I finished reading Women and Gender in Islam today. I enjoyed it and thought it was an informative introduction to the topic, but I would be interested in reading more recent scholarship since it was published in 1992. Leila Ahmed, the author, even said herself that several of the topics she touched on required more research and discussion but that the material was not available when she was writing. For that reason, she also focused more on Egypt in her discussion of the last few centuries, and I would like to know more about Iran and Iraq, given the current political situation and my own geographical location.
I wish I had taken a larger variety of classes in college than I did – by the time I took feminist theory, the remainder of my schedule was already set in stone because I was trying to finish up three majors. However, I thought the readings we did on global feminism and women in developing countries were fascinating, and wanted to learn more. Ahmed raised a concern that one article I’d read in college also addressed, though in that case it was about India. The problem is the way that colonialism, Westernization and nationalism mixed and conflicted with each other, and how they used and effected women for their causes. Due to the way “feminist” ideas were used by colonial powers to rationalize their position, feminism has been made “suspect in Arab eyes and vulnerable to the charge of being an ally of colonial interests” (167). For example, Ahmed references British general consul Cromer to illustrate this. While in Egypt, he and other Western men used women’s position in society to justify colonization, even though in Britain he was a member of an anti-suffragist club (obviously, he couldn’t have been too concerned about women’s equality). The West simply expressed their misogyny differently, but of course being the ones in power, the Westerners felt theirs was the more dignified culture. The veil was one example of a practice that the West found uncivilized and oppressive. In opposition to this view, later the veil would serve as a symbol of nationalism for some. As Ahmed notes, “it was in this discourse of colonial ‘feminism’ that the notion that an intrinsic connection existed between the issues of culture and the status of women . . . first made its appearance” (244). Instead of attempting to change their society from within as Western women had done, colonialism wanted Muslim women to reject their own culture in favor of the West.
The article about India discussed how this type of legacy was still affecting women today, and how feminists in India often were accused of rejecting their culture in favor of Westernization. There are other historical examples of how traditions that are judged and abhorred by the West become matters of nationalist movements as a direct result. When female genital circumcision was first outlawed in Kenya, another one time British colony, some girls grouped together and did it themselves because they felt they were being denied an important right of passage. As mentioned above, the Western judgment against this practice later made it more difficult for women within the culture to speak against it without being accused of becoming Western. Maybe I should see if I can find a copy of the book that article was in on Amazon. Speaking of which, anyone have any good recommendations for books? Novels, gender studies, post-colonialism, etc? Amazon only gives me so many recommendations, and since it tends to focus on my most recent purchases, I don’t always think its recommendations are necessarily that accurate.
I really wish I were back in college – I miss being able to discuss the books I’m reading with people. Here, I either end up just going on to the next book in my stack, or end up trying to discuss and explain them to people that don’t really care or don’t know what I’m talking about. I read Me Talk Pretty One Day recently, and a few of the passages were very funny – I was trying to tell someone about one or two of them, and he just looked at me like I was crazy/ asked stuff that really didn’t have anything to do with the humor. On the other hand, the person I talk to most out here tends to disagree with everything I say (because it’s fun), so at least I’m getting practice arguing and justifying my positions. That’s kind of good, I guess. Maybe. Also rather obnoxious.
Enough about books – probably should mention something about my life. I’m still in Iraq – only a year to go! It’s like I’m almost done with my practice deployment and about to start the real one. Obviously, I’ve had time to do some reading, but unfortunately, I haven’t watched too many new movies. There’s not really much of a movie theater here, and whenever I’m in my room, I currently prefer watching DVDs of TV shows (preferably with the play all option, which Buffy unfortunately doesn’t have on all its seasons). I finally got the last disc of the second season of The Office, and now I’m just waiting for someone to order the third season so I can borrow it. I also watched 30 Rock so I’m now caught up on Must See TV. That’s still what they call it, right? I remember after NBC lost Friends (of course, it should have ended about a season or two before it did), it seemed like Must See TV didn’t have much to offer. I guess that’s changed. There’s one show I have absolutely no desire to own on DVD – they’ve shown so many reruns of Friends that I would be perfectly happy never seeing another episode. So much for talking about Iraq.