Exploitation of the Female Mind: Fatima Mernissi’s exposure of the manipulative male in “The Harem Within”
The ways with which Fatima Mernissi explains the reason for the power struggle between genders are carefully introduced in “The Harem Within”, a chapter from Dreams of Trespass. Mernissi assumes the identity of a female child, born into an Islamic family, in an attempt to elucidate the root of the gender bias that takes place not only in her family, but almost all Muslim communities; the complexities surrounding male dominance and female oppression, in Islam, with respect to “...qa’ida, or invisible rule[s]” (Mernissi 728) are examined. The author implicitly indicates that men and their conniving ways are to blame for the power inequality, not religion. Although some could argue that the religion and its strict rules create an environment that results in gender bias, it is more likely that men, and the women that agree with the patriarchal society, are the cause of this single gender domination. Instead of pointing fingers at Islam and its traditions, one should accept the belief that, in the words of Nong Darol Mahmada, “...religious teachings can be easily manipulated and for that reason...the oppression of women is not part of the real teaching of Islam” (“Rebel for the Sake of Women” par. 21). Through a detailed study of “The Harem Within”, one can understand exactly how Fatima Mernissi uses insightful comparisons of control and imprisonment, distinct imagery of the possession of women as objects, and clever phrases, revolving around the idea of men writing ruthless rules against women, to draw the conclusion that men have used manipulation to exploit the women in Islamic society.
Mernissi’s emphasis on the likening of the condition of women to prisoners because of the strict control imposed by men is signified through her use of shrewd comparisons. The author immediately uses the description of the setting of the harem and its “...high walls and...little square chunk of sky...” (Mernissi 725) to relate to a prisoner’s “...[desire for] escape” (Mernissi 726). To further enhance this assessment of women being compared to prisoners, Nong Darol Mahmada, in his article “Rebel for the Sake of Women”, asserts that, just like prisoners, “...segregation and isolation...[are] used to keep women out of the public space” (Mahmada par. 18). Prisoners are kept isolated because their unlawful ways are not an acceptable means of leadership by society’s standards, and similarly, women are kept away from society because “...[men believe] there is no salvation within [a] society led by females” (Mahmada par. 16). The importance of comparison appears again when Mernissi’s persona learns, through conversation with her grandmother, that just as “[t]he city [of Mecca] belong[s] to Allah,...a house belong[s] to a man” (Mernissi 728). The significance can truly be seen when one analyzes the fact that both the holy city and harem are variations of the same word Haram. By setting up this association of Allah owning Haram and men owning harems, Mernissi evaluates how men have positioned themselves as God, and thus established a method to draw a line between genders leaving “...the powerful on one side, and the powerless on the other” (Jeffery par. 1). This same expression of control is depicted through the observations of Patricia Jeffery, who claims, in her book review, that there is a similarity between “...the Jews’ yellow markers [and] the veil[s] [or hijabs] for Muslim women” (“Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Childhood (Book Review)” par. 1). In the words of Nong Darol Mahmada, the “...hijab is used as a medium of asserting hierarchy between the rulers and the people” (“Rebel for the Sake of Women” par.18). The implication that the rulers refer to men and that the people refer to women further lays stress on the segregation and exploitation of females. The insightful comparisons that suggest men are controlling women to live as...
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