December 1, 2007

"Don’t worry, O blessed ladies, no woman is ugly to her own husband; she was pleasing enough when she was chosen."

So wrote Tertullian in “Women, Wear a Veil," quoted in Umberto Eco's new book "On Ugliness." There is logic to the veil scheme: Men will be satisfied with their wives as long as they have no other women to compare them to, and women should accept the suppression so that each one can maintain her grip on her husband. It requires everyone to live a life of visual deprivation, so that no one sees anything that might make him want what he does not have. You are never challenged to resist temptations, and to make it easy to avoid sexual pleasures, you have to give up all the visual pleasures that could easily be yours.

24 comments:

George said...

Except that in veiled countries, men can typically take more than one wife (if they believe they can treat each one equally), and veiled women use lots and lots of eye makeup....to make themselves more attractive.

There's also nothing like just a wisp of hair flitting out from under the headgear....always drives men wild...

Ron said...

Tertullian -- the anti-Hefner.

downtownlad said...

The veil is heternormative.

rhhardin said...

You can get veils in gang colors for school.

ricpic said...

Monogamy is still the best, though, of course, imperfect solution to the problem of ugly/superfluous males and females.

Polygamy is very hard on non-Alpha males but it's also hard on ugly women, since Alphas don't want them and Betas in polygamous societies are such outcasts that in many instances they're in no position financially to marry anyone. Since Arabs are polygamous the veil doesn't help Arab female uglies all that much.

All pure speculation on my part, so if you want, feel free to write the above off as BS.

downtownlad said...

Monogamy is still the best

BORING

jimbino said...

Nullogamy beats Monogamy every time.

ricpic said...

I can think of a lot of sexual arrangements that are a lot worse than boring.

former law student said...

We were all used to this at one time; nuns' traditional habits that revealed only the face and hands were based on medieval dress, supposedly

TMink said...

"I can think of a lot of sexual arrangements that are a lot worse than boring."

Like death inducing? Crazy making? Lifetime disease giving?

We agree Ricpic.

Trey

George said...

Fyi, ladies...

It is haram [forbidden] to pluck the eyebrows, but using eyebrow pencils and eye shadow are halal [okay] as long as non-mahrem [close relatives] men don't see it. Of course, it is haram to wear makeup in front of men who are not your mahrems.

That Maybelline stuff can get you flogged in some countries.

PatCA said...

I guess that's why internet porn is so popular in Saudi ARabia.

Paddy O. said...

How great it is to open a blog and see a quote from Tertullian. The man was severe but had a great wit and a biting sarcasm.

Also good is his long treatise against Carthaginian men wearing togas, because it's selling out culturally.

"Men of Carthage, ever princes of Africa, ennobled by ancient memories, blest with modern felicities, I rejoice that times are so prosperous with you that you have leisure to spend and pleasure to find in criticising dress. These are the "piping times of peace" and plenty. Blessings rain from the empire and from the sky."

Very opinionated, strict and yet anti-authority at times, and quite learned, he would have made a great blogger.

Paddy O. said...

Being more interested I tried to find this quote. Eco distorts the quote I think, and the title.

It's from Tertullian's On Modesty not what Eco titled "Women, wear a veil."

Here's the original passage, in the traditional translation:

"As if I were speaking to Gentiles, addressing you with a Gentile precept, and common to all, I would say, "You are bound to please your husbands only." But you will please them in proportion as you take no care to please others. Be without carefulness, blessed sister: no wife is "ugly" to her own husband.

She "pleased" him enough when she was selected by him as his wife; whether commended by form or by character. Let none of you think that, if she abstain from the care of her person, she will incur the hatred and aversion of husbands.

Every husband is the exactor of chastity; but beauty, a believing (husband) does not require, because we are not captivated by the same graces which the Gentiles think (to be) graces: an unbelieving one, on the other hand, even regards with suspicion, just from that infamous opinion of us which the Gentiles have. For whom, then, is it that you cherish your beauty? If for a believer, he does not exact it: if for an unbeliever, he does not believe in it unless it be artless. Why are you eager to please either one who is suspicious, or else one who desires it not?"

Basically, Tertullian is saying that Christian men are looking at character not beauty (he was an idealist) so women shouldn't worry about make up or finery such as jewelry.

He follows this later with an admonition to men in their dress as well. From the two mentions of veil in that entire book, it seems that the meaning isn't a face covering, but a hair covering.

Chip Ahoy said...

I think I saw something like this on Planet of the Apes. Maybe it was the Ferengi. It makes perfect sense -- on planets where one writes from right to left, ever looking to the past. Places where the past precedes the present, where cause and effect are reversed. A cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face kind of place is where this reasoning makes perfect sense.

On the other hand, veils can be quite fashionable, like the characters on Dynasty. Touches of mystery; women can appear to be grieving, or not, at funerals, appear to be pleased, or not, at weddings, appear to be listening attentively, or not at all.

Mortimer Brezny said...

I thought the veil was Bedouin tradition. To prevent the raiding of the beautiful women, all the women were covered in veils, so that raiders could not determine who the pretty ones were. The chance of of the raiders taking all the ugly ones (good riddance!) or being stabbed while ripping off the veils (we saved a pretty one!) was too good to pass up.

John Lynch said...

Oh, Tertullian was probably right about that. It's just that the freedom everyone would lose isn't worth the marginal gain of the few extra people who remain faithful.

Most people will be faithful or cheat according their own nature, veil or no veil. Freedoms do have a marginal cost, but oppression tends to have costs for everyone.

Jennifer said...

As if people cheat solely because they spy someone prettier. Oy.

Ignacio said...

Just as PatCa mentioned the popularity of internet porn in Saudi Arabia, in Pakistan over 40% of all internet use is someone looking at porn.

A friend of mine who has been to Baghdad twice in the last year said there are theaters there which show porn -- and did in the time of Saddam as well -- which are sacrosanct: neither Sunni nor Shia would ever dream of bombing them.

Just so, at least in Syria and Jordan some women wear Victoria's Secret outfits beneath burqas and hijabs.

Mortimer Brezny said...

As if people cheat solely because they spy someone prettier.

Well, if it were a tradition started by women, Jennifer, I'm sure they would have veiled all the old, rich men.

Fen said...

You are never challenged to resist temptations, and to make it easy to avoid sexual pleasures, you have to give up all the visual pleasures that could easily be yours.

In other words, they're too weak to resist temptation. Might as well seek shelter in some desolate monastery.

rishigajria said...

Ms.Althouse, In the middle east in places like Dubai and Bahrain, you often see women and girls with the most make-up on their face. Heavy eye makeup, lipstick, the whole deal.

SGT Ted said...

Bahrain and Dubia are fairly modernized, compared to most ME countries.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

It requires everyone to live a life of visual deprivation, so that no one sees anything that might make him want what he does not have. You are never challenged to resist temptations...

So all this time Ann's been afraid that she would not be able to resist the temptation of men in shorts!