In a previous blog I examined clothes fetishism and in doing that research, I soon realized that some people’s fetishistic desires are very specific when it comes to clothing (e.g., particular types of uniform or particular types of footwear). One of the more unusual clothing fetishes is ‘veil fetishism’. From the online articles that I have come across, veil fetishism appears to be an almost exclusively male fetish in which the individuals have a fetishistic sexual desire for women wearing veils over their faces (although paradoxically, most women who wear veils for religious reasons do so to stop others lusting after them). A few online articles claim this has lead to tension among online communities where Muslims and veil fetishists share the same virtual space (although I’ve not come across this myself – and I did go looking for it!).
A number of online articles claim that one of the main reasons that veils have permeated into Western consciousness is the increase in the number of media images of veiled women in the news following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the US ‘War on terrorism’. However, as far as I am aware, there is no academic research on veil fetishism although there is much speculation as to the motivational roots including an article on Wipipedia that says it may be a result of “mystery, bondage and the preservation of virginity” and that such fetishists “may be interested in niqabs, burkas and harem-style veils” while “some are attracted to women who wear all-covering Muslim-style veils, while others are attracted to women wearing translucent veils”. A Nation Master online article develops some of these ideas and claims that:
“Control may be behind veil fetishism…Arab and other Muslim women are often seen in the Western world as being veiled against their will; they are only doing it for religious or social reasons (though many contend otherwise). Such control issues may be seen in other fetishes and paraphilias, such as bondage fetishism”.
This is partly confirmed by Professor Mohja Kahf in his 1999 book Western Representations of the Muslim Woman that noted:
“Veiled, secluded, submissive, oppressed – the ‘odalisque’ image has held sway over Western representations of Muslim women since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Yet during medieval and Renaissance times, European writers portrayed Muslim women in exactly the opposite way, as forceful queens of wanton and intimidating sexuality”
A short online article on the Venus O’Hara website about veil fetishes also makes some bold claims:
“Veil fetishists understand and enjoy the significance of veils and the women who wear them, the effect that this piece of material can have on them is phenomenal. By covering, disguising and obscuring the female face, a sense of importance, power and the thrill of an ancient taboo is brought into focus for them. If the features of the woman can only be guessed at through the veil, the psychological need of a spectators mind to discover them becomes overwhelming. The fantasy of unveiling then becomes the idealised intimate act-not unlike the imagined removal of the clothes of someone desired but out of reach. If the veil remains in place then that understanding is postponed and the pleasure of erotic anticipation is preserved…Women may become sexually aroused by veiling themselves as well. They may feel protected, or experience an enjoyment that is similar to women with more explicit bondage fantasies”.
Despite all this pop psychology insight, I couldn’t find a single piece of evidence (empirical or otherwise) to support any of the speculations made by academics or non-academics. It was also claimed in a couple of the articles that I read that veil fetishists are not from a particular religion and can comprise both Muslims and non-Muslims. In a Wikiquote article on the ‘Hijab’, the British writer Shabbir Akhtar was quoted as saying that the Hijab is creating “a truly erotic culture in which one dispenses with the need for the artificial excitement that pornography provides”.
Of course, veiled woman and sexual lust have been a staple of films and television shows for decades but the situations in which women typically wore veils were often sexually provocative (such as the Dance of the Seven Veils, or the heroines in the Italian films of director Tinto Brass who often wear veils and showcase them as fetishistic objects). An article in Seven Oaks (“a magazine of politics, culture and resistance”) by Rebecca Manski interviewed Middle Eastern Studies scholar Elizabeth Warnock Fernea who was quoted as saying:
“Because ‘western’ men had no access to the female sphere in Middle Eastern society, they were inclined to exoticize or devalue it. Generally the perception of the Middle Eastern woman involved a secluded odalisque – a lazy, sexy lady in a harem veiled from all men but her husband”.
An online essay on the Venus O’Hara website makes some further interesting observations:
“Most people imagine that veils are a way of hiding erotic potentials and alluring features but I know, after making this set, that veils can be ultimate fetish…Sometimes veils would have been used, as an alternative to a mask, as a simple method of hiding the identity of a woman who was traveling to meet a lover, or doing anything she didn’t want other people to find out about…In Judaism, Christianity and Islam the concept of covering the head is or was associated with propriety…An occasion on which a Western woman is likely to wear a veil is on her wedding day, if she follows the traditions of a white wedding. Brides used to wear their hair flowing down their back at their wedding to symbolise their virginity, now the white diaphanous veil is often said to represent this. The lifting of the veil was often a part of ancient wedding ritual, symbolising the groom taking possession of the wife, either as lover or as property, or the revelation of the bride by her parents to the groom for his approval. In ancient Judaism the lifting of the veil took place just prior to the consummation of the marriage in sexual union. The uncovering or unveiling that takes place in the marriage ceremony is a symbol of what will take place in the marriage bed. Just as the two become one through their words spoken in wedding vows, so these words are a sign of the physical oneness that they will consummate later on. The lifting of the veil is a symbol and an anticipation of this”
Additionally, a 2003 book by Faegheh Shirazi (The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture) highlights that:
“The veil, the garment known in Islamic cultures as the hijab, holds within its folds a semantic versatility that goes far beyond current clichés and homogenous representations. Whether seen as erotic or romantic, a symbol of oppression or a sign of piety, modesty, or purity, the veil carries thousands of years of religious, sexual, social, and political significance”.
Shirazi uses examples from both the East and West (including American erotica) and argues that the veil has become a ubiquitous titillating marketing tool for diverse enterprises, from pornographic magazines like Penthouse and Playboy to advertising companies. She argued that the perceptions of the veil change both with the cultural context of its use as well as over time. Obviously ‘veil fetishism’ has been little studied scientifically (and maybe it never will). However, the phenomenon clearly exists although the prevalence of such behaviour may be very rare (although the incidence may well be on the increase given the number of dedicated websites to such practices are growing).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Kahf, M. (1999). Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque. Texas: University of Texas Press.
Manski, R. (2005). Lifting the veil between women East and West. Seven Oaks, September 20. Located at: http://www.sevenoaksmag.com/features/79_feat1.html
Nation Master (2008). Veil fetishism. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Veil-fetishism
Shirazi, F. (2003). The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture. Florida: University of Florida Press
Steele, V, (1996), Fetish, Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tales Of The Veils (2012). The lure of the veil: A History and Examination of the practice and pleasures of veiling. September 30. Located at: http://www.talesoftheveils.info/lure/lure.html
Venus O’Hara (2010). Veil fetish. November 20. Located at: http://venusohara.org/veil-fetish.html
Venus O’Hara (2012). Veil fetish. Located at: http://venusohara.org/c/fetish-glossary/veil-fetish-fetish-glossary
Wipipedia (2012). Veil fetishism. Located at: http://www.londonfetishscene.com/wipi/index.php/Veil_fetishism