Mernissi, Fatema. Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems. 2001. Washington Square Press, USA.

Mernissi bases this book on a modern interpretation and evaluation of the famous fables spun by a woman to ensure her survival; stories considered so subversive because of her success in not only surviving, but empowering her to change the mind of her absolute ruler.

Thus the author believes that, “dialogue-nurturing is considered magic, because it fuels power with beauty.” A heady combination that has delighted listeners and readers in many cultures for years, so her comparison of the harem of spatial confinement, a place she returns to in much of her writing, with the harem imposed on western women is both metaphorical and literal.

In this personal and vivid account she weaves together with humour and inight the constraints that modern women in her culture and ours are bound by. She sees our harem as one not of space, but time and appearance. We in the west are trapped in a male-dominated society that demands we be thin to the point of child like, beautiful and forever youthful. If that seems extreme I recommend the August 12, 2005 issue of The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) about the obsession with cosmetic plastic surgery in the USA “a story from Los Angeles about designer vaginas.

Throughout the book, Mernissi writes about western male artists and writers to conclude that, ”Being frozen into the passive position of an object whose very existence depends on the eye of the beholder turns the educated modern western woman into a harem slave.”

Filed under Book Reviews, Fatema Mernissi