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21 1 Seeing Princess Salma Transparency and Transnational Intimacies Susan Ossman In raising questions of how spaces of global media shape feminine visibility we find ourselves entangled in discussions about modernity and transparency that have remained lively for several decades. Women’s exposure to the eyes of particular men, or of random publics, and concerns about what their clothing covers or what it reveals have often been used to demonstrate the position of entire societies or classes or families with respect to ideals of equality and liberation. Yet at the same time as women alter their skirts in sync with international fashion, their sartorial choices are also asked to stand for national or ethnic or religious identities; pictured in burqas or ball gowns,they become tiles in the mosaic of world cultures. An image of a world of flows or the idea of a kind of liquid society may be enticing and, indeed, may even correspond to the sensations engendered by the speed with which we can connect to people in faraway places via Internet or travel.1 But such impressions of flowing and floating are often produced through the speeding up, multiplication, and blurring of fixed images. With respect to women, a scale of liberation that weighs them is calibrated first to weigh their clothing, then to examine what body parts are covered.The types of dress are inventoried,as are the kinds of occasions at which they are to be worn. A complex collection of scenes and types informs our interpretation of where an individual or group of women is located on the path of progress, indicating that more than attention to transparency or concealment is at work in shaping the politics of feminine visibility. Although much attention has been paid to the role of the veil, the hijab, when this “protection” appears as a piece of clothing that can be modeled, photographed, and worn, it is merely another picture in this evolving typology. It may act as an index of backwardness and a symbol of self-empowerment for others, but even the fully covered body can operate as a meaningful image in this system. What is difficult to tolerate is the absence of depiction. When meaning arises through the interplay of images that portray social positions and personal opinions, to refuse to present oneself or another in images becomes a problem. In this chapter, I focus on one such conspicuous absence by following the media journey of Salma Bennani, who became the first publicly recognized wife to a Moroccan king in 2002. Princess Salma’s appearance in royal family photos on the event of her marriage to the young king Mohammed VI pointed to the 22 Susan Ossman absence of the figure of the king’s wife during the reigns of previous Moroccan kings. It also drew attention to the continuing refusal of other leaders elsewhere in the Arab world to admit their wives, following what have become international expectations regarding the composition and representation of first families . Without globally circulating norms for the composition of the family, tales of tumultuous affairs among international royalty would seldom be so eagerly reported in the popular press. The image of the first family in Morocco has progressively come to be based on the marriage of “one man and one woman,” as the current rhetoric of conservative America would have it. Of course, in the United States, the issue of polygamy has been extremely peripheral to this debate, which has focused on gay marriage.2 One might interpret King Mohammed VI’s introduction of the first royal wife to the national and international arena as indicating his willingness to become more like other world leaders, whose wives act as both accessories and spokeswomen for their husbands.3 But it would be wise not to forget that by publicizing himself as part of a couple, Mohammed VI did more than implicate himself and his princess into a new position with respect to global first couples. He also played on the limits of the Arab world and monarchy itself by coming out as a married man. Not only did his wife’s picture now appear beside well-known female representatives of visible Arab wives such as the Jordanian queens, but it was also projected against the background of the invisible wives of other Arab leaders. Monarchs such as Abdullah of Jordan and Mohammed VI of Morocco publicize their monogamy in nations where polygamy is legal, and they display their wives as indicative...


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MARC Record
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