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Cosmetics and gender: Perfumes in medieval legal Muslim sources

HADAS HIRSCH
Oranim Academic College of Education
Oranim, Kiryat, Tivon, 36006, Israel

Abstract

The medieval Muslim legal discussion of perfumes exemplifies gender relations in patriarchal societies based on male’s fear of femininity and the need to control it through gender differentiation of perfumes. A careful examination of this discussion demonstrates a case of a pre-modern traditional society in which a component of outward appearance (smell) serves as a device for preserving the two-sex hierarchal structure and the separation into gendered spheres of smell. The jurists’ double solution was to differentiate between various kinds of perfumes through two categories, i.e. color and smell, anchoring this in gendered spheres of practice.


INTRODUCTION
In pre modern Muslim societies, as in many others, past and present, two of the basic assumptions of a patrilinial - patriarchal (male-dominated) societies were fear of women's sexuality and fertility and the need to control them. This was done through separation of public-male and private-female spheres in adulthood and the construction of gender-specific outward appearance norms (1). In the public-male sphere men were subjected to appropriate appearance rules, but were allowed to display their appearance to both men and women. In the same sphere women were subjected to various restrictions as a means of concealing their bodies and adornments, but were allowed to display them in the female-private sphere to other women, their husbands or masters and male relatives.
According to Muslim jurists gendered differentiation in all aspects of life, including outward appearance, is most important in adolescence as a means of defining gendered hierarchal power relations. The sexuality of Adult women, in particular of those who are unmarried, is perceived by men as dangerous, thus needing to be controlled through the division into spheres and ...




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