The ways with which Fatima Mernissi explains the reason for the power struggle between genders are carefully introduced in “The Harem Within”, a chapter from Dreams of Trespass. Mernissi assumes the identity of a female child, born into an Islamic family, in an attempt to elucidate the root of the gender bias that takes place not only in her family, but almost all Muslim communities; the complexities surrounding male dominance and female oppression, in Islam, with respect to “… qa’ida, or invisible rule[s]” (Mernissi 728) are examined.The author implicitly indicates that men and their conniving ways are to blame for the power inequality, not religion. Although some could argue that the religion and its strict rules create an environment that results in gender bias, it is more likely that men, and the women that agree with the patriarchal society, are the cause of this single gender domination. Instead of pointing fingers at Islam and its traditions, one should accept the belief that, in the words of Nong Darol Mahmada, “.
.. religious teachings can be easily manipulated and for that reason.
.. he oppression of women is not part of the real teaching of Islam” (“Rebel for the Sake of Women” par. 21). Through a detailed study of “The Harem Within”, one can understand exactly how Fatima Mernissi uses insightful comparisons of control and imprisonment, distinct imagery of the possession of women as objects, and clever phrases, revolving around the idea of men writing ruthless rules against women, to draw the conclusion that men have used manipulation to exploit the women in Islamic society.Mernissi’s emphasis on the likening of the condition of women to prisoners because of the strict control imposed by men is signified through her use of shrewd comparisons.
The author immediately uses the description of the setting of the harem and its “…
high walls and… little square chunk of sky… ” (Mernissi 725) to relate to a prisoner’s “..
. [desire for] escape” (Mernissi 726). To further enhance this assessment of women being compared to prisoners, Nong Darol Mahmada, in his article “Rebel for the Sake of Women”, asserts that, just like prisoners, “… egregation and isolation.
.. [are] used to keep women out of the public space” (Mahmada par. 18). Prisoners are kept isolated because their unlawful ways are not an acceptable means of leadership by society’s standards, and similarly, women are kept away from society because “.
.. [men believe] there is no salvation within [a] society led by females” (Mahmada par. 16). The importance of comparison appears again when Mernissi’s persona learns, through conversation with her grandmother, that just as “[t]he city [of Mecca] belong[s] to Allah,… a house belong[s] to a man” (Mernissi 728).
The significance can truly be seen when one analyzes the fact that both the holy city and harem are variations of the same word Haram. By setting up this association of Allah owning Haram and men owning harems, Mernissi evaluates how men have positioned themselves as God, and thus established a method to draw a line between genders leaving “… the powerful on one side, and the powerless on the other” (Jeffery par.
1). This same expression of control is depicted through the observations of Patricia Jeffery, who claims, in her book review, that there is a similarity between “… he Jews’ yellow markers [and] the veil[s] [or hijabs] for Muslim women” (“Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Childhood (Book Review)” par.
1). In the words of Nong Darol Mahmada, the “… hijab is used as a medium of asserting hierarchy between the rulers and the people” (“Rebel for the Sake of Women” par. 18).
The implication that the rulers refer to men and that the people refer to women further lays stress on the segregation and exploitation of females. The insightful comparisons that suggest men are controlling women to live as prisoners are reasonably effective in describing the approach men have pursued to take advantage of women.Not only does the author use comparisons to depict such abuse of women but the way imagery is used is highly effective in indicating how men have objectified women. When the family sets out to embark on a journey to a relative’s farm for a picnic, “..
. the children, divorced aunts, and other [women] [are] put into two big trucks [that were] rented for the occasion” (Mernissi 726). By creating this image of women being stuffed into the back of trucks as cargo items for delivery, Mernissi establishes the power distribution in Islamic society, in which all of it resides with men.As Patricia Jeffery examines the situation, in her book review, “…
the differences between male and female [do] not matter in childhood, but they dominate the lives of adults” (“Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Childhood (Book Review)” par. 1). This assertion of single gender dominance appears once again when Mernissi explains how the “… women on [her grandmother’s] farm belonged to Grandfather Tazi” (Mernissi 728).
This striking image of possession draws attention to the recurring idea of men taking advantage of women.Moreover, the illustration of women being locked up all day within the walls of a confined area alludes to a more psychologically related idea of power. The entrapment of women in a harem by men can arguably be put side by side with man’s necessity to contain women, as he would contain items into a box of valuables, to establish more concrete boundaries of possession.
These boundaries are what are needed by men to display that they do indeed have power over females, just as a child has power over his/her dolls.As Anne Donadey puts it, in her essay “Portrait of a Maghrebian Feminist as a Young Girl: Fatima Mernissi’s Dreams of Trespass”, this exertion of power is exactly how man intends to create a “… male-dominated.
.. hierarchical trend” (Donadey par. 17). The illustration of women as objects at the hands of men is ultimately crucial in the accusation against men and their exploits of women. Men misusing women for personal gains is even more evident through the clever phrases Mernissi uses to implicitly state that men are responsible for creating a religion that works against women.
Mernissi’s clever approach to positioning men as culprits of the crime of gender inequality is displayed through the minor detail of picnics possibly being “… counted as a sin on Judgement Day” (Mernissi 726) because of it having “… no record in the Hadith.
.. ” (Mernissi 726). The fact that men ignore this restriction implied by their religion, but, at the same time, emphasize that the Quran and all its teachings should be followed shows that the men are somehow selectively choosing specific parts of Islam to follow while ignoring others, and therefore, creating the best case scenario for promoting men.This proposition is strongly enforced by Nong Darol Mahmada, who addresses that these “…
defects within [Islam] are not inherent in religious teachings, but [rather] due to the manipulation of the religious teachings by [men] for their own interests” (“Rebel for the Sake of Women” par. 20). This defence of religion puts forward the argument of religion’s innocence versus man’s manipulation of it.
When Mernissi insists that the “…
qa’ida [or invisible rule] is against women… because maybe the rules.
.. re not made by women” (Mernissi 728-29), she implicitly states that men have made the rules and that is why the restrictions are almost all directly aimed towards women. Anne Donadey agrees with this firm allegation that “… gender roles [are] socially constructed rather than.
.. divinely prescribed” (“Portrait of a Maghrebian Feminist as a Young Girl: Fatima Mernissi’s Dreams of Trespass” par. 28). The author’s distinct claim against men can be taken to a further level by questioning the Hadith, or the written deeds of the Prophet Mohammed.Because it is evident that women would have not written the Hadith, due to their lack of education and oppression by men, the only logical conclusion would be that a man must have recorded Mohammed’s sayings and teachings.
After comparing this proposition “…
of the primary source of Islam” (Mernissi 726) with the claim of man’s manipulation of religious teachings for personal gain, it is plausible to say the whole religion is dedicated to promoting male dominance.The misuse of religion and its divine literature against women is crucial to the idea of deceit and exploitation. Confinement of women, control of women as objects, and the manipulation of religion are the main subject matters surrounding Fatima Mernissi’s “The Harem Within”. Through the use of various literary devices in conjunction with her arguments, she succeeds in delivering her message of the mental and physical exploitation done by men.After realizing that it is not the religion’s fault, one cannot help but feel sympathy for the Muslim women, who are forced to live in oppression because of the devious tactics of males. However, there is still hope for this powerless female gender; if they just stop “…
dutifully cooking and washing dishes all the time, they will find a way to change the rules… ” (Mernissi 729) and get rid of the patriarchal order. The day these women of Islam start asking questions will be the day they truly eliminate the likening of the “…
female position to that of [a] dog” (Mahmada par. 15).