Inaccuracies in SATC 2 about (exotic) Muslim women

After this week’s discussion on fashion after 9/11 and the numerous stereotypes about the Islamic faith and what the Muslim population is all about, I couldn’t help but make a connection to bell hooks’ argument of the curiosity and attention the western cultures pay towards other cultures and ethnicities because of their differences and uniqueness. Also, after watching the clip of Sex and the City 2, I decided to go back and re-watched other parts of the movies. (Warning: Wathiching Sex and the City is one of my guilty pleasures). bell hooks states that “the commodification of Otherness has been so successful because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling” (21). In this case, being the “other” makes it exciting, and by achieving it, the person stands out.

In Sex and the City 2 there is an intense focus on these four white women exploring the exotic appeal of the Middle East. Upon hearing a stewardess give routine flight instructions in Arabic, Samantha behaves like a wild-eyed child hearing a foreign language for the first time. “I wonder what she’s saying. It sounds so exotic!”
The movie’s portrayal of Muslim gender issues is problematic, not just because it’s stereotypical and condescending, but also because it is false. After reading several reviews of the film I learned that Sex and the City 2 got several things wrong about Emirati women. Including:  women in the United Arab Emirates tend to be more educated than the men there, with women constituting 60 percent of enrollments at post-secondary educational institutions.

Another compelling inaccuracy is SATC2’s assumption that the covered Muslim woman is less “free” or independent than her Western counterpart by virtue of her modest clothes. Though the movie does, in a much discussed scene, show Muslim women throwing off their burqas to reveal designer clothes underneath, the assumption remains that the public display of modesty is somehow contrary to liberation. The example we watched in class was when the women observe a woman eating French fries by carefully lifting her veil for each consumed fry. After witnessing this event, Carrie declares, “It’s like they don’t want them [women] to have a voice.”

I heard on NPR that covering up often means embracing a paradigm that celebrates female sexuality. Modesty voluntarily undertaken is often employed by Muslim women to wield greater sexual prowess in the private realm. The burqa can achieve for some women precisely the sort of goal SATC is all about: female sexual independence. Without giving men easy access to the female body–whether physically or even visually–women keep their sexuality mysterious and compelling, helping them take control in private interactions with the opposite sex.

Unfortunately the four women don’t have a single conversation with a Muslim woman; this could have added to their understanding. Instead of being befuddled by the seemingly asexual Muslim woman, the women of SATC2 would have been better off extending their bonds of sisterhood and learning some surprising secrets.
Because female sexuality isn’t as accessible in the Muslim world, men in these parts are more likely to pursue Muslim women on the women’s terms. Understanding that critical aspect of the Muslim gender dynamic would have added to SATC’s celebration of women and their sexual self-expression.

– maria florencia serra


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