The western woman’s harem

Gender and a way the society is structured define the attitude of a given community towards a place of women and men in family. Various writers have discussed the subject matter providing differing and often opposite viewpoints regarding societal gendering of roles and expectations. In her excerpt Size 6: The Western Women's Harem, Fatema Mernissi offers an insight into the way the western world has epitomized women beauty, comparing it to the eastern harem (Mernissi 274). In Muslim countries, only women or children are restricted from entering public space. Eastern and Western societies have divergent indulgent of ideal body size or image. The understanding of body image in the western world is different from Eastern societies, which creates a misperception of between the two societies about what is an ideal body size for women.

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The Conflicting Perception of Body Image: The Western Harem

Fatema Mernissi depicts the western women as people who follow the rules dictated by men, particularly regarding femininity. A situation where she cannot buy a skirt of her size in an ordinary American store is compared to the Eastern attitude towards female role in the society. In essence, female behavior is largely determined by male expectations (Mernissi 282). The author portrays Western women as being even more confined in a harem by the societal standards rather than their own desires. Mernissi cogitates that size six is “the Western harem”, a creation that is even more imposing and repressive than the use of the veil in the Muslim societies. Women are preoccupied with the need to have a slender and attractive figure that will please men. Old age and vivid maturity are considered a devaluation, and thus, they create many problems for western women feeling themselves unsuitable for their social environment. However, she asserts that conforming to various rules of “youthful beauty” makes women victims of the Western harem.

The Mernissi’s assertion about western women harem influences my understanding of an ideal female from the western world. She is required to be beautiful, having well-shaped figure, and wearing clothes of size six. However, her theory of the perfect model of western beauty is affected by a culture shock compromising her assertions. Thus, beauty is an indispensable aspect of women as the society expects them to be attractive and “normal” that is meeting the standards. Mernissi draws the parallel between harems and the West perception of female beauty through her narration about the experience she had when she went shopping in New York. She was surprised to realize that the United States, unlike Morocco, her big body was an issue (Mernissi 274). Therefore, the author presents a clash of views on body image between the West and Muslim worlds.

Moreover, Mermissi considers the American culture to be oppressive and demeaning regarding women. She alludes to the social expectation that women ought to keep a thin body in order to please men as a degrading element of the western culture. However, to the author’s dismay, the western women behave as if there is nothing wrong with this socially constructed degradation. Mermissi understanding of Western body image is influenced by her cultural background, which is a biased eastern point of view. Her assertions cannot be substantiated even because the Muslim countries perceive big body size as ideal form women. For instance, a woman who gains considerable body weight is believed to be exemplary and attractive, opposing to any beliefs of the western cultures about an ideal body size. Although, thin bodies are preferred by men in the West, it should not be a confine for women.

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Mernissi’s argument regarding the vital role of western men power in influencing femininity, particularly the standards of women’s body, is based on misperception. Her view appears to be stereotypical as the issue of gender socialization is not only influenced by one factor but numerous. Thus, men are also affected by the same factors as women. For example, media plays a significant role in imposing an ideal body image and gender socialization process (Hoffman, Hattie, and Borders 67-68). Media glorification of slim bodies is the main driving force of many western women trying to meet the standards. Although, media emphasize size six, a number of slender females does not amount to women harem (Mernissi 274).

According to Roberts and Muta (16), the perception of thin body as ideally beautiful has no relation to males control over women but rather an inherent characteristic of humanity and media influence. Consequently, it contradicts to Mernissi’s argument that male domination influences women physicality. She wrongly considers the size six sensation as an example of the Western harem. Thin bodies might be associated with beauty, but it does not mean to be a confine to women alone. Conversely, slim bodies are encouraged for health reasons, which influence some people to start exercising regularly to keep fit.

In each society, women beauty is vividly emphasized whether due to the use of ornaments, hairstyle, or body weight. However, this does not qualify for a harem due to the varying application of the concept in different societies. Furthermore, Mernissi’s observation of the western men control over the conception of an ideal western gorgeousness is wrong. She simply uses her subjective Muslim viewpoint to criticize western women preferences for an ideal body size to justify the Muslim men domination of women and the use of veils (Mernissi 274). Besides, the western social media mostly promote the glorification of the thin body as a necessity to keep a fit, and other issues rather than men domination.

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Surprisingly, Mernissi does not consider it to be a problem with men in her home country approving her big hips as a sign of beauty. However, she feels uncomfortable towards fellow women in the West telling her that size four and six are fashionable. She claims that in Morocco, male gratifying comments about her huge hips made her believe that the whole world would share their view (Mernissi 274). In essence, her sustenance of the big body size is completely related to the Moroccan community views. Each society has its own preferences regarding female beauty. It is doubtful that she would feel uncomfortable if it was the western man looking at the huge hips of a woman and approving them. Mernissi expresses dislike for the western culture because it is incongruent with hers. Hence, her comparison the size six to the Western harem based on the influence of male perception of a woman.


The topic of body image is understood differently in the western and eastern societies, developing opposite views regarding the ideal image of women. Mernissi’s views regarding size six are flawed in the sense that thin body does not qualify as the harem in the West. Men are not the driving force of women physicality in the western societies. There are a number of other factors which also affect males. It is apparent that women beauty and societal expectations are central issues in the modern world. However, Mernissi does not share this opinion. Each society has a different understanding of beauty, but it does not pass for the Harem in the western society.

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