By: Alexandra Kinias —
Female bodies are the symbol of fertility and sexuality; a manifestation of love and loathe. They are worshiped, cursed, desired and feared. They are the source of pleasures and tragedies. In the medieval times, tribal wars started to capture and enslave women. The renaissance artists painted women in nudity, in rebellion to the influence of the church that covered them up. They inspire poets to write, plastic surgeons sculpt them to stay young and sexy, fashion designers compete to dress them up, exercise industries collect fortunes shaping and slimming them, prostitutes make a living selling them and the Taliban want to hide them.
And all along it had been cherchez la femme when an irrational act or behavior by a man needed to be explained. Since Alexander Dumas first introduced this phrase in his novel The Mohicans of Paris in 1854, it had been used to incite that women are the root cause of problems, which obviously makes men the victim of their weakness towards women’s bodies, of course. After all wasn’t it Eve’s fault for the expulsion of the human race from heaven after she tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit.
And women have always been the victims of their bodies in the endless ongoing paradox between covering and uncovering them. Is it the obsession with a woman’s body or the fear of its power over men that drive them to control it by controlling women? This obsession or the fear of their spell dates back to ancient times. Promiscuity has been recorded in ancient civilizations. The tablets left by the Assyrians in Mesopotamia, now exhibited in the London Museum, clearly defined that the veil of women was instituted to distinguish between free honorable women from slaves, concubines and prostitutes. Only respectable women were forced to wear the veil while others went out with their heads uncovered. Thus veil became an exclusive symbol of respect and a social status; a privilege that slaves, prostitutes and concubines were denied off. And women who broke the veil code were severely punished.
Prostitution is known to be the oldest profession in history, dating back in ancient civilizations and the practice of exchanging sexual services for money is carried on until the present. And with the introduction of human trafficking, it is becoming a global multi-billion dollar thriving business.
The harem in the courts of the Sultans included both slaves and concubines. They may not have chosen this life, yet they still exchanged sexual favors for a lavish living. These women learned at a young age that their body is their investment and it could be used to guarantee them a better status, even as slaves. In Baghdad’s slave markets, the value of a slave could reach tens of thousands of Dinars. Slave trading was a thriving business and the art of polishing these women was developed to increase their value. Expensive slaves were those who were able to sing, dance and entertain. And to increase the value of their investment, slave masters sent these girls to special homes where they were trained by experienced older slaves.
In addition to being groomed, and learned to sing, dance, and to play musical instruments, they were also taught poetry, embroidery, languages, grammar, sciences, and of course the art of seduction. Female slaves were also able to discuss politics, sciences and arts. Merchants built what was known then as singing houses, similar to modern day’s brothels. There was a lot of competition between these houses to attract wealthy customers who came to enjoy the singing and dancing performed by the women, or to buy them. Shirahzad’s tales that were born at that time and were recorded in the 1001 Nights were lessons to women in the art of manipulation and seduction.
The similarities between the singing houses in the lands of the Caliphates and the Geisha Houses in Japan are striking. Until WWII, being a Geisha was a full time occupation. These girls were also trained by older Geishas to become skilled performers, singers, flirtatious and conversationalists.
On the shores of the Bosphorus, inside the walls of Topkapi Palace in Constantinople, known today as Istanbul, hundreds of beautiful women lived in secluded extravaganza. These concubines and slaves of the Imperial Harem were reputed to be among the most beautiful women in the Ottoman Empire. They were dressed in lavishly designed silk kaftans and adorned with precious jewels. Their only contact to the outside world was the 180 degrees view from the terraces of the palace. These young beautiful girls were given to the Sultan as gifts, bought from slave markets or sold by their impoverished parents. Many families encouraged their daughters to enter concubinage through slavery, as that promised a life of luxury and comfort. They learned to dance, recite poetry, play musical instruments, and master the erotic arts of seduction, and only the most gifted ones were presented to the Sultan as his personal maids-in-waiting.
One can only imagine the jealousy, envy, scheming, competition, conspiracies’ planning and plotting between the women, that took place during their long restless and mindless days behind the closed doors of the golden cage, with the sole purpose to concrete their favorability to their master. Their beauty and sexuality dictated the course of their lives.
It is quite intriguing how laws, cultures, traditions, religions, and folk stories that were created and weaved thousands of years ago are still influencing and shaping the lives of many women today who are living in different corners of the world. Female bodies and women’s chastity, virtue, virginity, sexuality, biological needs, and personal decisions as abortions or the use of contraceptives, are still controlled by and dictated to them by men.
It is very important to understand that while female bodies are orbiting the galaxies of men’s imaginations, laws are made by man to favor man–over women obviously–with the purpose of control by men and submission by women. And these laws are always marinated in divinity to ensure they are not to be challenged nor refuted.
To be continued ……