I found Douglas’s piece exceptionally illuminating and appealing, although admittedly, somewhat radical. While reading the article, I could not help but consider how most Americans identifying as Christian would react to some of Douglas’s bold assertions (i.e., “it is not homosexuality but homophobia that is sinful”). However, I feel that these kind progressive, resolute attitudes about contentious issues like sexuality and religion are essential for change, even though I assume many are intensely critical and surely insulted by her claims. Specifically, I found Douglas’s idea that sexuality is fundamental to a closer relationship with God and humanity, as I feel that it is an ultimate expression of love and an important aspect of bodily experience, as it has unifying and empathizing possibilities.
However, al-Shaykh’s article, which frames its narrative around her experience in a Moroccan bath, was especially enjoyable for me to read, as my father is from Morocco, and I have traveled there with my family several times. Although I have only vague memories of going with my aunts to the type of public baths she discusses —known as hammams—they are indeed a central part of Moroccan culture, especially for older people; in fact, my father almost exclusively showers at his gym and visits its sauna daily, which I can’t help but think is a sort of cross-cultural compensation for his missing hammams.
Specifically concerning the issue of women’s bodies, I wholly agree with al-Shaykh’s assessment of Arab beauty ideals and how Moroccan women experience their bodies. Indeed, I’ve always found the disjunction between modern Western and Arab standards of feminine beauty and body ideals shocking and almost antithetical. When talking about her experiences living in Morocco, my mother often relays how as a pale, curvaceous woman with straight, thin, dark hair, she always considered herself unattractive by most men’s standards in the States. However, almost ironically, in Morocco, she was regarded as almost a model of ideal beauty. I think my mother’s experiences demonstrate not only that standards of beauty are culturally relative, and thus, socially and culturally constructed and maintained, but also that the idea that feminine attractiveness is near-universally defined by men and maintained by the “male gaze.” That is, although conceptions of beauty may differ across cultures, women’s compulsion to comply with these standards are essentially the effect of the patriarchal “male gaze.”
Although I love traveling to Morocco and am proud of my Arab heritage, I must admit, Morocco, although seemingly more progressive than some Arab countries is a hostile place for women, as men’s verbal harassment and public judgment of women and their bodies is a customary practice. However, I’ve always felt that Moroccan women have a sense of solidarity and collectivity that is unmatched in the States—perhaps partly in response to this oppression—and that artifacts of this community are evident in al-Shaykh’s description of the public bath.