Interview on Arab feminism

// 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.

Comments From You

coldharbour // Posted 5 March 2011 at 1:26 pm

Excellent article, would like to see more international feminist perspectives on the F-Word.


I’ve only been reading Edward Said’s works over the past year, have you been influenced by him much? For anyone that’s not familiar with him this is a good short 4-part introduction to his most famous publication ‘Orientalism’.

Jolene Tan // Posted 6 March 2011 at 10:24 am

Thanks for the link coldharbour, I’ll check it out! I haven’t read Said himself, but a few years back I did research on the Singaporean/Malaysian political claims about “Asian values” and “Asian democracy” (usually advanced in support of restrictions on political contest and political speech), and encountered him tangentially.

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