Honor and Shame or Structuralist Approach

A second approach to understanding modesty and sexual restraint in Islamic cultures can be described as a "structuralist" approach, or an approach which sees these issues as part of a pan-cultural complex of "honor and shame" (Eickleman, 1989, p. 204). For these scholars, modesty and sexual restraint are part of a strict code of maintaining men's honor by avoiding shame through the strict regulation of women's behavior, including in particular their modest comportment and sexuality (e.g., Peristiany, 1974). Honor is thus primarily understood as men's achievement, at the expense of women's lives because of their identification as potentially dangerous sources of shame.

However, honor and shame must be carefully defined in local contexts and may not always be easily identifiable with men and women, respectively (Delaney, 1987; Herzfeld, 1980; Wikan, 1984). While locally specific concepts of honor and shame are typically central in shaping the practices of modesty and sexual restraint (as discussed in the examples in this article), the former concepts must be carefully contextualized before the latter practices can be properly understood.

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