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Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems Paperback – March 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press; Reprint edition (March 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743412435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743412438
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #651,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Fatima Mernissi's unclassifiable book, at turns scholarly, playful, watchful, and admonitory, perfectly juxtaposes the relations between men and women in Europe with those in the Muslim world. In Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems, there is a studied casualness in Mernissi's observations, which she presents as a series of discoveries reached through conversations with friends, through reading and travels, and through her own lived experience as a liberated Moroccan woman, a feminist professor of sociology at a Moroccan university. In 1994, Mernissi traveled to 10 Western cities to promote her bestselling book, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, a luxury not available to her illiterate grandmother Yasmina, to whom the harem was a prison, rather than the idealized sanctuary of Western myth.

The contrasts Mernissi discovered between East and West were not as simple as one might imagine. In Berlin, for example, she leafed through pornographic German photo books of "harem women," produced for an eager audience of Western men, and in Paris, she accompanied a male friend on a walking tour of his favorite odalisques, from Ingres to Matisse, while he explained how comforting an insecure man found these nude, silent women. While the medieval caliphs tended to prize intelligence and erudition among the women of their harems, Western writers have lauded beauty over every other quality; as Kant put it, a learned woman "might as well even have a beard." In deceptively light prose, Mernissi introduces the sexual politics of Islam to a Western audience, while pointing out the inconsistencies and illogic in the Western tradition. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

For Western men, the very word harem typically provokes voluptuous sexual fantasies in which men have their way with vulnerable women who are happy to satisfy their needs, observes Mernissi, feminist sociologist and Koranic scholar. In Islamic culture, by contrast, the harem is seen as the site of a dangerous, sexual power struggle in which powerful women resist male domination. The mythical Scheherazade, who recounted enough tales to fill One Thousand and One Nights, models this female power, Mernissi (Beyond the Veil) argues. In a cerebral rather than physical seduction, Scheherazade recounted complex tales to her king, using her nutq her ability to penetrate a man's brain by using the right words. So subversive was that power that her stories were published in Arabic only a century after appearing in French, and they remain a target of Muslim censorship. Using a wide range of Islamic sources etymology, art, religious law, cultural history Mernissi develops a nuanced analysis of the sexual power of Islamic women. By probing Western representations of Scheherazade in ballet, Hollywood movies, painting she also reveals the West's tendency to misconstrue the harem. Unfortunately, Mernissi's navet, about the West mars the book. After a few casual chats, some skimming of peculiar or derivative sources and a trip to a designer's shop in New York, she concludes that Western women are as tyrannized by the pressure to be a size 6 as Islamic women are by the veil. Additionally, Mernissi's stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling can be irritating. More troubling, she never returns to her initial mission to understand the Western image of the harem.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I highly recommend it......I keep talking about it to everyone I know.
Tatiana Brovko
This book would have been much better if Mernissi had stuck with witty vignettes about her culture shock and humorous malentendus during her westward sojourn.
D. Goodpasture
According to Mernissi, Moslem men fear women, imprison them, but fantasize about active assertive women.
Elizabeth A. Root

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Morris on April 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
After reading a few other critiques on this title, a few reviewers may need to reconsider the intent of the text. Mernissi is hardly deliniating a definitive narrative on the sexual mentality of men/women or East/West; however, she provides a series of impressions that can create a complex, intriguing innerdialogue as well as spark useful discussion among adults interested in the related topic dynamics. Overall a wonderfully written book intermingling Mernissi's personal experiences, history, literature, and art. I highly endorse this book.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book gives the Western woman a completely new context to view ourselves in/through. To quote Mernissi, "travel is not about fun but about learning, about crossing boundaries and mastering the fear of strangers, about making the effort to understand other cultures and thereby empowering yourself."
In a patrarchial society (whether Christian or Muslim) male erotic needs,and their need for control and "safty" in male-female relationships dictates how women are taught to think about themselves. "Travel (mentally widening your horizons) helps you figure out who you are and how your own culture controls you."
This book is about claiming freedom, the freedom for women to think about who they are and about the courage it takes to push through the unexamined female prisons of Western insularity (just as Muslim women push through the insularity of the Harem and the veil) to view ourselves in a wider place and choose who we will be and who our daughters will be. As the book says, "then who are we if we don't control our own images?" The author is delightful, feminine and funny and wonderfully astute.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Tatiana Brovko on March 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Fatema Mernissi's "Scheherezade Goes West" is an incredible book. I could not put it down once I began reading it. I highly recommend it......I keep talking about it to everyone I know.

I think that her observations have quite a bit of truth behind them, even with regards to her ideas of the Western world. A few critics of the book mentioned how if Fatema had truly observed women in the U.S. she would see that we came in all sizes. That is true! But still, don't we all feel the pressure put on us to be a size 6? To wear makeup? To look like a supermodel? Why are eating disorders more prevalent? A friend of mine told me she was anorexic in high school, but that having an eating disorder was "normal", since it appeared almost every girl in her high school had some sort of eating disorder. How sad! In high school I took sanctuary in athletics---and most athletic women could never fit into the American standard ideals of beauty. So we pride ourselves in being fit and strong.

When are we going to learn to appreciate ourselves for what we are worth?

Mernissi's book is one that makes you think. I think it is magnificent. Read it with an open mind, and use her observations to challenge and question what you know. I also enjoyed having some sort of insight into the Islamic world. I feel we really misunderstand Islam. We base most of our views on the actions and beliefs of the extremists. I hope that because of the events in our world today, us westerners and non-muslims will try to educated ourselves and learn about Islam with an open mind and an un-biased heart.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Vardell on August 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
I hope the author takes another, longer tour of the US. Most of her conclusions about the "harems" of "Western men" are only applicable to European men, far better educated and more culturally refined than us guys here. We surely do have or desire our harems today--a man's "stable" of pretty women who will let him get away with making the rounds as often as time and money allows. A huge issue she raises is control: how do guys keep their women? And how do those women, who at some level consent to being kept, fight back and control their man? What role does beauty play, what role intelligence, what about economic empowerment, and what about religious values? How does jealousy impact the decisions made by both the women and the man? And perhaps most importantly, is the US truly making progress toward women and men treating each other as equals? Or have we just found more sophisticated ways of manipulating each other? The author suggests Westerners should be much slower to criticize Islam, because we have our own problems that are as bad or worse. Very thought-provoking.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Steinberg Shlomit on April 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
Fatima Mernissi's book, Scheherazade Goes West, is one of those rare books that you start reading and simply can not put down, not wanting it to end.
It is witty and delightfull book but more important, it touches upon some fundemental questions about the meeting of East and West, in art, fiction, as well as in every day life, questions that have never been addressed like this before.
Mernissi does something which is both rare and refreshing: she dares ask questions and her quest for answers takes her (and the reader) to a journey which ultimatly touches upon the universal questions concerninig not only the complicated, mystifaying relations between East and West, but also, and far more intersting, between Men and Women, and how they see each other from both sides of the geographical, cultural distance.
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