The image of the veiled Muslim woman stands for oppression in the Muslim world. Much ethnography has fueled this image, highlighting inequalities between males and females in the Middle East. However, such projections make it hard to think about the Muslim world without thinking about women, sets up an “us” and “them” relationship with Muslim women, and ignores the variety of ways of life practiced by women in different parts of the Muslim world.
However, there is another view: Women may wear the veil to facilitate their movement in the public sphere, but in doing so they subscribe to the notion that this space belongs to men. They must adjust their dress to avoid criticism, unwanted attention and even sexual assault. Yet contrary to the claims about protection, the veil has actually become a symbol of eroticism in certain contexts. For example, Hindi films have displayed a notorious fondness for scenes of veiled women caught in sudden downpours that conveniently reveal their physiques. By wearing the veil, women accept responsibility for their own sexual victimization, instead of placing the blame squarely on their potential aggressors.
"In order for an individual to be free, it is required that her actions be the consequence of her “own will” rather than of custom, tradition, or direct coercion."
“Gender is not the study of what is evident, it is an analysis of how what is evident came to be,” said Maya Mikdashi at her recent 10-point reminder on studying gender in the Middle East. Unfortunately, an influential strand of observers remains steadfastly deaf to her admonition, peddling Orientalist stereotypes as insight instead. Orientalism, the academic and literary depiction of Arabs and Muslims that sustains the West’s stereotypes of this region and its people, provides a ready framework to confer both heroism and blame to the Muslim world.
Looking through this lens, these analysts identify valiant, often female, protagonists who battle oppressive institutions and figures, the latter typically male and bearded. They place the blame for misogyny in Muslim-majority countries on patriarchal and conservative religious dogma that curtails individual choice to the detriment of vulnerable communities, particularly women. The media and academia together serve the critical task of establishing a moral veneer, even imperative, for Western intervention. These interventions, or missions to civilize the Muslim man and rescue the Muslim woman, are tragically evocative of the words of feminist literary critic, Gayatri Spivak, “White men saving brown women from brown men.”
"Are we willing to countenance the sometimes violent task of remaking sensibilities, life worlds, and attachments so that women … may be taught to value the principle of ‘freedom’? Furthermore, does a commitment to the ideal of equality in our own lives endow us with the capacity to know that this ideal captures what is or should be fulfillment for everyone else? If it is not, as is surely the case, then I think we need to rethink, with far more humility than we are accustomed to, what feminist politics really means."
Memories stirred of the beloved
should I release, I’m flooded by them…
~ Safiya, translated by Abu-Lughod
I am reading this book right now to learn more about gender, feminism, agency and the social dynamics of honor and shame.
"The danger of this formulation is that it still suggests an overly rigid cultural conditioning that risks reducing human beings to automatons. I want to suggest instead that these discourses are not templates, but rather languages that people can use to express themselves. In enabling people to express experiences, these discourses may enable them to feel those experiences. But the fact remains that it is people who make the statements."
A very interesting article on the impact of Egyptian migration on peasant wives.
It’s a dangerous time in Egypt to be associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, as security forces continue their crackdown on pro-Morsi supporters. Margaret Warner reports from Cairo on their dispersed, toned-down protests, the struggle between religion and politics in Egypt and whether the crackdown will inspire more violence.
This reminds me of Jessica Winegar’s article where she discusses the role that culture concepts play in the Arab governments’ political struggle to their modernization projects and to their legitimacy from religious parties and social movements.
The recent protests and discussions on another Islamic revival are a huge contrast with the official government attitude of suppressing the “backwardness” of Islam.
Samia Gamal - 1950 Photo Set - Gjon Mili
An aspect of ‘traditional’ Egyptian culture that has been replaced with more European notions of “high art” in Egyptian cultural palaces.
"Islamic feminism is more than a movement: it is a retrieval of the ways Islam had been practiced before and should be practiced still. It is the reclamation of the rights of women, from twisted patriarchal interpretations and mistranslations, back into the hands of the women to whom they belong. It is a return to understanding the Qur’an in the classical language in which it was delivered and ahadith in the contexts and specific conditions in which they were proclaimed, instead of through the lenses of a bigoted culture that uses them as political weapons."
This is a great article by Shaista Patel about Muslim feminism as it relates to Indigenous activism, specifically in Canada. Patel has some interesting resources and links in her endnotes.
"Clearly, the realities of what "Islamic feminism" is, and how it is lived, are wildly complex, and that is as it should be. The reality of Islamic feminism is a global movement in which women turn to the Quran and Prophetic traditions to argue that women are fully human and equal to their male counterparts. How they express that and how far they take it is up to the women of those specific contexts."
"Our own American misogyny (date rape, weak laws against domestic violence, glass ceilings, 79 cents for every man’s dollar) just looks more familiar to us, less harsh somehow, more workable. We think we can fix our own sexism with homegrown ingenuity, but we often assume that Muslim women’s problems must be solved for them from abroad, all their veils replaced with blue jeans for them to be truly liberated, all different marriage practices brought into conformity with our own. Muslim women and men have a wealth of their own cultural resources to use in the struggle for women’s human rights. Feminism is alive and well among Muslims and has been for some time, even when U.S. foreign policy interests don’t bring a spotlight on it. It is the continued struggle of Muslim feminists (both men and women), aided by friends of any background who are willing to educate themselves beyond stereotypes, which will liberate them. Not the condescending attitude that they must be “rescued” from their heritage by cheerfully ignorant proponents of American cultural imperialism or militaristic U.S. policymakers sprouting overnight feminist principles."