Recently Added Papers:
Click on any of the links above to read the paper or the responses to it.
If you wish to leave a reply/feedback, first open the page of the paper, scroll down and leave a reply at the bottom of the page.
Click on any of the links above to read the paper or the responses to it.
If you wish to leave a reply/feedback, first open the page of the paper, scroll down and leave a reply at the bottom of the page.
“When you save someone you imply that you are saving her form something. You are also saving her to something. What violence’s are entailed in this transformation, and what presumptions are being made about their superiority of that to which you are saving her? Projects of saving other women depend on and reinforce a sense of superiority by Westerners, a form of arrogance that deserves to be challenged.” (454)
This piece brings up all the complexities surrounding international feminist movements- how far does history go? Where do you draw lines? How do you come to understand and take issue with a culture that is not your own? Is it possible to do so while still being respectful?
To me, personally, a historical narrative is key when trying to understand and appreciate another culture, it is only though the complex individual history of each nation state that anyone can claim to have made an effort to approach a culture from a lens of scholarship and respect. However, to really understand another’s cultural historical narrative you must first look at your own. Americans, very generally, make all sorts of presumptions about superiority and who needs our help, but in reality this concept is only a product of America’s own history. Abu-Lughod’s discussion of veiling and its cultural significant highlights this. It seems so odd to me that so many Americans (and for that matter Europeans, from what I gained from a visit to France a year or so ago) are so unwilling to accept that they misjudged and misread an aspect of a different culture. Surely, these things happen all time and people should have the opportunity to talk to each other, clear the air and learn each other’s history. Is their simply no one listing? Because I have heard many speak about it. I understand that it is complex to both disagree/ critique a culture while still trying to understand and remain respectful of it at the same time, but in reality it is something that desperately needs to be done.
Going off of this, in the passage I highlighted above Abu-Lughod makes the claim that the idea of saving is more then just liberation etc. but ‘saving to something’. While I can appreciate where the idea that ones cultural standards are superior comes from and is easy to buy in to, it is at the same time ridiculous. If you ask most Americans if we have cultural issues, I would expect the answer to be resoundingly yes. Why then would we even want to save women ‘to’ our standards and practices? Sharing ideas and challenges through discourse is one thing, helping when asked and collectively working on challenges is not only appropriate, but something I would hope that leaders globally would engage in more often.
To me I think supporting each other efforts, as Abu-Lughod suggests with RAWA should be a goal for feminists and aid workers everywhere. Gaining historical background, talking though misunderstandings and general support of each other’s initiates, to me would be a big step in the right direction. Clearly there are people and organizations doing this now, but once we can do this on a large scale it seems likely the that idea of ‘saving’ will fade away, or one would hope anyway.
Abu-Lughod’s article “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” highlights American reactions to women in the Muslim world, as well as common misconceptions Americans have about these women. As Abu-Lughod described, Americans see these women as oppressed and in need of liberation, especially in regards to ideas of veiling and expression.
I will be the first to admit that for a long time, I felt that the veil was a form of oppression for women in the Muslim world. Now granted, I was 15 years old and felt that freedom and expression were most effective when by American definitions. I was just learning about feminism and human rights at the time, so I did have a very limited scope of these topics. But I was operating on the ethnocentric view Americans hold about many other cultures, especially about Islam and the cultures of the Middle East. However, in the 5 years between then and now, I have been fortunate enough to learn about Islam as a religion, its role in the Middle East, and women’s position in these countries. However, I am lucky that I have been exposed to these ideas.
I think these ideas stem from a lack of education and understanding of Islamic history, practices, and customs. Islam is barely discussed in classrooms, so many people aren’t exposed to the tenants of the religion. Now I highly doubt Islam will ever be taught correctly or well in most schools, because I can imagine many conservatives responding with shouts of indoctrination and a War on Christianity. I wish I could say I were exaggerating, but many Americans would respond this way(this response would probably not happen if people were educated about Islam. Insert paradox here).
Now this may be a new idea, because I don’t remember any education about Islam and the Muslim world pre-9/11. Those attacks and the “War on Terror” has shaped how the United States views these parts of the world. Granted, it might not have changed much, because World History has often been taught from a white, Eurocentric lens. It will take a great change in American culture for these changes.
However, I think it is possible for Islam and Muslim women to be portrayed correctly within the United States. Although it may take a long time, changing attitudes and more scholarship about Arabic women will pave the way for more understanding about women in the Muslim world.
The rhetoric of Laura Bush’s speech is a point of great contention in Lila Abu-Lughod’s article, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving.” Abu-Lughod made several interesting points regarding the rhetoric of Bush’s speech, such as how the use of “saving” implies that you are saving these women from something and to something. She argued “projects of saving other women depend on and reinforce a sense of superiority by Westerners, a form of arrogance that deserves to be challenged.” Abu-Lughod also mentioned that there were some organizations that associated the veil that Afghan women wear with oppression and inhibiting access to basic medical needs. One of the organization’s key phrases to garner support was “please join us in helping to lift the veil.” This is a way of thinking that Abu-Lughod challenges—she urges readers to consider that each culture throughout the world is a result of unique historical, social, economic, and political processes. We must “accept the possibility of differences” in the world and acknowledge that “our” needs and goals (feminists, anthropologists, the west, etc.) are not universal. Wearing a veil, of which there are countless types and styles, is not necessarily a sign of oppression, or submission. As Abu-Lughod mentioned, the veil is worn for many reasons from religious to personal to social, and it can be worn to represent agency, modesty, and style. I found this article enlightening because it offered a new perspective through which to address ways in which feminism, religion, and culture are interconnected.
Who Has The Authority to Struggle?
Feminism has increasingly been accused of being a Western movement that reinforces the racist and classist system that emerged out of European colonialism. In this new era of female agency we need to take into consideration these colonial legacies and look at our own advocacy for women’s rights based on our position within the cultural system we live in, and all the racist misconceptions we inherited by being a part of this system. Leila Abu-Lughod criticizes current feminist movements in her article “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” by accusing them of “reifying culture”. Through her cynical view of Laura Bush’s Thanksgiving speech, in which Mrs. Bush turns the “War Against Terror” into a feminist struggle to unveil and therefore “liberate” Muslim women in Afghanistan, Abu-Lughod shows how we tend to plaster neat cultural icons over very complex political and historical dynamics. This analysis then leads to a discussion of cultural relativism in the anthropology of gender and causes us to question our own culturally determined definition of agency.
The veil has been highly politicized ever since colonialism took root in the Middle East. This has painted a false image for the West of the veil as being both physically and socially constricting and thus depriving women of agency. Most Western audiences disregard, or are perhaps not even aware of, the fact that not only Muslim women veil, but also people of both genders of many other cultures and religions all over the world veil too. Furthermore, there are countless different types of veiling, even among Muslims. Veiling is the perfect example to see how an important symbol for religious piety was transformed into a neat concept to cover up the much more variable political dynamics at play in the region.
A significant criticism of Laura Bush’s speech is that, even though she claimed that Americans entered Afghanistan to help unveil the women, the women aren’t all tearing off their veils now that the Taliban has lost authority in the country. Their veiling is tied to the much deeper cultural system they live in that has been fostered by numerous invasions by colonial powers. Many women choose to veil now, perhaps, to differentiate themselves from the Western powers that used to occupy them, and to show higher values over their former oppressors by exhibiting modesty and unrelenting faith through the means of their clothing. From this perspective, veiling is its own form of passive agency, completely opposing Laura Bush’s idea that veiling represents a lack of agency.
In seeing veiling as a form of agency rather than as a lack of agency, we need to understand that the freedom of choice is a fundamental aspect of agency. In some societies, perhaps women cannot choose to wear the veil and there the veils do not function as a means for standing up for themselves and their beliefs but rather of being oppressed by authority. However, in many societies, especially among Muslims living in the West who are veiled, women choose to wear the veil for very diverse but equally justified reasons. In class we discussed how the definition of agency as the right to choose is not the definition commonly given in the West, where we tend to equate agency with resistance. Western feminists need to understand that agency can be defined in terms other than resistance to domination, such as through the choice to exhibit our cultural and religious values through our clothing.
The Abu-Lughod article proves very relevant to the current discourse that is taking place right now between the radical FEMEN movement, which has gained worldwide media attention through its topless protests, and veiled Muslim women who led an online campaign criticizing FEMEN’s “International Topless Jihad Day”. The FEMEN event was held in honor of a Tunisian member of the group, Amina Tyler, who had to flee Tunisia after she received death threats for posting a picture of herself topless in protest of gender inequality. The Facebook group “Muslim Women Against FEMEN” was created to protest this event, in which various Muslim women across the world “reclaim their agency” by posting pictures of themselves holding signs about what their veil means to them. This shows how, through the global accessibility of social media, we are starting to fight ethnocentric and Western-dominated definitions of feminist agency and create a worldwide discourse that can fight the imposition of antiquated colonialist misconceptions and create a 21st century feminism that allows all women to recognize their respective agency in society.
By Marielle Velander
The Beginning of Arab Feminism
Arab Feminism started in the 19th century , with the beginning of the Arab renaissance. It was a result of the changes that Arab women witnessed in the area, in all aspects of life. This movement was born out of the struggle between the traditional, religious, feudal Ottoman way of life and the modern, secular, capitalist European way of life.
Anti-feminists claim that Arab feminism is an importation, imitation or cloning of the west, but the truth it is not, it is indigenous. Arab feminism came out from those women who suffered from injustice, unfairness, and unequal way of life. This movement struggled against two different forces: internal against the old religious, social and economic order; and external against European colonization.
What are the events that led to the rise of Feminism in the Arab world?
The Middle East, except Sudan and Morocco, was under Ottoman rule from the beginning of the 16th century to the end of the 18th century. During this period Arabs were having a dying, traditional, old religious way of life, that has been imposed on them and specially on women.
By the later part of the 18th century, the Ottomans lost most of their European territories. After a while, the central government in Istanbul loosened its grip over its territories and the local Arab governments increased their autonomy, to fall under European control later.
In the 19th century, Egypt was the first country to be rescued from the Ottoman rule. The Egyptian revenues from cotton and grain were exported to Europe through the Suez Canal. This commercial demand was to have its impact in accumulating capital in the hands of the rising urban merchant class in Egypt. European countries were already dividing the world among themselves; in 1882 the British claimed Egypt as theirs, the French having left Egypt in 1801 after the failure of Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition in 1798.
The new system encouraged the modernization of the country’s educational, cultural and administrative structures and included the introduction of private property. The landholders had a very close relationship with the British. The class of landholders replaced Turko- Circassian lifestyle with European ones.
Another rising class was the new petit bourgeoisie, who had lost their land and moved into the city to join the new service sector. This class soon split into two categories. The first category was those who saw European culture as a threat to their own. The second one was those who in the European system a better outlook for Egyptian society.
The new capitalist system had its impact on women, with the growing size of the working urban population, women lost their jobs and were forced to stay at home, their only sphere and where they can practice their authority. Keeping women at home was a practical expression of emphasizing Islamic or Arabic, or even Egyptian, identity against their fear from the influence of European culture on women.
Only the upper class men could afford the private education for their women, in-order to keep up with the British, although it cost them a lot of money. Middle and lower class women did not receive any kind of education, because they did not need it, and they were left for domestic work.
Therefore, there was no wonder that the women who first revolted, verbally, against their situation, were the educated women.
“The reformers had their feelings towards the Europeans shattered, especially when Britain did not keep its promises to the Egyptians and officially invaded the country. The educated, while still admiring Europeans culture and lifestyles, felt unhappy with the aggressive and colonial behavior of Britain. They had to show their nationalist and patriotic feelings in times of threat, thus in some cases supporting the call to adhere to an Islamic identity.
The reformers of the 19th century were moderate when it came to women’s issues. The right of the education was the main issue raised by both male and female reformers.
Gradually, the argument for women’s right grew out of the religious context.”
(Quoted from Nawar AL-Hassan’s Essay)
Feminism, as we know, is a movement that defends women and it comes in many shapes of which one is Islamic Feminism that focuses on Muslim women all around the world. This movement is not imported from the West because the feminist movement in the West is a secular one, while in Muslim countries it is inspired by the religion itself. Nowadays, many Western or non-Muslim people view Muslim women as victims who need saving, but the question is from what? Is it from religion or from society itself? Well, the answer should be crystal clear; religion has nothing to do with women being oppressed and voiceless in the Arab world. Fingers should be pointed at men, those who try to explain religious texts according to their needs and benefits, knowing so well that God has given women all their rights and made them different in a way that they would complete men and be effective in their society. Thus, equality should be in difference, not in sameness. So, why do men claim that they have the upper hand when God clearly said that all humans are equal? Let alone society that judges women and tries to keep them in a box as if to protect them, while forgetting that society itself is what oppresses women in the first place.
Furthermore being a woman in Islam does not mean having to stay home all the time and having to put up with orders and endless duties; it is being strong enough to be someone, being able to face challenges, it is raising a generation that not only respects others for who they are but also themselves as well, It is to hold responsibilities with strong, steady hands. In addition, women in Islam should be good role-models since they, as I mentioned, raise children; that is why women should be educated, know what they want and be, and become both religiously and culturally aware. They should unlearn old and wrong values in order to teach their children how to stand up and shine. Note that Islam focused on the importance of education and that both men and women should be equally educated.
Another important issue is the veil or as we call it “Hijab”. Hijab is an important part of Islamic religion; it’s a symbol of purity, faith, and religious identity. Women should wear it because they want to, not because society tells them to. We, as Muslims, failed to deliver the positive message of the hijab because wearing it does not mean that the woman is less educated or powerless or belongs to a specific social class as the West might think, and women are not in a shadow because they are wearing it. The West should know that, as Dr. Rula Quawas once said: “Women wear the hijab on their heads not on their minds.” As long as Muslim women know that beauty comes from the inside, it becomes obvious that they are not the ones who need saving – because they are, in fact, the true saviors.
In her essay “Is Feminism Relevant to Arab Women?”, Nawar Al-Hassan Golley focuses on the post-colonial era in 19th century Egypt, in which the British colonization established the roots of imperialism. The writer also discusses the Orientalist view that the west formed about the orient as a backward place full of oppression, where people, especially women, need to be saved. The west developed a false conception of what the orient is, and how the people in that area think or behave. As a result of the previously mentioned occidental preconceptions, Arabs were “othered” and looked down upon as exotic, erotic, seductive and an oppressed nation.
Two ideologies and movements emerged as a reaction to British colonization to Egypt; Nationalism or Patriotism and Feminism. And because these two major concepts emerged as a result of a western effect of the region, many people developed a misconception that feminism was imported from the west. And due to the political tension between the orient and the west, these ideas were not welcome to the extent that feminism was considered an alien ideology and its followers were seen as traitors of the country.
The notion that Arab feminism is imported from the west has negatively affected the Arab feminist movements as western societies are frequently visualized as socially sick and suffering from rape, pornography and family issues. Therefore, Arab feminists are thought to promote such ideas to Arab societies as agents of the west, which automatically forms an immediate rejecting stance especially in the context of the rising hostility against the western values.
Until this day, Arab Feminists fight on two fronts. They face a double struggle: an internal one to unlearn false conceptions related to culture, traditions and religion that people have internalized, and an external against Western colonization and the rejection they face from western societies. Not only Feminists suffer from that, but also the pressure that is sometimes forced upon them by dominant males in their societies. In Arab societies many men believe feminism is a westoxified movement and that feminists seek to de-culture the people. Therefore, a larger opposition to feminism was created.
Our role as Arab feminists is to come up with a counter-discourse that targets both westerners and our societies. We need to respond to the Orientalist view with a clear and honest self-presentation to correct all the wrong images about feminism, by showing who we really are, by standing up for ourselves and by using our own voices to fight for our rights and yes we have the guts, the power and agency to speak back for these mistaken representations.
The second element of feminists’ counter-discourse, which is not less important than the first, is the counter-discourse for the machismo society which believes that feminism does not belong to our part of the world. Our response to them is that our feminism is a home-grown movement and that it’s native and indigenous, it’s from us and for us, it’s not imported and it’s what women really want in the region. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with learning from western experiences and shape what we learn in a way that fits with our eastern culture and traditions. If we look at it it’s like a daughter taking her fathers’ best qualities and shaping them to fit with who she is and not to end up having the same exact image of her father. What we want is to adapt with these ideas not to adopt them.
When we come to think of Arab feminism, we see that it is fought against by both non-feminist Arabs and western societies. But the fact remains if feminism is imported from the west, then why wouldn’t the west support feminist movements in the Arab world and adopt it to “liberate” Arab women and spread western ideologies?
Dana el-Emam and Doaa Amayreh