Interview on Arab feminism
Jolene Tan // 4 March 2011
Via Al Jazeera, here is an interesting interview with Rabab al-Mahdi, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, Frances Hasso, a professor of Women’s Studies at Duke University, and Nadje al-Ali, a social anthropologist at the University of London, in light of the recent revolutions and the ongoing process of political renewal in Tunisia and Egypt. They discuss a range of themes including the approach of the Western media to the subject of “Middle Eastern women” (a category, as they make clear, too often treated as homogenous); women’s participation in forging new directions in these societies; the danger of holding Western social movements and societies up as unproblematic exemplars of progress or embodying the only way forward; and the history of particular social groups (including women) being left behind by political movements.
Near the end a member of the public calls up to pose a facile question about the danger of “Arab women behaving like Western women in terms of homosexuality […] and the covering of the hijab” (and I definitely recognise some of my own feelings in the expressions on all three interviewees’ faces at this point!) Rabab al-Mahdi responds with a wonderfully strong and concise statement of the right of every woman to bodily autonomy and her own choices, and the unhelpfulness of understanding this in terms of an “East-West” dichotomy.
Lots of food for thought there.