Archive for category Sexuality

Towards dealing with (some of?) the aftermath

Sex-related ptsd. Trauma. Abuse. Crazy-making familiar dysfunction, proof-texted by “Islam.” How to deal with it? How not to get overwhelmed by it?

One thing that I sometimes find helpful is running across what could be called counter-discourses—people who are going on their merry way, saying and doing pretty much the opposite of what we were taught and pressured to do and say and think. And, being totally unapologetic about it, in all senses of the word: They aren’t doing that in order to “do dawah” or show the world that all Muslims aren’t like that, or whatever. They’re not preaching. They’re not trying to position themselves in line for a seat at the next White House iftar, or an honorary doctorate from Georgetown, or a hand-out from some rich dude for their institution teaching their patented brand of Traditional (TM) Learning.

No, they’re just living their lives, using their god-given talents, standing up for justice, and telling it like it is. And nobody pointed me in their direction, either. Nobody told me that “I really should read this” or that it will be “good for my imaan” or some such balderdash. Which may be part of why it helps. Because it’s like being surprised by joy, rather than being guilted into taking medicine.

The first counter-discourse I came across recently was another column at Love, Inshallah. Ms Sunshine’s advice in particular, to a man who wrote in asking how to deal with his feelings of jealousy and anger about the “past” of the woman he is involved with.

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We failed you in so many ways

To my kids (and my convert friends’ kids…):

We failed you in so many ways.

Far too many ways to count.

And for that, I am so very sorry.

Two posts ago, I received the following comment, which brought to mind a key way that we failed you:

“…I did wonder, aside from forced marital sex, have you ever discussed, or even experienced the effect of pornography in muslim marriages? I have grown up witness to the horrific effects a husband’s addiction to pornography can have on a marriage, and I feel it links closely to the idea you touch upon in this post about how women are expected to “keep beautiful” and “not let themselves go”, while men are to pursue and enjoy them… This is one excuse I have heard for the husband watching pornography (i.e. he feels the wife has let herself go so no longer is able to please him). It sickens me. I am sure it happens in non-religious marriages too, but the reason I raise it here is because another excuse the husband has given for it is that “it is more halal than outright sleeping with other women”. In my mind, though, I can’t help but think it is almost more haram than actually taking a mistress… At least with a mistress, there is something tangible to deal with.

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What a tangled web of issues…

…it is when a woman wants to claim the right to ownership of her own body.

The comments that I have received since the last post have been overwhelming. Partly because they’re unintentionally triggering. But mostly because this is such a complicated, interconnected mess of issues. It’s like saying “no” touches a wire that threatens to blow out a bunch of circuits. Or threatens to blow you up. Or something.

Men using porn and justifying it “Islamically” because their wife supposedly isn’t attractive enough, and their kids having to witness their mother being treated like that. Questions of marriage law and whether it can be reformed… and if it is even ethically possible to have an “Islamic” marriage… and what the ramifications of this are for those who want to remain within Muslim communities. And the internalized guilt for not following the rules, for refusing to “sell” your vagina in marriage in exchange for nafaqa and a new guardian. And internalized guilt also because, well, doesn’t the Qur’an say to men that “women are your tillage”? How can a woman refuse to be tillage, or in the very least, refuse to pay lip-service to the idea, and still claim to be a Muslim?

And yet another issue that no one has mentioned yet (but give them time…): the implications of all this for the laws and community practices governing acts of worship. (more on that in a minute)

Oh God, in other words.

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Blurred lines, Muslim-style

“She may not deny herself to her husband, for the Qur’an speaks of husband and wife as a comfort to one another.”

[Trigger warning for rape and domestic violence survivors]

When I was a conservative Muslim, I used to read voraciously. Everything that I could get my hands on about Islam, and especially, about what was expected of us as Muslim women. I don’t recall where I read this particular sentence, but I know that I encountered it in some Muslim book or pamphlet-or-other fairly early on.

The road I was on unfortunately didn't have anything like a rumble strip. Looking back, I can see that that was by design. Without the right to say "no," nothing halaal done to you can be violate your boundaries... supposedly. That was what they wanted us to think, anyway.

The road I was on unfortunately didn’t have anything like a rumble strip. Looking back, I can see that that was by design. Without the right to say “no,” nothing halaal done to you can be violate your boundaries… supposedly. That was what they wanted us to think, anyway.

And it puzzled me. Because if husbands and wives are supposed to be a comfort to one another, that sounded to me then like a, well, mutually supportive and fulfilling relationship. So how did this then come to mean a hierarchical relationship, in which wives are obliged to service their husbands’ sexual demands, and aren’t allowed to say “no”? Where is the “comfort” for the wife in that relationship, then?

This sort of sentence ought to have sent me running far, far away in the other direction, of course. Because the red flags were all there, waving right in my face.

But it hadn’t.

And now, here I was, driving along a lonely country road with many miles to go before I would reach my destination, and as if from nowhere, that sentence popped into my head. And with it, the nauseating feeling of guilt… and then the flash-backs came.

Never again, I said aloud. Never again. Never again will I allow myself to be put in any position in which anyone can possibly think that they have the “right” to lay a single finger on me.

The flash-backs receded, as I reaffirmed to myself that I will never, ever be in this position again. Never ever will I have to bargain over access to my own body. Never ever will I fear divine displeasure, or angelic curses, or condemnation on the Day of Judgment because I wanted a decent night’s sleep or couldn’t bear to have this or that part of my body touched tonight. Never again would I be put in the position of being held responsible before God and the community for another person’s sexual “morality.”

And as they receded, I realized that this can’t be right. Why would marital sex leave any woman feeling as though she had finally managed to run trespassers off her land? As though she had finally gotten her body back, and would never, ever let anyone anywhere near its boundaries again? Isn’t that how a… well… a rape victim might be expected to feel?? But this had been marriage!

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Ramadan question #3–What do I do with my body now?

In Islam as I was taught it, following the sunna in the literal, mimetic sense was the goal. Belief wasn’t separate from physical practice.  Sure, our intentions, as well as having sound belief (aqida) were seen as absolutely essential, or one’s actions wouldn’t be accepted or rewarded by God. But it was the physical practice was the focus, really.

And the sunna as it was presented to us was all about the body. Molding our daily physical habits—how we slept, woke up, used the toilet, bathed, ate, drank, dressed, left the house….

But this focus on our bodies worked out differently for men and women and genderqueer folks: Men were to follow the life-example of the Prophet. Women were to follow his example too, except when it came to the (numerous) points when gender affects the law, and then they were to follow the example of the Prophet’s wives and female Companions. Genderqueer people… didn’t have a pattern to follow at all, because their existence wasn’t even acknowledged. The bodiliness of the practice of the sunna effectively erased their very existence, forcing them to lie daily to themselves as they attempted to live a gendered pattern that wasn’t their own.

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Hijab and the objectification of women

Today, I tripped over a modern neo-traditionalist Muslim scholar’s discussion of reasons why hijab is a Good Thing when I was looking for something else.

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Translation: Wearing hijab makes you pious, protected, dignified, noble… and unlike those slutty women who don’t wear it. Which is really the point.

According to him, there are three main benefits to wearing hijab. First, because women supposedly always dress with the idea of whether or not men will find them attractive (even when they are supposedly dressing in order to impress other women…), hijab protects women from being constantly concerned about the male sexual gaze. Second, because wearing hijab trains the wearer to behave in a chaste and self-disciplined way. And third, because it marks gender difference, allowing women to look like women while not also being sexually alluring to men.

This type of pro-hijab rhetoric was all too typical in the conservative community that I used to belong to. Back then, I used to say similar things when I was asked why I wore hijab. While the argument that it marks gender difference always made me uneasy—after all, if gender differences are so “natural,” why do they have to be highlighted through clothing?—I was very happy to go on about hijab as a shield against the male gaze. As a young woman who experienced street harassment (which had sometimes turned quite threatening…), the idea that I could wear what amounted to a magical harass-repellent suit was appealing. (Even though in my experience, hijab didn’t really repel harassment so much as change its tune—instead of receiving frankly sexual comments, I routinely got told to “go back to where you came from” and worse.)

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Awesome

Today, I tripped across a Muslim woman’s letter, asking for advice on how to deal with the fact that her pious, Muslim husband had cheated on her.

Don’t read it, every instinct told me. Don’t read it. It will only trigger you.

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Because I thought that I knew what the answer will be. Some slight bits of sympathy will be tossed this woman’s way by the advice-givers (so as not to seem too harsh)… and then the words of blame would inevitably follow: Hints, perhaps tactfully delivered, that she probably hadn’t been doing her wifely duty “properly.”

That she needed to try harder to dress up for him at home, to cook nice food for him, to keep the house even tidier and the kids even better behaved… and that she needed to make sure that she never, ever denied him sexual access within the limits of Islamic law.

That she needed to look critically at herself in the mirror: Maybe she needed to lose weight? Get her hair done? Join a sisters’ exercise class and tone those flabby arms? Do more crunches and reign in those sagging stomach muscles? Or that maybe the problem was more about her character: She needed to be more feminine, more content, more grateful for everything he does for her, and never let a complaining word cross her lips in her husband’s presence.

Or even, that she needed to just accept that her husband was the sort of man who could not be content with just one woman, so she needed to encourage him to marry another wife rather than committing zina.

I braced myself for some or all of that… and didn’t find it.

I was astounded that the advice given to the woman was actually reasonable and compassionate.

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