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Journal of Political Ecology:
Case Studies in History and Society
VOLUME 6 (1999)
Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East by edited by Lila Abu-Lughod. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1998), ix, 300 pp.
onset, the visual imagery on the book's cover (a caricatured drawing
of two Egyptian women, one baladi and one afrangi), taken from the Egyptian
magazine Al-Ithnayn published in 1934, speaks volumes but not to the volume
at hand. The title to the magazine illustration is Beauty of Today
and Beauty of the Past. Without analytic commentary justifying the
adoption of this image, the irony in the message of the picture's title
and the juxtaposition of local imageries in the picture is lost. Keeping
the 1934 reading of the image, "past versus present beauty",
without analyzing its intersection with Egyptian cultural notions of baladi
versus afrangi women (on this see Early 1993) is a missed opportunity
to seek insights through visual and ethnographic analysis. The reader
now sees only an exotic image used to sell another book on Middle East
women. There is clearly a deluge of publications on Middle East women
claiming a "feminist" genre many put together in haste, often
using non-analytic, discourse-focused polemics, and a Women's Studies'
eclectic orientation ÷ a common genre that tends to ignore disciplinary
canons of inquiry and violate both people's culture and disciplinary method.
Introduction (pp. 3 - 31), Abu-Lughod presents "three issues"
addressed by the book: "First is the way that in the postcolonial
world women have become potent symbols of identity and visions of society
and the nation." (p. 3). "Second is the way that women
themselves actively participate in these debates and social struggles,
with feminism · an inescapable term of reference" (p. 3).
"Third are the complex ways that the West · embraced, repudiated,
and translated, are implicated in contemporary gender politics" (p.
3). Earlier in the Preface (pp. vii - ix) the Editor had mentioned
certain other features (which is confusing) that are viewed as shared
by the contributing authors of the collection. Four are mentioned:
1) questioning the dichotomy tradition/modernity and its assumed association
with domestic/public roles respectively, 2) questioning the equating of
modernity with progress, emancipation and empowerment of women, 3) "taking
seriously" the relationship of Europe to Middle Eastern projects
of remaking women, 4) using a broad definition of feminism ÷ one
that is not confined to women's movements and liberation from patriarchy
÷that includes the wide range of projects having women as their
objects, such as state building, anti-colonial nationalism, changing
social orders, and the emergence of new classes.
is nothing groundbreaking or conceptually new in these formulations. Some
can even be read as naïve in light of the available knowledge and
scholarship in anthropology. At first one wonders whether we need another
work to rehash old discussions. Is there still a question about domestic/public
roles being linked to tradition/modernity? Has not the assumption of women's
emancipation been delinked from modernization? Has not the ethnocentric
feminism fragmented into culture-based feminisms? Is it new thinking
to recognize the influence of colonial encounter? Was this process
of incorporating elements in contact situation not studied as syncretism
in anthropology for many decades?
Abu-Lughod seems to think that a reconceptualization will occur if one
only offers a different word to the subject. A good example is in
this quote from the Introduction: "·hybridization and translation
seem especially appropriate · where the term "postcolonial"
might seem confusing" (p. 18). There is an illusion here that
by introducing new or current terms to substitute for existing ones then
magically (perhaps philosophically) this new word will shed light on the
phenomenon addressed, not by systematic data, theoretical analysis, or
cultural contextualization. Inevitably we are led from reification
of terms to pigeonholing: "notions of the postcolonial might seem
more appropriate to places like India, the Caribbean, or Algeria. The
history of the Middle East is far more messy" (p. 18). Are we
ranking histories on a scale of messiness? Is Algeria not part of the
Middle East? Nor is the notion of hybridization a postmodern term. It
can be traced back at least to the 1950s in American anthropology (see
Barnett 1953:188, 224 and more generally, pp. 181-224). It was then
seriously, not polemically, integrated as part of the development of a
conceptual framework for studying culture change.
is one postulation among the issues raised that is mentioned in both Preface
and Introduction. It is "the vexed question of the relationship
of Europe to Middle Eastern projects of remaking women" (p. vi). Phrased
differently: "How are we to think about those discourses that borrowed
from Europe, were supported by Europeans, or were shaped in response to
colonial definitions of the "backwardness" of the East?"
(p. 6). Indeed how?
to be noted that the Preface and the Introduction do not simply summarize
contributions in the volume or determine their shared features. They are
in large part a framing for an orientation, a perspective, an ideological
stance on scholarship, even when in some instances the evidence discovered,
as in Fahmy's archival-based study, contradicts it. The book seeks
to address what is considered a paradox: that calls for remaking women
at the turn of the century advocated more public participation and more
rigid domesticity (p. 8, emphasis added). Further, Abu-Lughod sees
as confusing "the way Muslim thinkers (from South Asia) can both
be working within· Muslim tradition · and yet be shaped
by the colonial encounter" (p. 19). It must be noted that these
latter remarks are made by an advocate against a tradition / modernity
dichotomy (p. vii, 13,14,15, etc.). Perhaps what appears to be contradictory
is ultimately a function of the gaze implicitly constructed out of the
frame of reference.
are two aspects of the editorial framing of this body of works that merit
scrutiny. First, the notion of culture is described in terms such
as "rigid" (p. 16), "ossified" (p. 17), and having
an "emperial genealogy" (p. 14). This is a stance
that confuses culture politics of manipulation and control with a people's
woven shared conceptualization that shapes their identity and historical
uniqueness. It is not necessary to throw out culture when we choose
to focus on culture politics, or then we throw out the baby with the bath
water. The cultural factor would enhance analyses of culture politics.
there is a particular angle it advocates when "taking seriously
the relationship to Europe of the Middle East project of remaking women." Previous
works on turn-of-century feminism in the Middle East are considered to
have postulated that by adopting European feminism men and women accepted
colonial domination and their own subordination. An alternative understanding
is proposed in this volume, which calls for "interrogating the
complex ways in which European colonial power was fundamental to the historical
development of the Middle East" (p. xvi) instead of the postcolonial
approach that attributes low status of colonized women to missionaries
and colonial officials (p. 14). "We must tell the story of colonialism
· in cultural terms" (p. 17). Here, in contradiction with
the overall posture, culture is admitted.
the notion "appropriation", commonly used in hegemonic contexts,
is employed here in reverse. The colonized are seen as appropriating
European culture, which becomes a stimulus to a new modernity. This of
course neutralizes the element of power asymmetry inherent in colonial
encounter and glosses over specific and complex exploitive conditions
under which projects are forced upon a culture. The reader is told that
"wherever Christian missionaries and European colonists set down·
marks were left on gender ideals and possibilities" (4), that there
is value in emulating the West (p.19). Obscure wording aside, this
reads as a hegemonic framework to the study of feminism.
Sardar explicitly critiques these hegemonic orientations. He writes
(1999:1; also see Sardar 1998): "colonialism has already drained
much of the wealth of the ÎThird World', (and now) postmodernism
appropriates the last resources · its traditions, spiritualities,
cultural property, ideas and notions· the new imperialism·." The
phrase "word imperialism" comes to mind, invoking Barnett's
work on innovation in the 1950s, as we examine the framing vocabulary
and terminology. For example, the notion "born-again" (p.
253) is employed in reference to Islamic movements, privileging a Christian
frame of reference for an Islamic phenomenon. Projecting familiar
ideas or constructs on the phenomenon of study is ethnocentric. The phrase
"modernizing women" (p. 8) or remaking them, as in the title
of the book, validate a colonial vocabulary of dominance.
to refer to Middle East women's cultural solidarities of private women's
worlds and bonding as "homosocial networks" (p.12), evokes familiar
contemporary vocabulary about same sex alliances carrying connotations
beyond the literal technical meaning of the term, ironically invoking
Orientalist fantasies we were warned about by Edward Said's classic critique.
Collier is quoted (p.28) but the message in her comment is not heeded. She
is quoted as having written that images of "enslaved", veiled
Muslim women, who could not marry for love or develop intimate relations
with husbands "must have played a crucial role in constructing images
of Western women as consenting to their disempowerment · (and)
· helped reconcile Western men to marriages that were difficult
to distinguish from prostitution as the devaluation of women's work left
women only 'love' to offer in return for the money they and their children
needed to survive" (see Collier 1995: 162). Collier adds another
dimension in the colonial encounter. But there is also the reality
of colonial appropriation of ideas, models and constructs from the subjugated
societies. If we are to examine complexity in the process, all these
aspects in colonial encounter, including power asymmetry must be addressed.
the book consists of works (except for one article) dealing with discourse
on women providing 'evidence' of influence from European discourse on
gender and debates about the value of emulating the West. A genealogy
of scholarship is mentioned that includes, in particular, Timothy Mitchell,
Denise Kandiyoti, Leila Ahmed, Margot Badran, Beth Baron and Parvin Paidar,
who crystallized questions of feminist interest, such as the politics
of modernity, the politics of East / West relations, and class. Overall,
this volume is reactive to claims made in the above-mentioned scholarship.
It is to be noted that discourse scholarship tends to examine text (without
context) and words (without ethnography) ÷ a trend that is going
out of vogue in anthropology but seems to continue in full gear in women's
studies. It over-expresses its claims and undersupports by evidence.
needs to go beyond text and local voices. While necessary ingredients,
these are not sufficient. Theoretical conceptualization, not mere
term assignments, refines studies and increases understanding. One needs
to go beyond recording local voices, assuming it "· sufficient
to produce meaning. It is not" (El Guindi 1999b: 67). Conclusions
presented on that basis are dubious, as for example the claim that women's
veiling is a response to pitting Islamic culture against Western culture
(p. 15). Another is that "political defeats like the 1967 war
with Israel" are explained as caused by " straying from the
Islamic path" (pp. 14-15). Local expressions, ideologizations and
rationalizations seeking answers to lived experiences and political crises
are left at that. No theoretical analysis is provided. Abu-Lughod's
call against culture and generalization was compellingly critiqued in
the recently published Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology
(Schweizer 1998:60). Anthropologists object to orientations that
deny individuality of people and particularity of cultures. Stripped
of identity, people become homogenized and globalized actors in a large
machine of economy and postmodernity.
Women is divided into seven chapters grouped into three parts. Part
One (pp. 33-87) is titled "Rewriting Feminist Beginnings: The Nineteenth
Century." It has two chapters. Chapter 1 (pp. 35-72) by
Khaled Fahmy (History), has the title "Women, Medicine, and Power
in Nineteenth-Century Egypt," and Chapter 2 (pp.73-87) by Mervat
Hatem (Political Science) is called "'Aisha Taymur's Tears and
the Critique of the Modernist and the Feminist Discourses on Nineteenth-Century
Egypt." Part Two: "Mothers, Wives, and Citizens: The Turn
of the Century" (pp. 89-211) consists of three chapters. Chapter
3 (pp. 91-125) by Afsaneh Najmabadi (Women's Studies) is called "Crafting
an Educated Housewife in Iran." Chapter 4 (pp.126-170) by Omnia Shakry
(History) is titled "Schooled Mothers and Structured Play: Child
Rearing in Turn-of-the-Century Egypt," and Chapter 5 (pp. 171-211)
by Marilyn Booth (author and translator) is called "The Egyptian
Lives of Jeanne d'Arc." Part Three (pp. 213 - 269) is titled
"Islamism, Modernism, and Feminisms: The Late Twentieth Century." It
has two chapters. Chapter 6 (pp. 215-242) by Zohreh T. Sullivan (English)
is titled "Eluding the Feminist, Overthrowing the Modern? Transformations
in Twentieth-Century Iran." Chapter 7 by Lila Abu-Lughod (Women's
Studies & Anthropology) is titled "The Marriage of Feminism
and Islamism in Egypt: Selective Repudiation as a Dynamic of Postcolonial
Cultural Politics." The volume concludes with an Afterword (pp.
270 - 287) by Deniz Kandiyoti (Women's Studies) titled "Some Awkward
Questions on Women and Modernity in Turkey."
volume contributors are rescrutinizing the Egyptian feminist writer Qasim
Amin, who was presumed to have been calling for "retraditionalization"
of womanhood in the guise of modernization. In a recent article (1999a)
I argue that in fact what Qasim Amin was proposing was quite different. He
was proposing a European model of womanhood and domesticity, not a return
to Egyptian traditional womanhood, a direction which when examined carefully
in the context of Egyptian society seems to diminish women's status rather
than enhance it and reduce women's rights. The term "retraditionalization"
is not appropriate. Colonial intrusions through local interlocutors
of Europeanization finds many examples, as we shall see when I discuss
Chapter 1 by Fahmy below.
("Feminist Longings and Postcolonial Conditions," pp. 3 -
31) begins with three "stories" (referred to as phenomena),
from Turkey, Iran and Egypt, immediately reducing the broadly stated goals
to women's veiling. The story on Egypt refers to a woman television broadcaster
who wrote a book on her journey from sufur to hijab. Abu-Lughod translates
the title of her book as "· from Unveiling to Veiling "
(p. 3, emphasis added) thus distorting the cultural nuances of the original
of these stories are the purported representatives of the volume's Middle
East. But the book deals "most in fact with Egypt" (p.
4). Of the 234 chapter pages, 164 are about Egypt, 70 on Iran. Turkey
is not covered in any of the chapters but is the basis of observations
in the Afterword (pp. 270-287). To justify the narrowness of cultural
geography, Abu-Lughod states that "the Middle East is too broad"
(p. viii) and one "cannot include all the countries on the issues
we consider" (p. viii). To readers seeking books to use in Middle
East classes then, the volume's subtitle (Feminism and Modernity in The
Middle East) is grossly misleading.
examines the works and studies on Islamic veiling and suggests that the
phenomenon does not represent a return to traditional practices, but rather
is an example of an alternative modernity. Was this not already argued
and demonstrated in the 1980s? Among other works my own publications
on the subject already established this point on the basis of field data
(see El Guindi 1981a, 1981b, 1981c, 1982a, 1982b, 1982c, 1983, 1986, 1987,
1995 and most recently in my article (1999a), and book Veil: Modesty,
Privacy and Resistance, 1999b).
this body of works has no new conceptualization or novel postulations,
why should anyone read it or take it seriously? I propose a few reasons
for its use most appropriately in classes of Culture Studies and Women's
Studies: First, it further demonstrates the flaws within the non-disciplinary 'women's
studies' approach to the study of feminism and the problems inherent in
orientations that avoid systematic data and analysis. Perhaps it
will stimulate more carefully conceptualized, systematically researched
studies, or a total reconsideration of the value in keeping Women's Studies
in academic setting. After all, it has accomplished the goals it
has set out to do since the 1970s, bringing about awareness and stimulating
research on women. It is time to move on.
individual contributions in this volume that both challenge and expand
on claims proposed in scholarship of feminism and modernity actually provide
new detailed and interesting descriptions, two of which (Fahmy and Booth)
challenge the editorial framing of this volume.
1, Fahmy has an excellent, clearly written, thoroughly researched piece.
Its approach is not discoursist and its subject is not women's writing
(the only chapter in the volume that is not). It is rich in primary data
from archival sources in Egypt, by research done over a period of two
years in the National Archives of Egypt. The research covers the
medical institutions introduced into Egypt as part of reform by Muhammad
Ali Pasha in the nineteenth century. In 1832, Dr. Antoine-Barthélemy
Clot, a French doctor from Marseilles who was called to Cairo by Muhammad
Ali Pasha for the purpose of organizing Egypt's medical system, opened
a new school for women to practice medicine. The chapter chronicles archival
case after case in meticulous detail about the developmental history and
the related dynamics with regard to the establishment of this School of
Midwives, a term used by La Verne Kuhnke, the historian of the subject,
and used by Fahmy (p. 35).
the term 'midwife' in English is misleading for the non-Arabic speakers. It
is reductionist to describe, as Abu-Lughod does (p. 10) Fahmy's study
as showing the "ambivalence toward these women doctors · (and
how) · they were treated as second class vis-à-vis male doctors." This
observation assumes that hakima is equivalent to female doctor, which
might account but not excuse the knee-jerk jump into patriarchy arguments.
The true find in Fahmy's study lies in his well-documented demonstration
of how the establishment of this school, and hence this new gendered medical
practitioner, was an imposition on the local cultural and social system
used to disrupt cultural understandings and violate established social
relations, religious beliefs and professional hierarchies. The empirically-based
insights deriving from the resistance (or sites of contestation (p. 37))
manifested in some segments of society reported by Fahmy are lost on Abu-Lughod.
word for this new medical practitioner is hakima. The traditional
midwife in Egypt is known as daya in Arabic. I add that the term employed
for women and men doctors with degrees from the College of Medicine is
tabib (male)/ tabiba (female). To shed light on the data presented, I
recall the cultural value attached to these professions. Hakim/ hakima
(male and female, although when first introduced it was only female, it
seems), when put on the scale of professionalism (and prestige) in the
medical profession, has a higher place than traditional midwife (daya)
but is considered lower than physician (tabib or tabiba), male or female. I
also bring into this discussion the other class of practitioners known
as mumarrid / mumarrida, Arabic for nurse. Perhaps a study of
root beginnings for all these medical professions and their related Arabic
vocabulary would be most relevant to this study. When, at some point, tamrid (nursing)
entered (though it is still not taken seriously) it was located above
daya (traditional midwife) but below hakima on that scale. It, as
in the case of the secretary, used to be predominantly a male occupation
in Egypt, due to its being culturally viewed as too subordinating for
women to occupy it. Awareness of this cultural knowledge might have
deterred Abu-Lughod's rush to the patriarchal argument for answers.
to Fahmy's research, the new school of hakimas provided a different kind
of training for a new practice, clearly distinguished from the situation
of midwife in which there had been no formal training. I add that it was
not intended to produce female physicians either. In fact, as Fahmy
tell us, these women were trained in midwifery and obstetrics, with some
instruction in basic knowledge of modern medicine (p. 36). This development
produced a familiar response among European travelers to Egypt. It
was considered a pioneering project and a cause of amazement "not
to find Egyptian women locked up in their harems but · working
in modern health establishments" (p. 36, emphasis added).
challenges modernist and feminist assumptions of such reform. He refutes,
using compelling evidence, the postulation that "modern"
institutions offer new opportunities and new emancipations. These "experiments"
of the pasha, Fahmy argues, should be situated in his larger military
career and the relationship of the French designed medical reform that
supplanted traditional forms to the main project of creating a conscription-based
army. In case after case, his study challenges the view that the
introduction of a school of Hakimas was a source of liberation and empowerment
for women. In archival materials he sought to examine the nature, purpose,
and impact on the participating students of establishing the school and
training women in this new profession.
is obvious", writes Fahmy, "·that (what) prompted the
authorities to found a medical school for women (was not for enlightenment
or modern education for women) ·rather, it was the need to preserve
the health of the soldiers in the army" (p. 46). It was believed
that their health was threatened by syphilis and their life by superstitious
dayas. The authorities needed to control the dayas, which the authorities
considered to be a "leakage in the system" (p. 51). Dayas
were too autonomous and independent. More importantly, the administration
needed vital information about the people that dayas freely dealt with.
the duties of the trained hakimas included overseeing and policing, and
reporting on the activities of midwives. Coercive measures were enforced
on the hakimas (including who to marry) who in turn were made to coerce
dayas (pp. 50-52), the traditional non-formally trained professionals
who were too free for the controlling administration. The population
reacted. People experienced authorized interference in their daily
lives in unprecedented ways, controlling and manipulating their bodies
and violating social norms and culture in ways they had never seen before. In
the end the women of the new education were merely pegs in a large scheme
of new forms of centralized tight control in a hierarchy of power with
Europeans (particularly French) at the helm and traditional forms at the
bottom. This find, backed by systematic data, contradicts the postulations
in the Preface and Introduction. We need not resort to "authenticity"
arguments to discuss culturally produced forms versus colonially induced
projects. We need good data and Fahmy provides them.
2, Mervat Hatem's piece is about 'Aisha Taymur, who emerged as "one
of the leading women poets of nineteenth-century Egypt" (p.73). She
critiques "the feminist and the modernist discourse that representated
Taymur as an exemplar of the progressive character of the new society
and its gender roles" (p.85). Based on her examination of written
accounts about Taymur, rather than primary materials, Hatem argues that
the feminist/modernist approach exaggerated the supportive role of Taymur's
father, who encouraged her literary education, and was silent or unsympathetic
of her mother's role in stressing domestic socialization, her daughter
who took on the domestic obligations as her mother pursued her career,
and the female tutors who educated her.
basis of Hatem's judgment of valuation and devaluation, she makes a distinction
between masculine and feminine readings and describes how Taymur herself
had adopted the masculine vision in the first stage of her life, but after
the death at eighteen of the daughter whose health had been deteriorating
but went unnoticed, she was confronted as she went into seclusion with
the issue of reconciliation between career ambitions and wifely-motherly
obligations. She blamed herself and her career for the death of the
daughter she intensely loved but neglected.
of this chapter lies in the nuanced descriptions of realities of Taymur's
life and choices, not her broad strokes (indeed not in the formulaic jargon). Some
observations are symptomatic of faults in this general approach to the
non-empriical study of feminism. When she writes: "[O]ne should not
discount the effort by ... (her) · mother, who was a former slave,
to shield her daughter from social censure" (p. 80). This is
a loaded comment. What evidence are we presented with that her mother
was pulling her to domesticity to shield her from social censure? What
evidence of a connection between her "slave" background and
her approach to raising her daughter? Hatem loads the interpretation
with uninformed, unsubstantiated presumptions.
had been told that Taymur was born into the affluent aristocratic
class, to a father of Turkish Kurdish roots and a mother who was
a freed Circassian slave (p.75), using women's writings on Taymur as the
source. When the term slave is used without historicity or explanation,
it inevitably invokes ingrained understandings deriving out of the
more familiar knowledge about slavery in Europe and America (by whites
of blacks from Africa). Perhaps the term slavery itself should be
refined. Missing is information on the Ottoman notion (itself rooted
in Byzantine empirical structures) of bringing into the empire or admitting
central Asian, European and Arab women (and men) from central Asia and
Arab regions to serve the Ottoman administration. This imported labor
could and did move up the ladder to become woman sultans, men wazirs and
heads of armies. Without explication or historicity, the critique
of the masculine feminism becomes an apologia for feminine feminism.
two chapters, 3 and 4, one on Iran by Afsaneh Najmabadi and the other
on Egypt by Omnia Shakry deal with the concepts of woman as wife, housewife,
and mother in nineteenth and twentieth century texts. According to
Najmabadi, recent writings on women of that period do not adequately deal
with what she sees as significant shifts in notions of motherhood and
wifehood (p.91). She examines Farsi texts and remarks that the shift
was "from a premodern to modern" notions of womanhood, using
as evidence the terms used in the two phases. The reference to the
woman changed from "house" to "manager of the house." Without
empirical content, relying only on the author's interpretation of text
out of context, it is hard to assess the significance of this observation.
Some observations are from texts, of texts, of translations, of original
texts many generations of interpretations apart from the original material. For
example, Najmabadi locates a "pattern of moral constructions"
(p. 98) in an 1876 book that is a Farsi translation from Arabic of an
originally French text. She sees the change in reference from house
to manager of the house as representing a "crafting of a new kind
of mother and of a new kind of wife." She also finds that the
new notion was tied to national progress which depended on the education
of women. During the period when these arguments were made, the first
decade of the twentieth century, new schools for girls were being established
(pp. 106-107). In the 1920s a new genre of writing emerged focusing
on etiquette and manners. Najmabadi saw that these shifts and developments
entail both disciplinary and emancipatory dimensions. Overall, the article
rambles on, is confusing to read, and conceptualization is weak. It
is hard to understand where a segment leads, as discussion keeps moving
around eluding a pattern or a theme. The summary of the texts selected
is interesting and could lead to fresh insights. It is difficult
to locate their value in the way they are presented in this chapter.
4, Omnia Shakry explores connections between European colonial and indigenous
modernizing and nationalist discourses in turn-of-century Egypt. She follows
the debates on motherhood and child rearing in literary and religious
journals in Egypt to examine the changing conception of the mother and
mothering. The study finds striking conjunctures between colonial
and nationalist discourse on women such that Egyptian discussions of motherhood
need to be situated within the context of both colonial and anticolonial
discourses. She argues that anticolonial discourse, particularly
the discourse of tarbiya, has its indigenous component based on local
understandings, and is not merely borrowed from European ones (pp. 126-127).
that the colonial project engaged in the production of knowledge intended
to reconstruct the domain of women. Shakry's chapter has an important
methodological advantage missing in the other contributions of the same
genre in this collection, namely comparing "discourse on mothering
in both the metropole and the colony" (p. 133). During the 18th
and 19th centuries a Britishness was superimposed on diverse cultures
and a new identity of empire was being forged. This included a redefinition
of women's roles and mothering. The British discourse during the
first decade of the 1900s reveals a colonial concern for proper mothering
couched in national and imperial interests and a concern over racial degeneration.
British women were to be "mothers of the race" (p. 133). In
this context notions of the European bourgeois family and morality became
linked with the boundaries of rule in the colonies. A "cult
of motherhood" developed.
Egyptian side, Shakry explores "the prescriptive literature on child
rearing" to demonstrate how it recast women as the center for modernity
and sees a parallel. Rejecting to see these trends as derivative
of European ones Shakry examines Egyptian discourses seeking an indigenous
basis and finds it in the discourse of Islamic reform and renewal and
notion of the umma (which interestingly is Arabic for both community
and nation). Nation and nationalism, not just colonialsm, are European
constructs that are instruments of empire and control that the Middle
East was thrust into with little preparation. "[T]he constitution
of a private sphere of bourgeois domesticity" and the cult of motherhood
was part of that European package. Locating parallels between the
colonizing and the colonized cannot deny the colonial subjugating plan
and its influence by means of power and control on local systems. This
is not a situation of being parasitic; it is about being occupied, controlled
and subjugated and about local elite interlocutors of empire. Egyptian
secular and religious discourse presented in this chapter reveals this
inner struggle to cope with involuntary subjugation.
original discussion in both content and interpretation is made by Booth
in Chapter 5, exploring the biographies of famous women in the early women's
press, in the mainstream press, and in biographical compendia of notable
women (p. 173). She considers the "Famous Women Genre"
of writing as a locus for the construction of "collective exemplary
image of womanhood" and focuses on biographies of Jeanne d'Arc published
in Egypt between 1879 and 1939. To the question she herself raises
in the article "Why Jeanne?" Booth writes on the basis
of her examination of writings: "·Jeanne's persona, rewritten
in Egypt ·could symbolize identities of immediate import to competing
agendas and local struggles·" (p. 172). Jeanne could
represent the anti-imperialist activist, the devout believer, and the
peasant ÷ a western image that is adoptable and adaptable in local
terms. "[W]riters turned Jeanne's image against its Western
origins, exploiting a potent Western cultural symbol as a visible sign
of East-West encounter · (a) triumphant struggle of weak against
strong" (p. 197). Both Egypt and Jeanne d'Arc fought the British,
as it were.
I take issue with Booth is when she extends her interpretations to domains
that cannot be explained merely by discourse, for example, when she writes:
"Jeanne's mission as divine suited a milieu where obedience was unquestioningly
a matter of submission to divine law" (p. 186, emphasis added) or
when women's public participation is posed as conflicting with private
realms. Evidence from ethnography can challenge such comments.
this is a fine piece that thoroughly describes the development of an image
and its incorporation in local imagery and there is no need to justify
such good work by beating on the origins of feminism, East or West. There
is no doubt that strong elements of the liberal feminist programs came
from Europe. Also there is no doubt that culture provides the machinery
to incorporate and redefine such elements. These are not new observations
nor ones that merit so much space. The real value in this chapter
is the well-researched description of a process of incorporation into
Egyptian imagery through the mirror of discourse of one particular strong
image ÷ that of Jeanne d'Arc.
piece in Chapter 6 also repeats the goal of dissolving the binaries of
tradition and modern opting for a model of co-existence in which modernity,
antimodernity and feminism are recast as vehicles producing tensions between
ideological systems and the challenges of real life. Information
derives in part from oral narratives collected by the author beginning
in 1990 of memories by Iranian emigres and exiles. She also
examines the writings of Shariati. According to Sullivan, "Seventeen
years after the revolution, evidence suggests that women are beginning
not onlly to have an active presence in politics but also to carve out
new possibilities for themselves in social, legal, and political life
through public debate in women's magazines, through social and civic activism,
and through public office" (p. 234). Modernity is dealt with
as a package deal whose "hidden agendas are surprisingly resisted
by those who find ways to put new experiences in the old package." Sullivan
concludes that "[w]omen are neither "returning" to a past
narrative, nor are they mimicking a Western model of feminism. Instead
they struggle to articulate a women's movement in dialectical conflict
with each" (p. 236). One has to sift through the article to
locate the thread of the stories and the points being made. However
much sifting, one cannot find anywhere in this book content or reference
to the most thorough scholarly works to date on Iranian women ÷
the publications by Ziba Mir-Hosseini.
Chapter 7 by Lila Abu-Lughod explores " this vexed relationship between
feminism and cultural nationalism (which couches) · "the woman
question" · in the language of cultural authenticity versus
foreign influence" (p. 243). Abu-Lughod draws attention to what
"is often overlooked: those who claim to reject feminist ideals as
Western imports actually practice a form of selective repudiation that
depends on significant occlusions" (p. 242). Although the subject
of this stated discordance is turn-of-the-century colonialism and feminism
in Egypt, Abu-Lughod uses as example for her point today's Islamists "who
condemn feminism as Western · stigmatize sexual independence and
public freedoms as Western but much more gingerly challenge women's rights
to work, barely question women's education, and unthinkingly embrace the
ideals of bourgeois marriage" (p. 243). This, to the author,
three are elements of the turn-of-the-century modernist projects that
might well carry the label "feminist" and whose origins are
just as entangled with the West as are the sexual mores singled out in
horror" (pp. 243-244). Abu-Lughod aims to question Islamic rhetorical
claims to cultural authenticity and traditionalism, describe some contemporary
positions in Egypt on the question of women, and present a critical reading
of the work of Qasim Amin, the Egyptian reformer "to show how dependent
the Islamists · are on the ideas of such early modernizing reformers
as these ideas have become transmuted, widely disseminated, and grounded
in people's lives through the socioeconomic transformations of the last
century" (p. 244).
is the source for such a grand plan, since Abu-Lughod had not conducted
any field research on the Islamic movement? The source consists of
observations from television soaps, contemporary feminist scholarship,
secondary scholarship on the Islamic movement and the observations by
the other contributors in this volume. As a result, the chapter reads
like a summary of her Introduction, with little new content.
could not locate a "single Islamist voice" on these matters
(p. 253), and observes that those who are rejecting Western ways in fact
assimilate them to tradition and "try to find Islamic bases for it"
(p. 255). She superficially describes, in other words, one of the
most forceful and complex contemporary social movements as if contrived. And
in her attempt to dissolve polarities she instead reified them.
volume's conclusion, the Afterword by Deniz Kandiyoti adds materials
from her study of Turkey, and points to the importance of specificities
of the societies in question in determining the role of their encounters
with the West and to the gap in existing studies about the world of men).
Turning to Turkey, the masculine ideals of Turkish nationalism, for example,
have rarely received explicit attention. She summarizes the volume's
contribution as being on the "complex relationships interconnecting
feminism, modernity, and postcoloniality in the Middle East" (p.
Bernard, H. Russell, editor.
Barnett, H. G.
Early, Evelyn A.
El Guindi, Fadwa .