Western Imperialism and Colonial Feminism in the Middle East

Like Qur’an and Woman, Women and Gender in Islam by Leila Ahmed challenges the dominant ideology that Islamic cultures are oppressive to women.  Ahmed outlines the “historical roots of a modern debate” in order for readers to comprehend how the status of women has changed over time.  Prior to urban development and expansion, women were not regarded as inferior to men.  To support this conclusion, she cites archaeological evidence from 6000 B.C.E.; women were buried in larger platforms than men, women’s bodies and lives were celebrated in artwork, and female goddesses were worshipped.

Many theories have been established which attempt to explain the shift in women’s positionality in society.  Gerda Lerner, a feminist theorist, “suggests that the importance of increasing the population and providing labor power in early societies led to the theft of women, whose sexuality and reproductive capacity became the first ‘property’ that tribes competed for” (12).  She goes on to discuss how female sexual purity and virginity became commodified, ultimately contributing to the perceived inferiority of women.

Over the next few chapters, Ahmed gives an in-depth analysis of the history of women in Islam and how their roles changed drastically depending on the specific setting.  Although I found all of this to be very interesting, I feel it is not necessary to discuss it in this context because it does not directly relate to the purpose of my independent project.  Instead, I would like to focus on part three of her text: new discourses.

Beginning “in the early nineteenth century[,] the societies of the Middle East began to undergo a fundamental social transformation” due to “economic enroachment by the West and entrammelment in the global economy, the emergence of ‘modern’ states in the region, and the domination, formal or informal, of much of the area by European colonial powers” (127).  Here, Ahmed outlines the key factors which played a role in the rise of gender inequality in Eastern societies.  Each point she addresses highlights the complexity and multidimensionality of this transformation, but I was especially interested in how her discussion of the role of colonialism and Western illustrates the divide between Western and Islamic cultures.  Although Ahmed speaks mostly about Egypt in these chapters, she argues that her main points apply to many other Islamic cultures because they acted in similar ways.

When European goods and businesses began competing with local, indigenous groups for business in Egypt in the 1770’s, they did not pose a major threat to the country’s economy.  It was not until the 1840’s that Egypt’s trade relations with Europe became necessary in order to ensure the nation’s financial security; this formed a serious trade imbalance and caused Egypt to become dependent on Europe for finished goods.  The consequences of this relationship were especially negative for lower and middle-class individuals who experienced an increase in competition with the European economy and a loss of work-related opportunities.  Because Egyptians did not have access to the same resources and technology, European colonizers were able to overtake their economy; they remained in this position of power for decades to come and the influence of this time period can still be felt today.

Around the same time, many individuals wrote and talked about the importance of incorporating women into the public sphere and improving their position within society.  The two main areas which they discussed were education and family law.  These individuals argued that girls needed to have equal access to primary school, alongside the opportunity to attend secondary school and university.  These criticisms were met with approval by the national governments, but the British colonizers had a different educational policy in mind.  Rather than responding to the “popular demand,” the British administration made access to education more restrictive.  They justified this by claiming that “subsidized education was not the province of government, and… that education could foster dangerous nationalist sentiments” (147).  An educated public posed a threat to the dominant social order in Egypt which favored European economic and political policies, therefore British colonizers were not interested in implementing these programs.  However, individual activists and charitable organizations felt that education was a basic human right, so they started forming schools for all children.  This on-the-ground activism seems to have been critical to this time period, particularly in response to the anti-democratic stance of the government.

Another issue which highlighted the differences between Western and Islamic understandings of gender is the veil.  The idea that veiling was oppressive to women was first theorized by Qassim Amin in Tahrir Al-Mar’a, or The Liberation of Women.  In order to fully comprehend this, it is important to understand the way in which Islamic women have been represented historically in Western discourse.  Ahmed states, “The peculiar practices of Islam with respect to women had always formed part of the Western narrative of the quintessential otherness and inferiority of Islam” (149).  Because Westerners came to understand this topic through hearsay, their narratives were often based on misunderstandings, assumptions, and false representations, which ultimately helped reinforce the dominant ideology that cultures in the East were somehow inferior to those in the West.  As the veil came to be associated with oppression, Islamic women were encouraged to unveil and adopt Western cultural and religious attitudes.

“Veiling – to Western eyes, the most visible marker of the differentness and inferiority of Islamic societies – became the symbol now of both the oppression of women (or, in the language of the day, Islam’s degradation of women) and the backwardness of Islam, and it became the open target of colonial attack and the spearhead of the assault on Muslim societies” (152).

This mindset also manifests itself is in the belief that certain cultural practices are associated with religious doctrine.  One example that is often used to justify Western imperialism is clitoridectomy, or female genital cutting.  Ahmed is quick to challenge this argument, noting that FGC “is not an Islamic custom, and in Egypt, for instance, is as common among Christians as among Muslims” (176).  I think this argument is extremely important when attempting to understand the power dynamics between Western imperialists and indigenous cultures in any country.  Because the Western elite have more power than any other group in the world, they are able to manipulate the dominant ideology to serve their own needs.  As is the case with Islam, it has led to the social construction of a belief that equates Islamic culture with oppression and inferiority.  However, this perspective on the issue is not what those controlling the world order want us to think.  Instead, they offer their own solutions to these “problems.”

The solution, according to Western imperialists and colonial feminists, was, and still is, for Islamic individuals to assimilate into European society.  The underlying assumption behind this line of thinking was that success, equality, and development were synonymous with Westernization.  As we know, this is not true.  Western women were experiencing many of the same problems as women in Islamic cultures.  Although their struggles were unique, they all experienced oppression as the result of sexism and misogyny.  As Ahmed rightfully concludes, those that sought to eradicate the veil were not genuinely interested in gender equality.  In order to advance the political agenda which favors the West in the global social order, Islamic cultures needed to be socially constructed as the other.  This only serves to justify colonialism and imperialism, whether in the form of missionaries manipulating women to convert to Christianity or Western occupation of countries in the Middle East.

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Women in the Qur’an

Time and time again, I had heard people claim that Islam was inherently misogynistic.  They supported their arguments with detailed accounts of female genital “mutilation,” honor killings, and arranged marriages.  This line of thinking is reinforced in media representations of Islam and public comments citing Islam as the source of women’s oppression and exploitation.  Although their arguments were convincing, I could not help but see them as flawed.  I had plenty of questions, but had yet to find unbiased answers.  If Islam is, as some say, inherently anti-woman, why is violence against women a problem facing the entire world?  Why has Islam been understood and regarded differently in certain time periods and geographical locations?  Were their arguments rooted in facts, supported by religious texts?  Or were they based off hearsay, misinterpretation, and cultural imperialism?

It was not until my second year in college that I finally found a place to voice these concerns.  In a course I took on cross-cultural perspectives on human rights, we discussed female genital cutting after reading Born in the Big Rains by Fadumo Korn and addressed the “issue” of the burqa when we read Malalai Joya’s, A Woman Among Warlords.  After reading the texts, doing outside research, and blogging about the different topics, I realized how many disparities there are in anti-Islamic arguments.  Where did the Qur’an say that women were inferior?  Where were the passages condoning inequality and injustice?

A few months later, I set off on a feminist and queer studies program in Europe, in which we often discussed the relationship between women and Islam.  In class, we spent a great deal of time reading theory about feminism and multiculturalism.  On the one hand there were theorists such as Susan Moller Okin who argued that multiculturalism was “bad for women.”  On the other hand, we read works by Homi Bhabha and Leila Ahmed who advocated for a comprehensive, unbiased understanding of different cultures.  This was of particular importance during our stays in Berlin, Germany and Utrecht, the Netherlands.  In Berlin, Muslims are being scapegoated and criminalized by a political agenda which aims to build a divide between German citizens and immigrants.  In The Netherlands, the right-wing government was launching a full-on war against Muslims.  For example, they were (are) interested in passing a law which would ban women from wearing the burqa, yet there are only about one hundred women in the country that actually wear the burqa.  Islamophobic attitudes are widespread there, only to be reinforced by politicians such as Geert Wilders and activists such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Upon returning to the United States, I wanted to immerse myself in literature and media about women’s experiences in Islamic cultures; I was interested in challenging myself to understand cultural differences through a new paradigm.  What better way to do this than by designing an independent project consisting of literature by feminist theorists, Islamic activists, and critics of Islam?

In Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, Amina Wadud offers one of the first  “female inclusive reading[s] of the Qur’an” (ix).  Dozens, if not hundreds, of male theorists and scholars had already taken on this task in the past, but none of them had paid specific attention to the role of gender and sexuality in the text.  Because of this, Wadud felt it was necessary for her to offer an alternative interpretation.  Prior to writing her book, Wadud had already come to pretty strong conclusions about women’s experiences in Islamic societies.

“However, I reasoned that only explicit Qur’anic indication that women and men were other than co-equals could require acceptance of this inequality as a basis of faithfulness to islam.  Mercifully, the more research I did into the Qur’an… the more affirmed I was that in Islam a female person was intended to be primordially, cosmologically, eschatologically, spiritually, and morally a full human being, equal to all who accepted Allah as Lord, Muhammad as prophet, and Islam as din” (ix-x).

Like Wadud, I had also come to this conclusion without doing much research on the actual religious texts.  Because of this, I felt it was important for me to read Wadud’s book and make sure my thoughts were grounded in reality.

Because Wadud’s research was specifically focusing on gender, she only offered translations for the passages which pertained to her study.  These included passages which were often used to justify gender inequality and other passages which clearly show the importance of equality in the Qur’an.  Before delving into the text, Wadud offers a brief explanation for how and why others have interpreted the text to be anti-woman.  She argues that attitudes towards women in society are inextricably linked to the ways in which we think, act, and interact with the world.  Therefore, if a man in a patriarchal society attempts to translate a text, he is likely to include his own perspective in his analysis, ultimately skewing the interpretation to match up with his worldview.  Some would say that this argument can be used to invalidate Wadud’s argument, but I would respond to this by pointing to the fact that Wadud’s reading is supported by linguistics and historical evidence.

She goes on to discuss how all those that have interpreted the Qur’an recognizes that it is founded on principles of respect, equality, and social justice.  All of these principles are not gendered, but become gendered through interpretative processes.  The Qur’an does not make distinctions based on gender, but rather on piety and morality; all those that follow these Qur’anic principles are supposed to be treated justly.  This idea is further reinforced by the understanding that all individuals come from a single origin and are expected to live collectively for the greater good of the community.

Another interesting idea that Wadud discusses in her book is biological differences between the sexes.  Although the Qur’an recognizes these differences, it does not provide a “detailed prescription set on how to function, culturally” (8).  Because the Qur’an was intended to be a universal, adaptable text, the specific details were left for interpretation.  This, however, has led to a very problematic state, in which social inequality is justified as part of Islamic cultures.  One example that Wadud gives is mothering.  In the Qur’an, women are categorized as having a “primary” responsibility to childbearing; because women are the only individuals capable of giving birth, this function becomes essential to human evolution.  This has come to be interpreted as a justification for women’s roles in the private sphere, namely childcare.  However, as Wadud notes, “No indication is given that mothering is her exclusive role.  Wadud concludes this section of the text by explaining how all tasks within a given society must be accomplished, regardless of who is performing the task, “because fulfilling the task  needed for survival takes precedence over socially determined roles” (67).

Wadud offers strong support for her arguments, but there were time that I felt unconvinced.  One example is the Qur’an’s explicit condemnation of a woman’s “wanton display” (97).  In response to this, Wadud says that “women are used to state a general principle” which applies equally to all that worship Allah.  However, I have a hard time understanding this in light of her discussions of linguistics.  Why would the text use the feminine plural in this instance, when it’s use has been so limited throughout the rest of the Qur’an?  Although I disagree with modern interpretations which associate this with women being confined in their homes, I also find myself disagreeing with Wadud’s interpretation of this passage.

Overall, I find that my feelings towards the Muslim religion have not changed drastically after reading Qur’an and Woman.  However, I feel that this text was very useful in helping me understand how and why my opinions were an accurate understanding of the state of Islam today.  Although I disagree with parts of Wadud’s rereading, I agree with her on the big picture, so to speak.  The “social problems” taking place in Islamic countries are not limited to specific geographical locations; violence against women, misogyny, and gendered oppression are problems which can be found in nearly all cultures in any time period.  They do not occur because of specific cultural beliefs or religions; rather, they reflect the foundations of gender inequality: patriarchy, sexism, and power dynamics.

 

There is no sentence in the Qur’an which justifies these inequalities.  In fact, the Qur’an allows readers to interpret the text and appropriate it to their specific cultural setting.  For this reason, Islamic societies have allowed themselves to transform over time.

“Any interpretations which narrowly apply the Qur’anic guidelines only to literal mimics of of the original community do an injustice to the text… no community can be a duplicate of that original community.  The Qur’an never states this as the goal.  Rather, the goal has been to emulate certain key principles of human development: justice, equity, harmony, moral responsibility, social awareness, and development” (95).

Associating Islam with these beliefs only helps perpetuate myths, stereotypes, and Islamophobia.  Although I would like to believe that these are unintended consequences, I recognize that they are part of a larger, global, political agenda, which I hope to discuss more in future posts.

Must-Read Articles: January Edition

*ORIGINALLY POSTED FOR PARADIGM SHIFT NYC*

“Ugandan Activist Named on Anti-Gay Hit List Found Murdered” – David Kato, a gay rights activist in Uganda, was found murdered in his home earlier this week.  Last year, his name, address, and photograph, appeared on a list of 100 gay men and lesbians living in Uganda.  This list was intended to incite violence, as evidenced by newspaper captions such as “hang them.”  This article offers great background information, up-to-date news on the current investigation, and more.

Stand with Brenda – As I just mentioned, life in Uganda is simply not safe for gay men and lesbians.  However, Brenda Namigadde, a lesbian from Ugandan, is likely to be deported from the United Kingdom tonight!  Eight years ago, she fled to avoid being “persecution for her sexuality;” if she is forced to return to Uganda, she will likely be harassed, tortured, or even killed.  Sign this petition as soon as possible to ensure that Brenda will be allowed to stay in the UK!

“How Abortion Bans Threaten Womens Lives” – Roe v. Wade overturned the abortion ban in the United States in 1973, yet 38 years later, women are still seeking abortions in unsafe environments.  In this article, Patty Skuster and Susan Schewel highlight the reality of this situation by discussing the illegal abortions that were being performed in a certified clinic in Philadelphia.  Even when abortion is legal, there are still many barriers to access that lead women into dangerous, even deadly, situations.

“No Jail Time for Lawrence Taylor” – Lawrence Taylor, a former American football player, was found guilty of having sex with a sixteen year-old girl that was trafficked into the sex trade last year.  Read this article to learn more about Taylor’s sentencing and domestic sex trafficking.

“When the politically fueled murder of a 9-year-old girl in Arizona is NOT national news”

“Stop Murder and Violence Against Sex Workers” – A great article from On the Issues about the treatment of sex workers by the criminal justice system and society at large.

“My First Day as an Abortion Doula” – In sharing her personal experiences, Miriam Perez shows how important doulas are for women seeking reproductive health services.  This article is truly an inspiration!

“The House GOP’s Plan to Redefine Rape”

An Interview with Jessie Fahay: Feminist Activist and Theater Director

*ORIGINALLY POSTED FOR PARADIGM SHIFT NYC*

Jessie Fahay, the founder of Ripple Effect Artists, recently spoke to us about her production of The Taming of the Shrew.  By adding a feminist twist to the traditional plot, Fahay hopes to encourage audience members to ask questions, get involved, and raise awareness about important issues affecting women.  In this interview, Fahay speaks about the relationship between theater and activism, gender roles, and her upcoming performances.

What inspired you to launch your performing arts company, Ripple Effect Artists?

I knew that I wanted to start a theatre company that would not only allow me to work with the theatre professionals I chose to work with, but also a theatre company that would make a difference in the community and the world.

What is the significance of your organization’s name?

When a stone is thrown into a body of water, it creates a “ripple effect.”  Our company is that stone that dares to ask our audiences bold questions and make a difference, which will inspire others in their circle to take action.  We are out to create a “ripple effect,” of a more connected, loving, communicative, and compassionate world.

What can the audience expect when coming to see your modern-day, feminist production of The Taming of the Shrew?

A lot of laughter, fun, and phenomenal 80’s costumes!  Really, audiences can expect to feel every range of emotion from extreme joy to extreme terror to extreme sadness.

On your website, you say that the roles of women have changed since Shakespeare’s time, but have also remained the same in some ways.  What differences and similarities do you see between these time periods?

This is a pivotal question.  Differences of course include that women are working, women are the bosses of men, and in many places of the world it is no longer acceptable to inflict physical harm on a woman simply because she is a woman.  Also, there are many organizations (such as Paradigm Shift) that stand for the rights and empowerment of women.  Yet, there are still similarities.  One underlying truth is that as powerful as women can be, women often live in fear—even in the United States as well as many other parts of the world.  There are places of power women still have not obtained (i,e, the President of the United States, most CEO positions, etc, etc.).   In addition, in many places of the world, women are still denied education.

Why did you decide to set your version of The Taming of the Shrew in the 1980′s, rather than the present-day?

This was actually the choice of the brilliant director, Jeff Love.  This came from the thinking that the 80’s was the time in which women were first given powerful roles in the workplace.  Yet, it was still acceptable to make comments about a woman’s attire and to make sexual advances on a woman in the office.  This was a decade of a lot of murkiness when it came to women’s roles in the workplace and at home, which is why it works for this production.

Following some of the performances, there will be a panel discussion with women’s rights activists.  Who will be speaking on this panel and what can the audience hope to gain from this discussion?

There are four different panel discussions—one with employees of Paradigm Shift, one with a leader of a new female-empowerment group, one with a life-coach, and one with a female playwright.  The audience will gain information about these organizations and individuals and what exactly they do as well as gain insights into what differences can be made day-by-day.

When people come watch your performances, they are encouraged to recognize different types of inequality and ask questions.  I think this is great because it puts the audience in an active position to make a difference, in themselves and in society.  How do your performances act as a platform for activism?

Thank you for the recognition.  The answer is in the question.  We challenge our audiences by putting on performances that ask questions (not performances that make statements).  We then further challenge them by asking what differences can be made.

What do you hope the future will bring for Ripple Effect Artists?

For the next five years, Ripple effect will produce one or two shows per year following this format with different issues such as gay-rights, abuse, unrequited love, warfare, etc.  The goal of Ripple Effect is to become an Equity Company in five years with an ensemble of actors, directors, writers, and a staff, with the founder acting as the artistic director.

 

Sara Kruzan, Human Trafficking, and the Criminal Justice System

*ORIGINALLY POSTED FOR PARADIGM SHIFT NYC*

For most of her life, Sara Kruzan was sexually and physically abused.  When she was eleven years old, she met G.G., the man that would later become her pimp.  Two years later, she was gang-raped and trafficked by G.G. into the sex industry; she spent three years working as a prostitute.  At the age of sixteen, Sara Kruzan robbed, shot, and killed G.G. in a Riverside County motel room.  She was ultimately tried and convicted of “special circumstances” murder in the first degree; her sentence was life in prison without the possibility of parole.  For the past sixteen years, Sara has been an exemplary prisoner: she has received her associate’s degree, undergone several rehabilitation programs, and undergone a complete transformation.

In 2010, she asked California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant her clemency.  This case received national media attention and drew the support of countless activists.  Numerous petitions were drafted, urging the Governor to accept Kruzan’s request; approximately forty thousand Change.org members signed one such petition.  Other activists extended their support by making phone calls, writing letters, and even sending holiday cards to the Governor.

On January 2nd, 2011, Governor Schwarzenegger made his decision.  Although he did not release Kruzan from prison with time served, he commuted her sentence to twenty-five years in prison with the possibility of parole.  Here is an excerpt of what he had to say about the case:

“On March 10, 1994, 16-year-old Sara Kruzan shot and killed her former pimp, 37-year-old George Howard. In response to threats by James Earl Hampton, Ms. Kruzan went to a movie with Mr. Howard. After the movie, the pair went to a hotel. As they prepared to have sexual intercourse, she shot Mr. Howard to death. Ms. Kruzan was convicted of special circumstances first-degree murder (while lying in wait and during a robbery) with a firearm. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus four consecutive years for the use of a firearm. Ms. Kruzan appealed her conviction, but her sentence was upheld. Mr. Howard’s death is tragic, and I do not discount the gravity of the offense. But given Ms. Kruzan’s age at the time of the murder, and considering the significant abuse she suffered at his hands, I believe Ms. Kruzan’s sentence is excessive. Accordingly, I commute Ms. Kruzan’s murder sentence to 25 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole.”

When Kruzan was convicted in 1994, there was a very limited understanding of the complex nature of human trafficking.  Victims of human trafficking were, and in many cases still are, treated as criminals.  For years, Kruzan was sexually abused, psychologically manipulated, and repeatedly traumatized.  Her childhood had been stripped away from her and she was forced to fight for her life.  Rather than considering the extenuating circumstances of Kruzan’s case, her actions were seen as criminal offenses.

Kruzan was also a minor at the time that she killed her pimp.  Sentencing a minor to life in prison without the possibility of parole ends a life that has not even had enough time to begin.  Elizabeth Calvin, a children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch says:

“Teenagers are still developing.  No one – not a judge, a psychologist, or a doctor – can look at a sixteen year old and be sure how that young person will turn out as an adult.  It makes sense to re-examine these cases when the individual has grown up and becomes an adult. There’s no question that we can keep the public safe without locking youth up forever for crimes committed when they were still considered too young to have the judgment to vote or drive.”

Children’s rights advocates in California consider this case to be a victory and are hoping to make changes which can help juvenile offenders in the state of California.  Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco has recently reintroduced Senate Bill 9, which would allow courts to reconsider their decisions regarding cases where minors were sentenced to life without parole after they had served ten years in prison.

Although I am glad that Kruzan’s sentence was commuted, I was really hoping that she would be released from prison with time served.  She had undergone years of trauma and abuse; she should never have been sent to prison in the first place.  After killing Howards, Kruzan should have been sent to a rehabilitation program, such as California’s Children of the Night.  Since 1979, Children of the Night has been “assisting children between the ages of 11 and 17 who are forced to prostitute on the streets for food to eat and a place to sleep.”  Instead, the courts ordered her to spend the rest of her life behind bars.  Unfortunately, these types of scenarios are not a thing of the past.  Children in the sex trade and victims of human trafficking are often re-victimized by the criminal justice system.  They may be imprisoned, deported, or even sexually assaulted by law enforcement officials.  The system which is supposed to be fighting to ensure the safety and security of those living in the United States ultimately perpetuates this endless cycle of abuse and violence.

Recent Must-Read Articles

*ORIGINALLY POSTED FOR PARADIGM SHIFT NYC*

Who Will Rape Me? – Written by Andrea Grimes at Hay Ladies, this post discusses the reality of sexual assault against women and the lived experiences of women in rape culture.

MTV’s Shockingly Good Abortion Special – On December 28th, MTV aired a special episode of 16 and Pregnantwhich featured three teenagers that chose to have abortions… and it was “shockingly good.”

Women Deserve Better – As soon as I read these poems, I could not wait to share them with my friends.  At times touching, other times heartbreaking, these poems address many important issues affecting women around the world today.

Arizona Bans Ethnic Studies, and Along With It, Reason and Justice – I could not have said this better myself…

Tests of ‘Roe’ More Frequent since Justices Upheld Late-term Abortion Ban in ’07 – Read this to learn what these tests mean for our reproductive rights and why the 2007 decision was so significant.

Life-Saving Hospital May No Longer Consider Itself Catholic – During the eleventh week of her pregnancy, a woman rushed to St. Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.  She needed the doctors to perform a life-saving abortion, a procedure which went against the hospital’s Catholic, pro-life principles.

Feminism: A Moral Compass for Change – A great piece on one woman’s experiences with feminism.

Have you been reading or writing anything lately?  If so, please share!

My Feminist Reading List

*ORIGINALLY POSTED FOR PARADIGM SHIFT NYC*

What better way to spend the holiday season than cozying on up with a great book, some pumpkin bread, and a huge cup of coffee?  Now that school is out of session, I finally have time to catch up on reading books that aren’t found on my course syllabi.  My list of books to read is endless, so I have no choice but to narrow it down to a reasonable amount.

So far, I have read two amazing books by two amazing, feminist authors.  First, I read Gender Trouble by Judith Butler. I had already read numerous articles and excerpts written by Judith Butler, so I assumed I would love the book… I was right.  Her work is both theoretical and intellectual, revolutionary yet completely grounded in reality.  Gender Trouble is one of Butler’s earlier books and considered to be part of the canon for feminist and queer theory.  In this text, Butler completely challenges our understandings of gender, sexuality, and social constructionism.  This book is a must-read for anyone interested in identity politics!

After this, I decided it was time for a break from theory.  I needed something easy to read, but equally thought-provoking and inspiring, so I turned to Overcoming Speechlessness by Alice Walker.  Before I delved into the text, I spent some time thinking about what it means to be speechless.  We are often speechless in light of a situation which elicits a strong emotional response; whether our reaction is positive or negative is irrelevant.  After spending a great deal of time pondering the meaning of the title, I turned to the first page and started reading.  Once I started, I did not stop until I reached the end.  As part of a trip organized by Women for Women International, Walker travelled to Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel.  She documents her experiences, which later turn into a poem known as Overcoming Speechlessness.  Needless to say, I was not left speechless after reading the text.  In fact, my mind was racing with thoughts at such a speed that I could barely keep up with them!  Walker transported me to a world full of terrible injustices and human rights violations, yet allowed me to see beyond this exterior.  Regardless of these terrible situations, there is still love, humanity, and a strong sense of community.  Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, Overcoming Speechlessness is definitely one of the most powerful texts I have ever read.

Next up on my never-ending list of books to read is Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio. When I first met my best friend, she told me that this book completely changed her life by re-introducing her to feminism and empowerment.  Having known nothing about the content of the book, I was intrigued to learn more.  I have finally gotten around to reading this book and must say I am pleasantly surprised!  I am only a few pages in to the text but can already recognize why my friend loves this book so much.  Muscio’s ideas can be controversial, challenging, and absolutely incredible.  In this text, she argues that women need to reclaim the word cunt because it represents womanhood, passion, and strength.  As Ophira Edut at Bust Magazine says, “Cunt does for feminism what smoothies did for high-fiber diets—it reinvents the oft-indigestible into something sweet and delicious.”

Once I finish reading Cunt, I hope to read a few more books before returning to school, including:

For Colored Girls that have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is not Enuf by Ntozake Shange – I had never heard of this book until it became a major motion picture.  From what I had heard, the film discussed issues such as abortion, sexual assault, identity poltiics, and more.  Before running to the theater to check out what sounded like a great movie, I decided to pick up a copy at my local bookstore.  I’m really looking forward to reading this book, watching the film, and comparing the two!

Nimos War, Emmas War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War by Cynthia Enloe Next semester, I will be taking on an independent project on women and Islam.  When I first approached my professor to discuss this, she gave me some suggestions of texts which I could include in the syllabus.  I chose not to use this book because it was slightly unrelated to the other books I would be reading, but it definitely fits in to my areas of interest.  Enloe’s text follows the life of eight women during the Iraq War – four from the United States and four from Iraq.  In doing so, she offers a realistic portrayal of women’s lived experiences during wartime which challenges the stories which are presented by mainstream news and media sources.

So what have you been reading recently?

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