The gendered nose and its lack: 'medieval' nose-cutting and its modern manifestations.

Patricia Skinner

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Time magazine's cover photograph in August 2010 of a noseless Afghan woman beside the emotive strap line, "What happens if we leave Afghanistan," fuelled debate about the "medieval" practices of the Taliban, whose local commander had instructed her husband to take her nose and ears. Press reports attributed the violence to the Pashtun tradition that a dishonored husband "lost his nose." This equation of nose-cutting with tradition begs questions not only about the Orientalist lens of the western press when viewing Afghanistan, but also about the assumption that the word "medieval" can function as a label for such practices. A study of medieval nose-cutting suggests that its identification as an "eastern" practice should be challenged. Rather clearer is its connection with patriarchal values of authority and honor: the victims of such punishment have not always been women, but this is nevertheless a gendered punishment of the powerless by the powerful.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-67
JournalJournal of Women's History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • mutilation
  • maiming
  • nose
  • violence against women
  • Islamic law
  • Afghanistan
  • history

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