Dr. Patricia Goldsworthy-Bishop
European travel writing about Middle Eastern countries became a popular genre in the 1700s and into the early 1900s. When European male writers were not permitted access into the part of Eastern households known as harems, they became suspicious and wrote sexualized descriptions of harems in their travelogues, based on Western hegemonic views and male fantasy. These claims refuted by European women who were permitted into the harems and wrote their own, more accurate observations. Their writings evolved into harem literature and became a women-dominated genre. However, while dispelling the male sexualized fantasy of harems, the women’s writings had a tendency to promote other concepts of Western constructed Orientalism, centering on the perceived repression of Eastern women. European women focused on perceived repressions of Eastern women by their men, and ironically seemed unable (or unwilling) to see their own repression and the hypocrisy constructed by the men of their own Western culture.
European women also infused their own fantasies back into Eastern travel literature, which originated from the stories from Arabian Nights. These fantasies of the magical Orient were the bridge between travel/harem literature and what was to become the desert romance novel in the early 20th century. These novels, while entertaining and sexually liberating to women at that time, continued to promote stereotypes of latent Orientalism and objectify Western women as well.
Huddleston, Diane M. "The Harem: Looking Behind the Veil." Department of History seminar paper, Western Oregon University, 2012.