Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Asexual Women of Afghanistan?

Last month, Zeynab commented on the portrayal of Muslim women in the Vagina Monologues, noting that there are no portrayals of positive sexual experiences by Muslim women. I attended a performance of the Vagina Monologues for the first time last week and noticed her observations. Indeed Muslim women were lacking from the moaning sketch. In “My Vagina Was My Village,” a Bosnian woman in a headscarf described the horrors of rape. But there was another sketch that addressed Muslim women, or at least women in a Muslim country. It stood out, because not only did it not portray sexuality positively, it didn’t portray it at all — unlike all the other sketches.

“Under the Burqa” was inspired by writer Eve Ensler’s visit to Afghanistan, where she saw “what misogyny would look like if it were allowed to totally fulfill itself.” I agree that the Taliban’s treatment of women is absolutely deplorable, inhumane, and wrong. But while the Vagina Monologues is about female empowerment, it explores this issue through sexuality. After all, it’s the Vagina Monologues, not the Female Monologues. All of the other sketches in the performances were about women’s experiences with, relationship to, or attitudes about their vagina. “Under the Burqa,” however, describes the dehumanization of women under Taliban rule. Not once is sexuality mentioned. (Nor was it, for that matter, a monologue.)

Of course, it is possible to relate misogyny to female sexuality specifically. Female genital mutilation (FGM) was mentioned briefly in an interstitial, but not expanded upon. It would be the perfect example of when misogyny meets vaginas. But while FGM didn’t merit a full sketch, “Under the Burqa,” with not one mention of sexuality or vaginas, did.

This struck me as a little odd.