One thing I’d always hoped to witness, since I started to study sexuality seriously, was the birth of a new fetish. To me, that would like seeing a new species evolve right before your eyes.
I have yet to be the first to discover a fetish, but I’m always on the lookout for new ones. The closest I’ve come is coming across the web site, Tales of the Veils. This site is devoted to stories and images of veiled women. This is not about the cute little diaphanous veils worn by women in harem fantasies. This is about heavy, full-body covering garments worn by Muslim women living in strict purdah. I believe, though this is the kind of thing which can’t be proven, that veil fetishism has grown in the past few years. The site quotes from a Wikipedia article which seems to have disappeared:
The attacks of September 11, 2001, the War on Terrorism, the War in Iraq, and other Middle Eastern related news topics have led to the rise of photographs of veiled women appearing in the news. The rising interest in Arabic and Islamic cultures may lead to veil fetishism becoming more popular. One of the main reasons Muslim women wear veils is to avoid being lusted after, which makes veil fetishism paradoxical to them.
Many harem women in sexual fantasies portrayed in movies and on television wear veils. Female servants often appear veiled fanning their masters. Harem women exemplify being veiled for the preservation of virginity and mystery.
In the 1999 movie The Mummy and the 2004 movie Hidalgo, actresses flirt with men while veiled. In the 1992 movie Aladdin, three women appear wearing only their colorful underwear and translucent veils. It is not uncommon for women to appear veiled on Halloween in genie or harem costumes. Christina Aguilera appeared veiled as a genie at a promotion for her song “Genie in a Bottle.” Lil Kim wore the top of a burka for a picture. An actress will be veiled in a scene from Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. The model Feiticeira, who has appeared in Brazilian edition of Playboy twice, is almost always wearing a veil.
Many who have veil fetishes also have bondage fetishes. Women who veil are restricted. 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). Brian Mitchell forced Elizabeth Smart to wear a veil during her captivity. While the reason was to conceal her identity, he may have also had a veil fetish. Women may become sexually aroused by veiling themselves. They may feel protected, or feel similar enjoyment as women with bondage fetishes.
The Veils site has plenty of fiction about hyper-restrictive and hyper-concealing clothing. One story, “Shami’s New Life”, underlines the paradox of how a social practice, which is supposed to keep men from lusting after women from afar, actually makes some of them lust even more.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
Shami knew immediately. What he held in his hand was completely white, but she recognised the shape and material. “Oh no, please!” she said. “Not a rubber bodysuit like my uncle used to make me wear!”
“Oh no, Shami babe, this is not like your uncle made you wear, not at all. He was lenient. He had no imagination, no creativity. This one is far better. Look! It covers all you body, not only up to your eyes but over them. All your head in fact. Of course, your beautiful long hair shall have to be shaved off for you to wear it, but that is alas, an unfortunate necessity. And unlike your uncle’s pathetic contraption, (which I designed, by the by), this one has a beautiful boned and laced neck that shall keep you erect and noble at all times, and an even finer laced and boned waist so you can be squeezed like a white memsahib in her corset. And here, at the bottom you see, built in shoes, with fifteen centimetre heels of course, and here, two little extras for my personal pleasure; a hole for your love cavern and a hole for your arse so I may spear you wherever and whenever I wish…”
“No! No! No!”
“…not that they’ll be empty at all other times of course. Look at these rather fine – and rather large – dildos that I’ve acquired. Oh my dear Shami, you are going to be such a picture in all this, and I’ve got lots of different stuff for you to wear over the top of it too – Afghani burqas, Paktoon burqas, Turkish khimars, Iranian chadors, rubands, boushiyahs – not that you’ll ever see much of them of course, these two tiny pinholes in the rubber hood don’t admit a lot of light…”
“Please Faisal, no, no not that!” Floods of tears streamed down our heroine’s face as she begun to realise that there was no light at the end of this tunnel. “Why, Faisal, why? I didn’t think that you were religious!”
“Oh, I’m not, not at all. Can’t abide religion, most dull indeed.”
“Then why make me live in purdah? Only religious men expect their wives to live in purdah.”
“Oh no Shami baby, you’re wrong there, very wrong indeed. There are two reasons why one should restrict and control a wife. One is very virtuous and holy indeed. The other however is more inspired by Shaitan, not Allah. Some men like to see suffering, to force unwilling girls into bondage, to rob them of their dignity and freedoms and turn them into items of bondage, lovetoys as it were. Some men are very sick, sick like that.
And I’m afraid my dear, that you’ve just married one of them…”
That’s what’s weird about sex: every effort to repress and control it has a way of being turned into an erotic stimulus.
There’s also a strong element of cultural crossdressing in veil fetishism. Take Latex Lady, for instance.
According to her blog (which I’m going to take at face value), Latex Lady has lived for the past two years in a kind of latex purdah. Her skin has felt nothing but latex, water and skin lotion. She hasn’t seen her own face without at least a transparent layer of latex in that time. When she goes outdoors with her husband (also a latex fetishist), she wears a latex burqa, which completely covers her, plus corsets, usually severe bondage and a gag. People usually assume she is a Muslim women living in purdah, and she does nothing to correct them. She even does things like walk behind her husband, stand behind him while he sits and eats at restaurants and has become “very well accustomed to only one meal a day…I would not miss lunch.”
The delight in fooling the world is a classic trait of transvestism, but there’s also the question of mimicking such an extreme form of the restrictions of purdah. Such a regime, affecting every aspect of daily routine and turning the simplest activities into challenges, turns one’s entire life into a liminoid ritual. The kind of discipline which used to be found in religious orders, such as nun’s vows, become in modern Western society a form of recreation. As Arthur Munby wrote of Hannah Cullwick:
…she was to become, and she has become, a noble and gentle women, not only without the aid of technical helps, but in spite of ignorance and lowly isolation, and by means of that very toil and servile labour which is supposed to make a woman contemptible and vulgar. Physical degradation was to be the channel, and even the source of spiritual beauty. It has often been so, among religious women of old: but, with an English maid servant, how would it be?
Diary of Arthur Munby, 26 May 1863
This mentality, the peverse, kinky way of looking at the world, makes potentially anything a fetish. Take the art on the cover of the paperback edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel of a hyper-patriarchal future with rigorous sumptuary laws.
This image was doubtless selected to illustrate the idea that the subjection of women (muteness) is linked to ideals of beauty and consumerism (the jeweled gold chains fastening her lips together). However, a person involved in the kink, fetish or body modification subcultures would look at that image and think, “Hey, what a cool idea! I wonder how that would feel?” It’s a different way of looking at the world.
Somewhere out there, I’m positive, at least one woman has had masturbatory fantasies based on Atwood’s book. That does not undermine the feminist theme of the book. Remember, first lesson of postmodernism: the text never has only one meaning.
Does this mean that women are somehow programmed by a patriarchal society to eroticize their own oppression, like the women conditioned to be fixated on their fur collars in Truffaut’s film of Farenheit 451? Probably not, but that’s another blog posting.
Here’s irony for you. MuchMusic is playing Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” as I type this.
Addendum (Dec 10, 2012): Tales of the Veils has posted a story by Bo Emp that is a version of The Handmaid’s Tale, with more veiling.
Links updated Aug 20, 2020