Fashions and Fundamentalisms in Fin-De-Siecle Yemen: Chador Barbie and Islamic Socks

Abstract

This article examines the complex relationships between changing forms of commodity production and consumption and changing styles of religiosity in Zabid, the Republic of Yemen. I examine a couple of prominent logics of veiling in Fin-de-Siècle Yemen: Some reformist women add "Islamic socks" and gloves to their already fully modest garb, while other women don chadors that decorate these garments with embroidery, making them into items of fashionable consumption and adornment. Other commodities, like a Chador Barbie that I found in Yemen's suq, are used to think through changing practices of consumption, adornment, and women's sociability in Zabid.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of essays that examine how women have helped configure, and have been reconfigured by, contemporary processes. See, for example, Aradhana Sharma's "Crossbreeding Institutions, Breeding Struggle: Women's Empowerment, Neoliberal Governmentality, and State (Re)Formation in India" (2006) and Priti Ramamurthy's "Material Consumers, Fabricating Subjects: Perplexity, Global Connectivity Discourses, and Transnational Feminist Research" (2003).

Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of essays on the dynamics of Islam. See Naveeda Khan's "Of Children and Jinn: An Inquiry into an Unexpected Friendship during Uncertain Times" (2006); Arzoo Osanloo's "The Measure of Mercy: Islamic Justice, Sovereign Power, and Human Rights in Iran" (2006); Öykü Potuo─člu-Cook's "Beyond the Glitter: Belly Dance and Neoliberal Gentrification in Istanbul" (2006); Gregory Starrett's "Violence and the Rhetoric of Images" (2003); Charles Hirschkind's "Civic Virtue and Religious Reason: An Islamic Counterpublic" (2001); and Michael Fischer and Mehdi Abedi's "Bombay Talkies, the Word and the World: Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses" (1990).

Like Meneley's 2007 essay, Saba Mahmood's 2001 "Feminist Theory, Embodiment and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival" examines how changes in Islam intersect with changes in women's practice and sociality.

About the Author

Anne Meneley is an associate professor at Trent University in Ontario.

Editorial Overview

How have styles of religiosity among Islamic women shifted in recent years, and how are shifts in styles of religiosity connected to changing forms of commodity production and consumption? Anne Meneley takes up these questions in "Fashions and Fundamentalisms in Fin-de-Siecle Yemen: Chador Barbie and Islamic Socks," in the May 2007 issue of Cultural Anthropology. Meneley conducted research for the essay during a return trip to Yemen in 1999. Meneley's earlier research, based in the Yemeni town of Zabid, examined how women's visiting patterns, hospitality and dress were means of securing status and honor. Her book, Tournaments of Value: Sociability and Hierarchy in a Yemeni Town, is widely regarded as a superb teaching text.

Meneley's recent essay also examines modes of sociability and display, focusing particularly on the changes that have accompanied the development of the reformist Islah movement. Islahis, Meneley argues, have radically reconfigured the realms women once reserved for themselves. "The challenge the Islahis pose is not so much to the male, outside public sphere of the republican state, but to the women's public sphere and the ways in which honor and Muslim virtue are created through accepting and offering generous hospitality," Meneley writes.

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