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  • Amy Aisen Kallander (a1)

In the decade following independence, the Tunisian state embraced secular feminism as part of the single-party monopoly on political life and economic development. Yet its celebration of new family laws as an aspect of modernization was marred by anxieties about the sexual and moral implications of modern womanhood. Tracing references to the miniskirt in presidential speeches and the women's press, I demonstrate how efforts to delineate the boundaries of proper appearance gave tangible form to the amorphous question of morality. Parallel concerns about long-haired youth further indicated the bourgeois basis of the modernizing visual aesthetic as it restrained young men. Through fashion, urban educated women utilized the press to negotiate the limits of the more politically sensitive topic of state feminism. Middle-class debates about dress reveal that nationalist secular feminists who benefitted from the state's definition of women's rights questioned hegemonic conceptions of womanhood and articulated alternate versions of masculinity.

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Author's note:I would like to thank Frances Hasso, Nouri Gana, Asma Moalla, Beth Baron, Judith Surkis, Chris Rominger, and three anonymous IJMES reviewers for their careful reading of previous versions of this article and insightful comments. A debt of gratitude is also owed to Judy Jarrow for generously sharing her collection of Tunisian women's magazines. Part of the research for this article was made possible by an NEH Summer Stipend.

1 The Arabic text of the speech “al-Tanzim al-Nasl ʿAhd Maqawamat al-Numuw,” appeared in Bourguiba's collected speeches; al-Habib Bourguiba, Khutab (Tunis: Wizarat al-Aʿlam, 1982), 22:168–88. At least three versions exist (Arabic, English, and French), all published by state agencies, though none necessarily represents the televised version of the speech, as Bourguiba was known to switch between language registers. Due to the absence of audio records, all quotes are taken from the official English translation unless otherwise noted. Bourguiba, Habib, Birth Control as a Factor of Development (Tunis: Secretariat of State for Cultural Affairs and Information, 1966). The Arabic text refers to al-qamisān al-sawd in quotes, and while presumably a translation of the French term les blousons noirs, in reference to the black leather jackets worn by one counterculture group, the latter is not utilized in the French text, nor does it appear frequently in the periodicals under consideration. The term “beatnik” only appears in the English version, but had greater resonance in the press, as detailed in the final section.

2 According to the Tunisian National Institute of Statistics, the mean age at first marriage increased slightly between 1956 and 1966 from 19.5 to 20.9 for women and 26.3 to 27 for men; Center for Research, Studies, Documentation and Information on Women (CREDIF), Tunisian Women and Men in Figures (Tunis: Ministry of Women and Family Affairs, 2002), 26.

3 Shakry, Omnia El, “Youth as Peril and Promise: The Emergence of Adolescent Psychology in Postwar Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 43 (2011): 591610; Pursley, Sara, “The Stage of Adolescence: Anticolonial Time, Youth Insurgency, and the Marriage Crisis in Hashimite Iraq,” History of the Present 3 (2013): 160–97.

4 Mehta, Uday S., “Liberal Strategies of Exclusion,” in Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, ed. Cooper, Frederick and Stoler, Ann Laura (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997), 5986.

5 Marzouki, Ilhem, Le Mouvement des femmes en Tunisie au XXème siècle (Tunis: Cérès Productions, 1993).

6 Tunisia's press was dominated by the official Arabic and French dailies al-ʿAmal and L'Action, and opposition publications risked suspension or suppression. A contemporary observer suggests that the French press had a larger circulation than the Arabic press, and was more influential in urban areas, because rural peasants formed a negligible portion of the readership even in Arabic; Souriau, Christiane, “L'opinion dans la presse maghrebine arabe de 1966,” Annuaire de l'Afrique du Nord 5 (1967): 825–27. See also Chouikha, Larbi, “Pluralisme politique et presse d'opposition sous Bourguiba,” in Habib Bourguiba, la trace et l'héritage, ed. Camau, Michel and Geisser, Vincent (Paris: Karthala, 2004), 341–56.

7 Interestingly, all three turn to cinema as illustrative of the impact of neopatriarchy on men; Krichen, Aziz, Le syndrome Bourguiba (Tunis: Cérès Productions, 1993); Gana, Nouri, “Bourguiba's Sons: Melancholy Manhood in Modern Tunisian Cinema,” Journal of North African Studies 15 (2010): 105–26; Lang, Robert, New Tunisian Cinema: Allegories of Resistance (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

8 King, Stephen J., Liberalization against Democracy: The Local Politics of Economic Reform in Tunisia (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2003), 25.

9 The prominent role of Bourguiba's second wife, Wassila bin ʿAmmar and his niece, Saʿida Sassi are discussed in most accounts. For an insider perspective on how her appointment overturned an internal electoral process, see the interview with al-Haddad, Radiyya in Nisaʾ wa-Dhakarat: Tunisiyat fi al-Hiyat al-ʿAmma, 1920–1960 (Tunis: Edition Média Com, 1993), 8485.

10 Moncef Gmar, “Etudiants: un pour mille,” Afrique Action, 19 June 1961, 13–14; CREDIF, Tunisian Women and Men in Figures, 28.

11 In 1966 there were over 7,600 professional women including 3,600 teachers and over one hundred civil servants; Tunisia, Kitabat al-Dawlah li-l-ʿAlam, Tunisia Moves Ahead (Tunis: Ceres Productions, 1976), 228. On women's struggles within the labor union, see Chékir, Hafidha and Arfaoui, Khédija, “Tunisia: Women's Economic Citizenship and Trade Union Participation,” in Making Globalization Work for Women: The Role of Social Rights and Trade Union Leadership, ed. Moghadam, Valentine M., Franzway, Suzanne, and Fonow, Mary Margaret (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2011), 7192.

12 Hazbun, Waleed, Beaches, Ruins, Resorts: The Politics of Tourism in the Arab World (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 47; Lahmar, Mouldi, Du mouton à l'olivier (Tunis: Cérès éd, 1994), 149.

13 This manipulative alliance with the trade union federation endured for decades; Beinin, Joel, Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2015).

14 Marzouki, Ilhem, “Le jeu de bascule de l'identité,” in La Tunisie de Ben Ali: la société contre le régime, ed. Lamloum, Olfa and Ravenel, Bernard (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2002), 75101. For an explicit reference to national unity and a rejection of class struggle, see Bourguiba, Habib, Our Road to Socialism; [Address Given Before the Nation's Cadres at] Sfax, 19th April, 1964] (Tunis: Secretariat of State for Cultural Affairs and Orientation, 1964).

15 From a 27 July 1956 speech quoted in Dhifallah, Mohamed, “Bourguiba et les étudiants: stratégie en mutation (1956-1971),” in Habib Bourguiba, la trace et l'héritage, ed. Camau, Michel and Geisser, Vincent (Paris: Karthala, 2004), 316.

16 Tourneau, Roger Le, “Cronique politique : [l'année 1966],” in Annuaire de l'Afrique du Nord, ed. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1967), 238–57.

17 Hatem, Mervat F., “Economic and Political Liberalization in Egypt and the Demise of State Feminism,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 24 (1992): 231–51.

18 Bier, Laura, Revolutionary Womanhood: Feminisms, Modernity, and the State in Nasser's Egypt (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011).

19 Amin, Camron Michael, The Making of the Modern Iranian Woman: Gender, State Policy, and Popular Culture, 1865–1946 (Gainesville, Fl.: University Press of Florida, 2002), 80.

20 Moallem, Minoo, Between Warrior Brother and Veiled Sister: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Politics of Patriarchy in Iran (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2005), 59.

21 Bessis, Sophie, “Bourguiba féministe: les limites du féminisme d'Etat bourguibien,” in Habib Bourguiba, la trace et l'héritage, ed. Camau, Michel and Geisser, Vincent (Paris: Karthala, 2004), 109; Brand, Laurie, Women, the State and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

22 Marzouki, Ilhem, Femmes d'ordre ou désordre de femmes? (Tunis: Noir sur Blanc éditions, 1999), 34.

23 Zayzafoon, Lamia Ben Youssef, The Production of the Muslim Woman: Negotiating Text, History and Ideology (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005); Marzouki, Nadia, “Images of Manipulation: Subversion of Women's Rights in the Maghreb,” in Muslim Women in War and Crisis: Representation and Reality, ed. Shirazi, Faegheh (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2010), 199209.

24 Moore, Clement Henry, Tunisia since Independence: The Dynamic of One-Party Government (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1969).

25 wa-l-Irshad, Kitabat al-Dawla li-l-Akhbar, Women of Tunisia (Tunis: Secretariat of State for Information and Tourism, 1961), 27.

26 “29 femmes ont dechiré leur voile noir,” La Presse, 24 August 1966, 1. Souhaiba Rached's reports about women's customs in different regions of the country duly noted the absence or presence of women's veils; “La Kairouanaise,” Femme, April–June 1965, 3, and “Femme de Bizerte,” Femme, October–December 1965, 7–8.

27 Bourguiba, Habib, Women and Social Evolution (Tunis: Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs, 1966), 7.

28 “Deux fondements du Statut Personnel: Dignité et Cohésion Nationale (Tunis, le 10 Août 1956),” in Discours, by Habib Bourguiba, vol. 2 (Tunis: Publications du Secretariat d'Etat à l'information, 1975), 128–29, 133.

29 wa-l-Irshad, Kitabat al-Dawlah li-l-Akhbar, Tunisia Works (Tunis: Secretariat of State for Information, 1960), 70.

30 Kitabat al-Dawlah li-l-Akhbar wa-l-Irshad, Women of Tunisia, 6–7, 12, 18.

31 Kitabat al-Dawlah li-l-Akhbar wa-l-Irshad, Tunisia Works, 72; Kitabat al-Dawla li-l-Akhbar wa-l-Irshad, Women of Tunisia, 26. The role of the union in preserving women's morals was echoed by Femme, “Conseil national ou conseil de la Reforme en rapport avec les conjonctures nouvelles?,” October–December 1965, 26–28.

32 Proponents of birth control in Tunisia promoted intrauterine devices and to a lesser extent sterilization especially in rural areas to ensure that (male) doctors controlled women's access to contraception, despite women's frequent demands for oral contraception. Presumptions about women's ignorance were not unique to Tunisia, but a common expression of the racial hierarchies and eugenic origins of the movement. See Briggs, Laura, Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science and US Imperialism in Puerto Rico (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2002); and Schoen, Johanna, Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).

33 “La femme, élément de progrès dans la société,” in Discours, by Habib Bourguiba, vol. 14 (Tunis: Publications du Secretariat d'Etat à l'information, 1978), 156, 162–63. Degeneration and a poorly understood emancipation were invoked in the 14 June 1966 speech “La justice et l’évolution de la société,” printed in Discours, by Habib Bourguiba, vol. 16 (Tunis: Publications du Secretariat d'Etat à l'information, 1970), 13.

34 An experienced paper that was occasionally at odds with the regime, it debuted in 1960 as Afrique Action, changed to Jeune Afrique, and expanded its focus to include African and Third World politics; Moore, Tunisia Since Independence, 78.

35 “La Limitation des naissances; Tribune,” Afrique Action, 9 January 1961, 15.

36 A. Djaziri, “Le moindre mal,” Afrique Action, 20 February 1961, 2; Ahmed Bouadja, “Pour la limitation,” Afrique Action, 16 January 1961, 3; Madame Belaya, “Prenons Garde.” Afrique Action, 16 January 1961, 3.

37 C. El Abidi, “Customs That Must be Condemned” (Arabic), al-Marʾa, May 1962, “We Will Preserve Our Independence” (Arabic), al-Marʾa, March 1962, R. Bhiri “Oh Sister” (Arabic), al-Marʾa, January 1962, quoted in Marzouki, Le Mouvement des femmes en Tunisie, 177–79.

38 Leila Rihani, “La garantie d'une veritable promotion de la femme,” Femme, September–October 1966, 7.

39 Addressing women in Bizerte, she then voiced disproval of their customary black veils. A few dozen women were reported to have immediately removed these veils, but it is not clear whether this was more than a charade of compliance; “29 femmes ont dechiré leur voile noir,” La Presse, 24 August 1966, 1.

40 Haddad, Radhia, Parole de femme (Carthage: Editions Elyssa, 1995), 175.

41 Bier, Revolutionary Womanhood, 90–92.

42 “Cachez le genou!,” Jeune Afrique, 5 May 1965, 39; André Bercoff, “13 mai,” Jeune Afrique, 28 May 1967, 12; “Port de la minijupe,” Jeune Afrique, 8 July 1968, 52.

43 Manzano, Valeria, “The Blue Jean Generation: Youth, Gender, and Sexuality in Buenos Aires, 1958–1975,” Journal of Social History 42 (2009): 658.

44 Ivaska, Andrew, “‘Anti-Mini Militants Meet Modern Misses’: Urban Style, Gender, and the Politics of ‘National Culture’ in 1960s Dar es Salaam,” in Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress, ed. Allman, Jean (Bloomington. Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2004), 104–21.

45 Graham, Gael, “Flaunting the Freak Flag: Karr v. Schmidt and the Great Hair Debate in American High Schools, 1965–1975,” The Journal of American History 91 (2004), 522–43.

46 Brown, Timothy Scott and Lison, Andrew, “The Global Sixties in Sound and Vision: Media, Counterculture, Revolt,” in The Global Sixties in Sound and Vision: Media, Counterculture, Revolt, ed. Brown, Timothy Scott and Lison, Andrew (New York: Palgrave, 2014), 113.

47 Judith Foster Jarrow, “The Feminine Literary Voices in Tunisia (1955-1975) and the Growth of Emancipation” (PhD diss., University of Utah, 1999).

48 See “The Importance of Preserving Our Arab Character” (Arabic), April 1965; “A Woman's Opinion on the Crisis of Boredom” (Arabic), June 1962; and the editorial “We Will Preserve Our Independence” (Arabic), March 1962, cited in Marzouki, Le Mouvement des femmes en Tunisie, 177–79. Circulation figures for the two periodicals are unclear, and I have been unable to locate copies of al-Marʾa from the 1960s.

49 The main daily al-ʿAmal had a maximum print of 20,000 that its director Habib Boulares attributed to cost and illiteracy, though both Boulares and Faiza’s readers refer to the practice of sharing newspapers within the family and among friends; Habib Boulares, “La presse en Tunisie: un tableau aussi sombre que la réalité,” Faiza, March 1962, 8.

50 Due to its constituency, Faiza was criticized for promoting a bourgeois lifestyle; Zghal, “Le Bilan de Faiza,” Afrique Action, 9 January 1961, 14. Despite its proximity to the ruling class, it was not an official publication and was funded through advertisements. According to Dorra Bouzid, the magazine folded in late 1967 when the state abolished advertising and a promised state subsidy failed to materialize in the wake of Bourguiba's heart attack that same year; Femmes Journalistes, directed by Kamel Ben Ouanes (2013).

51 In response to a reader who complained that certain letters reflected poorly on Tunisia, the editors stated that aside from personal attacks (which they had not received), “we publish all of the mail we receive,” editing for grammar and length; Tahar Benzid “Choisir ses bavardages,” Faiza, April 1962, 2.

52 “Courrier,” Femme, February–April 1966, 3.

53 Reynolds, Nancy Y., “National Socks and the ‘Nylon Woman’: Materiality, Gender, and Nationalism in Textile Marketing in Semicolonial Egypt, 1930–56,” International journal of Middle East Studies 43 (2011): 51. Tunisian imagery is closer to the “New Woman” than the “Modern Girl” of the colonial era, with an emphasis on consumption and domesticity that removed her from explicitly political roles; Russell, Mona, “Marketing the Modern Egyptian Girl: Whitewashing Soap and Clothes from the Late Nineteenth Century to 1936,” Journal of Middle East Women's Studies 6 (2010): 1957.

54 Mounira, “Les 2 types d’étudiantes tunisiennes,” Faiza, April–May 1966, 64–65.

55 Both men and women caught in violation were subject to fines, though it is not clear how widely these were imposed; “Cheveux longs, jupes courtes,” La Presse, 18 August 1966, 3. Although Femme had encouraged women to “shorten your wardrobe” in its February–April 1966 issue, it later reduced the miniskirt to a sign of alienation foreclosing further discussion; Leila Rihani, “Editorial,” Femme, September–October 1966, 7.

56 “Faut-il acheter tunisien?,” Faiza, May–June 1967, 57.

57 Moncef, Ahmed, and Mahrez, “Trop de catalyse = explosion,” Faiza, November–December 1966, 66.

58 Nadia Kilani, “Mini-Jupe, RTT et Juifs,” Faiza, November 1967, 85–86.

59 NDLR, Faiza, November 1967, 86. Femme had also advised readers that shorter skirts and dresses were primarily a youthful style, and only for certain body types, but they avoided using the term “miniskirt” in the brief fashion pages; February–April 1966, 30–33.

60 “Verrons-nous bientôt,” Faiza, December 1959, 7.

61 “Une nouvelle mode est née,” Faiza, December 1960, 42–45; “Voyage à la Goulette,” Faiza, June 1962, 42–49; “Il n'est de robe que de Tunis,” Faiza, November 1962, 40–47.

62 See, respectively, the February–March 1966, November–December 1966, and March–April 1967 issues; and “Les robes pratiques: une idée choc, la robe ‘kif,’” Faiza, July–August 1962, 62.

63 “Faut-il acheter tunisien?,” Faiza, May–June 1967, 24–29, 88–90; Mounira, “Etre et paraître,” Faiza, May–June 1967, 30–31.

64 Meriem H., “Les tissus tunisiens? Des lauriers imaginaires,” Faiza, November 1967, 88.

65 Sonia Maarouf, “Le Centre de tricotage de la Marsa: de l'apprentissage à l'unité,” Femme, February–April 1966, 10–11; “Stage de haute couture,” Femme, March–April 1967, 14–15.

66 “L'habillement: une affaire de dignité Nationale,” La Presse, 9 August 1967, 2; al-Raʾid al-Rasmi li-l-Jumhuriyya al-Tunisiyya, 14 July 1967, 1332, accessed 13 November 2017,

67 “La vie quotidienne: l'habillement,” Faiza, May–June 1967, 32–35.

68 Meriem Mahmoud Chida, “Tunisian Dress 1881-1987 and New Nation Building” (PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2006), 89.

69 Bourguiba, The State Carries On, 13.

70 Booth, Marilyn, “Woman in Islam: Men and the ‘Women's Press’ in Turn-of-the-20th-Century Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 33 (2001): 171201.

71 For a speech focused on the behavior of state employees, see Bourguiba, Habib, Conscience as the Basis of Society (Tunis: Secretatiat of State for Cultural Affairs and Orientation, 1964), 14. That population control was intended for the working class and peasant, and that the middle class should reproduce, was a common interpretation of Bourguiba's speech on birth control. See, for instance, “Halte à l'inconscience et l'irresponsabilité,” Perspectives 10 (November 1966), 13–16.

72 Jacob, Wilson Chacko, Working Out Egypt: Effendi Masculinity and Subject Formation in Colonial Modernity, 1870–1940 (Durham, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 186225.

73 That they were identifiable by their long hair, bare feet (al-jamāʿat al-mursala li-shaʿūrihā al-mutabāhiyya bi-l-qadhāra wa-l-ḥafāʾ), and sparse clothing (yabraz āḥadihum ʿāriyā) was mentioned in all three versions of the speech, though the Beatles reference only appeared in English and French; see Bourguiba, Birth Control; and “Bourguiba à la t.v: mon voeu est que la femme tunisienne demeure l'exemple de la pudeur, de la dignité et de la vertu,” La Presse, 14 August 1966.

74 Quoting a televised presidential speech from the previous day, “Une société évoluée se doit de mettre en ordre son langage comme ses us et coutumes,” La Presse, 12 October 1966, 1, 7.

75 Simone Puck, “Ce que nous n'aimons pas chez vous, Monsieur,” Faiza, August–September 1962, 66–67.

76 “L'habillement: une affaire de dignité nationale,” La Presse, 9 August 1967, 2; “500,000 trousseaux sont déja prets à la vente,” La Presse, 16 September 1967, 7.

77 Perspectives 1 (December 1963); Dhifallah, “Bourguiba et les étudiants,” 318–19.

78 They were also bothered by how material dependence on state scholarships positioned them as adolescents; S. Adel, “La lutte des étudiants,” Perspectives 19 (November 1968): 10–13.

79 “Le président Bourguiba: loyauté et sincérité doivent guider toutes les démarches de votre pensée,” La Presse, 16 August 1966, 4; Bourguiba, Habib, Address to Students on the Importance of Concentrating on Their Studies: Address Given Before Tunisian Students at the Public Hall, Monastir, on 19th August 1962 (Tunis: Secrétariat d'Etat aux Affaires Culturelles et à l'Information, 1962).

80 See, for instance, “Plus d'euphorie à bon marché pour les beatniks du Côte d'Azur,” La Presse, 6 August 1966, 6; Jean-Pierre Tuil, “Chriss: ‘Je veux vivre sans responsabilités’ – un beatnik au physique de Rimbaud,” La Presse, 14 August 1966, 2; M. L. T., “Trois ‘yé-yé’ volent pour le goût du risque,” La Presse, 15 February 1966, 2; A. Bel Hadj Yahia, “Pas de temps à perdre,” Jeune Afrique, 9 May 1965, 4; Aida “Style,” Faiza, August–September 1967, 83.

81 M. Z., “L'affaire du ‘Bey's’,” Jeune Afrique, 18 September 1966, 2.

82 Z. B., “Vaniteux et égoïste,” Jeune Afrique, 24 January 1965, 4–5.

83 “Faut-il acheter tunisien?,” Faiza, May–June 1967, 27–29.

84 Ibid., 25–26.

85 Dorra Bouzid, “La jeune fille tunisienne et l'amour,” Faiza, April–May 1966, 50–58, 96.

86 “Le jeune homme et l'amour,” Faiza, May–June 1967, 56–62, 90–92.

87 Gana, “Bourguiba's Sons,” 110–11.

88 “Le jeune homme, la jeune fille et l'amour: Réponses au débat paru dans le N. 57,” Faiza, November 1967, 50–55.

89 Aida Ben Khelil, “Mieux que la virginité, la réputation,” Faiza, November 1967.

90 “Démystification,” Faiza, November 1967.

91 They received much support from France, and influenced the events of May 1968; Hendrickson, Burleigh, “March 1968: Practicing Transnational Activism from Tunis to Paris,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 44 (2012): 755–75.

92 “Pourquoi ce drame,” Jeune Afrique, 1 January 1967, 19; Dorra Bouzid, “Etudiants en colere, pourquoi?,” Faiza, November–December 1966, 6–7.

93 This is the pattern of innocuous incidents, demonstrations, and police repression identified by Suri, Jeremi in Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 167.

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