The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture

By Mahdavi, Shireen | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture


Mahdavi, Shireen, The Middle East Journal


The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture, by Faegheh Shirazi. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2001. xvii + 180 pages. Notes to p. 109. Gloss. to p. 204. Bibl. to p. 212. Index to p. 221. Illustrations. $55.

Reviewed by Shireen Mahdavi

The present book investigates the uses, misuses, and the semantics of the veil in modern culture, both Eastern and Western and in Muslim and non-Muslim societies. The book consists of six chapters, in addition to an introduction and a conclusion. The chapters cover the following subjects: Veiled Images in Advertising, Veiled Images in American Erotica, The Cinematics of the Veil, Iranian Politics and the Hijab, Militarizing the Veil and the Literary Dynamics of the Veil. In a sense, the book can be considered in two parts (though it is not divided thus): the first part consists of the graphic and the artistic uses of the veil covering its exploitation in advertisements, erotica, and the cinema; the second part examines the political utilization of the veil.

The most original and well researched part of the book is the discussion of the veil in advertisements and erotica. Shirazi examines the marketing potential of the veil by looking, in America, at television advertisements for IBM computers and Jeep Cherokees amongst a number of other things. These advertisements illustrate the semantic versatility of the veil. The veiled women advertising IBM computers and Cherokee Jeeps promises the male consumer mysterious and exotic pleasures to be had.

In Saudi Arabia the author looks at advertisements in the magazine Sayidaty promoting Swiss watches and sanitary napkins. Here, the color and type of veil transmits different messages. Since menstruating women are considered to be unclean in Islam, Kotex is advertised through a white-- veiled woman, signifying purity. The advertisements for the Concord Swiss Watch are directed at wealthy women. The woman advertising the Swiss watch is portrayed in a series of advertisements always wearing a veil decorated with gold coins and desert roses and sometimes showing a Bedouin on horseback in the background promising romance in the desert.

In the chapter on erotica, Shirazi examines three magazines, Penthouse, Playboy, and Hustler which exploit the veil to sell sex and politics to the male consumer. She also discusses the cartoons in these magazines in which the veil is used to mock Islamic society whilst making a current political statement. …

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