Men, women perceive Muslim world differently

November 18, 2003

For centuries, Islamic culture has been both vilified and romanticized by westerners, says University of Toronto professor Ivan Kalmar of anthropology. He is investigating western perceptions through the ages that portray Islam as weak and passive on one hand but also as exotic and romantic.

"In the past, looking at Muslim nations as backward allowed western conquerors to justify their colonialist plans," says Kalmar. "But at the same time, there was a difference - especially along western gender lines - as to how Islamic culture was perceived. Women and men consumed Islamic cultural images differently, with women often viewing this world as sexy and sensual while men often considered it as uncivilized and looked down on it."

Even today, Kalmar says, many westerners demonize and dismiss the Muslim world as a place in need of aid. Nevertheless, this "backward" culture still prompts romantic storylines in literature, theatre and film.

"For example, a classic movie starring screen legend Rudolph Valentino is a prime example of a character who, as a Muslim sheik, is adored by western moviegoers - the same moviegoers who dismiss this fictitious sheik's real-life culture as barbaric." Kalmar's research, which will be published as a book in late 2006, is funded in part by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant.
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CONTACT: Professor Ivan Kalmar, anthropology department, 416-585-4419, i.kalmar@utoronto.ca or Michah Rynor, U of T public affairs, 416-978-2104, michah.rynor@utoronto.ca

University of Toronto

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