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Of Virgins and Martyrs

, 272 pages

14 halftones

January 2013



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Of Virgins and Martyrs

Women and Sexuality in Global Conflict

Women's bodies have become a battleground. Around the world, people argue about veiling, schooling for Afghan girls, and "SlutWalk" protests, all of which involve issues of women's sexuality and freedom. Globalization, with its emphasis on human rights and individuality, heats up these arguments. In Of Virgins and Martyrs, David Jacobson takes the reader on a fascinating tour of how self-identity developed throughout history and what individualism means for Muslim societies struggling to maintain a sense of honor in a globalized twenty-first century.

Some patriarchal societies have come to see women’s control of their own sexuality as a threat to a way of life that goes back thousands of years. Many trace their lineage to tribal cultures that were organized around the idea that women’s virginity represents the honor of male relatives and the good of the community at large. Anyone or anything that influences women to the contrary is considered a corrupting and potentially calamitous force.

Jacobson analyzes the connection between tribal patriarchy and Muslim radicalism through an innovative tool—the tribal patriarchy index. This index helps to illuminate why women's sexuality, dress, and image so compel militant Muslim outrage and sometimes violent action, revealing a deeper human story of how women's status defines competing moral visions of society and why this present clash is erupting with such ferocity.

David Jacobson is a professor of sociology at the University of South Florida and the founding director of the Citizenship Initiative. He is author of Rights across Borders: Immigration and the Decline of Citizenship and Place and Belonging in America, both published by Johns Hopkins.

"An ambitious analysis of the implications of globalism and cultural conflict on the battlefield of women’s bodies... Casual readers shouldn’t be dissuaded—Jacobson’s prose is accessible, and he has treated the complicated underpinnings of identity, cultural belonging, and economic motivations with respect."

"What Jacobson does beautifully in his accessibly academic book is differentiate between politicized Islamist patriarchy and 'the broader Muslim community,' the former being 'a core expression of a deeper global fissure,' he explains... As globalization improves the status of many women, it also incites a ferocious backlash against them."

"A veritable tour de force, a gripping narrative, a fun read and a scholarly analysis of sex, power, violence, and sublimation."

"A fascinating exploration of the ways in which improvements in women's lives in recent years have provoked a patriarchal backlash, sometimes with violent consequences. Jacobson shows that, while the resistance to women's emancipation comes frequently from Islamist sources, the real problem lies in the persistence of traditional masculine domination in certain areas of the world—especially the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. Provocative and compelling."

"The breadth of engagement in terms of issues, space, time, geography, and history it traverses is the book's strength... With an accessible prose peppered with rich imagery, it has something to offer to every reader..."

" Of Virgins and Martyrs cleverly written with exciting prose, would be appropriate in small doses for advanced undergraduates and in full for scholars and graduate students. Jacobson must be applauded for striking a balance between breadth and depth; the book takes readers across time and place in fairly effortless fashion, while providing specifics about various cultures, such as Cuba, the Netherlands, or Pakistan."

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