I recently spoke to Gareth May for VICE UK re the the (presumably) increased of “Hijab Porn.”

According to Gareth, re performer Mia Khalifa and the presence of a hijab in some of her scenes:

[C]an the hijab really be seen as nothing more than a prop, in the same way that thick-rimmed specs and a short skirt, or a cheerleader costume and pom-poms, are props for naughty secretaries and school girls respectively? Don’t the enduring politics and wider conversations surrounding hijabs, religion and women’s rights across the Middle East make it difficult to see hijabs out of context?

Our conversation lent some ideas to Gareth’s piece “This Is What’s Behind the Rise of Hijab Porn” (May 15, 2015). Read the article here, and read my full conversation with Gareth below!

behind-the-rise-in-hijab-porn-body-image-1431707365

(pictured: Mia in pink and some scene partners)

VICE: Was the Mia Khalifa scene nothing more than a stunt?

DrCT: The only way to really answer this question is to speak with Mia herself, in a candid way. Certain adult industry entities seem to love “stunt PR” and staged controversy these days, thus a stunt scene is not outside the realm of possibility. But Mia is also an educated young woman with a very global and diverse class and cultural background. She has a significant fan base that includes folks currently in the Middle East, as well as Middle Eastern Americans. She could also be making a concerted, provocative statement. Or, she could be doing something else, something somewhere between “stunt” and “statement.

Though you can find various versions of headdresses in some of the most ancient erotic art in existence, regardless of what some (uninformed) media pundits may suggest, religious themes and symbolism are actually NOT engaged frequently in contemporary adult content. Yes, there are some examples of it – tongue-in-cheek instances like Burning Angel’s XXXorcist (2006) or cultural explorations a la Girlfriends Films’ Imperfect Angels series (2008 – 2011) – but for the most part people don’t just toss around religious imagery in porn.

That said, and given current political and cultural climates, both in general and specifically regarding sexual expression, it’s not surprising that Mia Khalifa’s use of a hijab in some of her scenes is controversial.

Should we consider the arrival of the hijab in adult content (either as a prop or as a garment worn by Middle Eastern women) as a positive step for the portrayal of women in pornography?

Well, there are many perspectives one could take on that. In terms of representation, regardless of one’s perspective on the hijab, there are many women in the world who wear them. As such, the garment’s presence in porn showcases yet another moment of human diversity – not without problematic dimensions and not to be taken literally (porn is fantasy, not an absolute rendering of “real life”), but an enhanced moment of inclusion.

There are however many folks who consider porn in general, the notion of any sort of religious symbolism in adult content, and this specific example as rendered by Mia Khalifa wholly negative. People are entitled to variable standpoints on variable issues, though.

behind-the-rise-in-hijab-porn-body-image-1431701324

(pictured: Mia Khalifa)

If we consider (hypothetically) that some US-based studios are asking performers to wear the headscarf as a prop, are we in danger of undermining a cultural symbol and/or subjugating women of different cultures?

Of course, but there’s also the possibility that viewers will see enhanced, more nuanced and diverse versions of “sexy” or “beautiful,” etc. It also may be that initial forays into something controversial will give rise to critical and/or progressive narratives – that the use of a “prop” purely for prop’s sake (if that’s what this is) may set the stage for future thoughtful narratives. This range is a possibility with any sort of representation, though. 

…or does the hijab appearing in adult content (user generated in particular) actually shine a light on the sexuality of women in the Middle East?

Though not without controversy and definitely not without mixed reactions, I would say so, yes. As a finished product, porn cannot be considered a literal or “real” reflection of anyone or anything. It’s a contrived production, just like any other media or narrative. Actual people, however, are present in porn. And if said actual existing people creating user generated content are also women in the Middle East, for example, these representations must show some dimension of sexualities — even if it’s “just” that there are people interested in producing erotic media in regions of the globe that we, as US people, don’t generally think of as porn hubs. 

It seems that the adult industry only exists in the Middle East as ‘underground.’ Do you think the uploading of user generated content representing women and men of the Middle East will lead to a debate on the freedom of expression in these countries?

I’d like to think so and maybe there will be a certain catalytic impact coming from such relatively controversial phenomena (e.g. user generated content from the Middle East), but it also seems that this issue is a couple steps ahead of some conversations that may need to be had first.

This was a challenging topic for me to discuss, in part, because – as Gareth put it – “It’s probably fair to say that most of us in the West have only a very surface-level understanding of Middle Eastern sexuality.”

What do you think?

* * *

Images via VICE UK

Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.

One thought on ““The Rise of Hijab Porn” on VICE UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *