interruption is a means of holding off her impending womanhood and extending the enviable position she now maintains—that of girl sleuth.

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Abdessamad Dialmy

Arab scholarship of sexuality is currently emerging against many obstacles. This article provides a suggestive introduction to the current state of knowledge in the area. After briefly sketching an archetype of Arab sexuality, especially its peculiar form of phallocracy, new sexual trends are reviewed, some of which adapt current practices to Shari'a law (e.g., visitation marriages), while others break with it altogether (e.g., prostitution). The article then discusses three distinctive areas of public and policy concerns in the region, namely, honor killings, impotence and Viagra use, and sex-education programs that are precipitated by concerns over HIV/AIDS. The essay concludes with an assessment of some of the main challenges still facing research into the topic in the Arab Islamic world.

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Emma Liggins

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’.1 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’,2 a confrontation which also took

place in New Woman fiction. Similarly, the writings and lectures of

key figures such as Sigmund Freud, Havelock Ellis, and Richard von

Krafft-Ebing ‘had begun to categorize different sexual behaviours and

identities’,3 their comments on both heterosexuality and inversion

having far-reaching ramifications on literary texts published in this

period. Representations of same-sex desire between women often

relied on these sexological and scientific ways of thinking about

female sexuality.

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Women and Sexuality in Contemporary Iran

When HIV Meets Government Morality

Kristin Soraya Batmanghelichi

In Iran, as in many countries worldwide, misinformation and ignorance of HIV/AIDS have encouraged a culture of secrecy and anonymity for those living with HIV. For many HIV-positive women, religious, political and economic pressures complicate their social status and access to health care. Moreover, they must contend with societal discrimination and stigmas associated with the condition. Adding nuance to contemporary studies on gender and sexuality in Iran, this report highlights the colourful narratives of a select group of HIV-positive mothers attending weekly wellness workshops in Tehran. Discussing issues of intimacy, modesty, motherhood and stigmatisation, this article explores one of Iran's expanding communities at risk of infection and the ways in which women with HIV negotiate the stigma of their condition in an Islamic Republic.

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Robert A. Nye

We might begin with a few comparative remarks about sex and politics in France and the US. Americans were treated in 1998 to a deliciously painful set of events that precipitated a full-scale constitutional crisis in the US and some rethinking of the relations of the public and private spheres. Despite what seemed to many French observers as a more or less unproblematic White House sex scandal, it was denied by American commentators left and right that Monicagate had anything at all to do with sex. It’s not about sex, said Clinton’s Republican accusers, it’s about lying under oath and the rule of law. It’s not about sex, said his Democrat defenders, it’s about his political enemies seizing any opportunity they can to undo two consecutive elections. Nor was the affair about sex for the principal actors: for Kenneth Starr, presidential sex was just a convenient way to set a legal trap for a slippery guy he couldn’t nail any other way; for Linda Tripp, it was the royal road to personal revenge; for Monica Lewinsky it was a chance to consort with a powerful man. It wasn’t even sex, as we have heard many times, for Bill Clinton himself, but something that never rose to the level of what New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called “lying-down adult sex.” Even Hustler publisher and cinema free-speech hero Larry Flynt, whom no one would accuse of being dismissive of sexuality, treated sex in this whole matter as an opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of his political enemies.

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Elizabeth Bullen

The sexualization of the female body in contemporary media has created considerable anxiety about its impact on girls. Much of the resulting research focuses on the influence of visual media on body image and the flow-on effects for girls' health. Rather less attention is paid to the pedagogical role of popular romance fiction in teaching girls about their sexuality. Given the pronounced increase in eroticized fiction for girls over the past decade, this is a significant oversight. This article applies Hakim's (2010) concept of erotic capital to two chick lit novels for girls. The elements of erotic capital—assets additional to economic, cultural and social capital—are used to explore the lessons these novels teach about girl sexual subjectivities and sociality in a sexualized culture.

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Afsaneh Najmabadi

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.

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Tara MacDonald

Criticism on Dickens and Jewish characterisations most often focuses on the way that Fagin, in Dickens's Oliver Twist (1837), draws from a long history of anti-Semitic representations. No critics have offered sustained arguments that connect Uriah Heep with anti-Semitic stereotypes. By doing so, I hope to broaden our understanding of the ways that Dickens's novels interact with nineteenth-century racial discourses, as well as the ways that these racial discourses interact with economic and sexual anxieties. My reading does not simply place Uriah within historical racial discourses, but examines the impact of his characterisation within the narrative itself, with specific emphasis on David's narrative voice. Although David calls attention to Uriah's unruly body in order to mark it as different, this very difference becomes, in the process, captivating to him. David is attracted to Uriah's oozing, uncontained body, which dramatically diverges from the English masculine ideal. Uriah's body is also presented as sexually threatening, a sentiment that is most fully realised in the danger he presents to Agnes's virginity. Jews, and indeed other 'foreign' bodies, were frequently associated with deviant sexualities in Victorian England, and in David Copperfield, Uriah exemplifies the way that foreign bodies were marked as sexually aberrant.