Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dust, the X-Men, and the "Male Gaze"

I am not a comic book reader, but a three part posting by Jehanzeb Dar in Altmuslimah (Exploring Both Sides of the the Gender Divide): Part 1: Female, Muslim, and Mutant: Muslim Women in Comic Books raises interesting questions about the X-Men's depiction of the female, Muslim character Dust. Comic books, like comedy, often rely on simplified stereotypes, which fast become creepy and politically charged. While much of the article focuses on the uncomfortable portrayal of Islam in the comics--"Mutants are misunderstood, feared, and hated by the public, while the media and government powers propagate fear, persecution, and even war against them.Sound familiar?"--what interests me for the purpose of this blog is Dar's concern with the "male gaze," a term that often comes up in the study of "Orientalism." The entertainment industry (including belly dance and belly dancers) often caters to the uncomfortable and easy stereotype of "mysterious and sexy.":

" can be strongly argued that the male gaze is still in effect. For those who are unfamiliar with the terminology, the “male gaze” is essentially female characters being depicted and presented in ways their heterosexual male writers, artists, and audiences would like to see them. In the case of Dust, we can make an argument for the Western male gaze: an “oppressed” Muslim girl is rescued from Afghanistan by Wolverine, a Western male mutant. Wolverine is told that the Taliban were trying to remove Dust’s burqa, obviously to molest her, and since there don’t seem to be other Muslims around to take a stand against the Taliban’s perverted behavior, who better to rescue her than Wolverine, or rather, “Western democracy?” The scenario of Dust fighting the Taliban, as admirable as it is, occurs enough times in later issues that it makes one question if this is how Western male writers, artists, and readers want to see a Muslim super-heroine, i.e. to rebel against her oppressors, the mutual enemy of the U.S. government?

Read the full article, "Part 1: Female, Muslim, and Mutant" here. The above photo of The New X-Men's Dust comes from the entry for Dust in

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