ajnabieh: The open doors of a subway/metro car, with a sign above them, reading "lilsayyidat faqat" [Ladies Only] (sayyidat faqat)
Thank Christ someone else made a SharkNATO joke.

Given that I'm a social scientist who is now spending a reasonable amount of time pretending to be a media studies type, I should probably read this new book of analyses of single episodes of TV the way that undergrads in media studies programs are asked to do it.

I am so glad Cairo Gossip getting purchased by a larger Cairo media company didn't make it suck. Here's some snark about Haifa Wehbe that also has some vague political connotations I don't feel like unpacking.

The Egyptian government is seriously considering blocking Whatsapp and Viber? Prepare for another revolution, yanni.

I feel like someone asked me for recommendations for speculative fiction written by Middle Eastern writers. I don't know of a lot of it, but this looks good. (Also: if you don't know Saladin Ahmed's work, you should.)

There is apparently a news story going around about Tunisian women going to Syria to perform sexual services for the jihadist forces fighting there??? MuslimahMediaWatch takes it down, without dismissing the possibility that something's actually happening which is being twisted.

I haven't read the whole of this new report on Muslim-American youth media engagement, but the précis clicks well with my own observations and research. God, I gotta get my book out…
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
I have an article in the current issue of Middle East Journal which might be interesting to some of you. (I have the lead article, actually, which amuses me to no end.) "Democratic Paradoxes" is about Kuwaiti women's enfranchisement, particularly the 1999 enfranchisement by the emir, which was then retracted by the National Assembly. Essentially, I argue that this particular moment demonstrates a tension between distributing power across a variety of insitutions in a democratizing country, and increasing the number of people who are entitled to participate in the political process. Working from an analysis of 1999, I analyze subsequent ups and downs in women's political participation over the subsequent decade-and-change in Kuwait's never-boring political life. In the end, my argument is that those of us who have strong normative commitments to both women's empowerment in formal politics and to growing democratic control over governance need to be aware of moments where these two goals are in conflict, because they aren't always easily combined.

I'm overjoyed for this article to see print, not just because I like it, but because it began its life nearly a decade ago, first as a random idea floating through my head while I worked as a research assistant for the year before grad school, then as a research proposal for my first grad school seminar, then as a conference paper for my first MESA, and finally as a working paper for the past four years. It's gone through innumerable revisions, including being updated for no fewer than four new National Assembly elections (including the one in December that kept it out of the winter issue). The editing staff at MEJ was lovely throughout, and I'm glad to have had the chance to work with them--but I'm also glad to be done with this particular article. Now, finally, I am allowed to think different things about Kuwait!

You can see the whole issue here. If you want my article and can't get free access online, drop me a note and I'll send you a copy as a PDF. If you're my mother and want a physical copy with my name on the cover, go buy your own, the one I've got is mine.
ajnabieh: Palestinian flag in front of billboard for the movie Prince of Persia.   (prince of persia)
The subjects of today's analysis: Kahrabtak ("your electricity"), a new site that allows people to report power outages all over Egypt, and Harassmap, a several-year-old site that allows women* to report street sexual harassment. This is a very preliminary analysis, and I haven't started going through reports off Kahrabtak to see content; this is just based on the structure of the sites as they stand.

What struck me immediately on going to the Kahrabtak website is that it looks just like Harassmap. Sure, the color scheme is different, but in a way that's like how going to different Tumblrs or MySpace pages is different: you still inevitably know what type of site it is. In this case, they are both implementations of the Ushahidi platform, which allows people to send text and email reports of the thing they are recorded, which is turned into visual data that includes the text of the report. Because they share a common platform, they share a structure and a lot of text. But this is all, on some level, just a generic trait: they're both Ushahidi platforms, so that level of textual similarity isn't necessarily meaningful.

There are a few relevant differences, though. Harassmap has links in the top pink sidebar to information about the platform, a set of links to organizations providing help and support to harassed women, and a place where people can go to volunteer to do street-level anti-sexual-harassment work in their neighborhoods. Kahrabtak, for its part, doesn't have any of that information. There are no links to the broader levels of social contestation over electricity shortages: not the "We Won't Pay" campaign of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, for example, or any other political action around outages. There's no background on who the people are who are involved in the project, and information about the structure it comes from. Instead, there is a line of text, which says that the project is to capture real-time data about both outages and the "misuse" ( سوء استخدام) of power.

This suggests two things about the different mapping projects:

1) Harassmap is located in an existing network of people taking political action around street harassment/sexual harassment. In fact, street harassment has been one of the central concerns of Egyptian feminism over perhaps the last five years, and Harassmap as a project is an outgrowth of a coalition of women's & feminist groups looking for new ways to talk about the project. Kahrabtak, on the other hand, is unlinked to any broader project. That doesn't mean that the people behind it aren't; the article where I learned about Kahrabtak mentions that the people involved are also a part of another website monitoring Morsi's presidency, with a background in activism. But none of this is explicit, ready to be read anywhere. Purely from the site, Kahrabtak appears sui generis.

2) Harassmap places the blame for sexual harassment on the harassers, and does not make any judgments about the harassee. In their form, there is no space to document what you were wearing or what the conditions were. Sometimes people write about these things in their freeform comments, but even if you were wearing a tank top and shorts at two in the morning your citation of sexual harassment is still implicitly valid. Kahrabtak, on the other hand, lists as one of its categories to report "street lamps on during the day," a sign of electricity wastage. They're interested both in where blackouts are, and whether somebody's done something nearby to overload the system. This isn't, precisely, victim blaming, in the same way that it would be if Harassmap collected data on where there were women in revealing clothing who were "asking for it." But this is a way of saying that the cause of the blackouts might be something that's reportable, that people could see and label.

Geography is different between the two maps, as well. The vast, vast majority of Harassmap's reports of harassment come from the greater Cairo area, with Alexandria next, and then the resort towns in Sinai. Although the largest single location of reports is within Cairo on Kahrabtak (not surprising, given that nearly a quarter of the residents of Egypt live in greater Cairo, and that we're looking at people who use the internet, which also means an urban/educated bias), it's not even a bare majority; most of the reports are in Upper Egypt, which is also, incidentally, where most of the demonstrations are.

Assuming that those who have the ability to report blackouts also have the ability to report sexual harassment, and vice versa, this suggests one of two things. First, we have more evidence that blackouts are a bigger problem in rural and Upper Egypt than in Cairo. This isn't terribly surprising, but here we see the data in a new way. The second issue is that different people who have the theoretical access to these tools will choose to participate in one of them and not another. That is, that Cairenes might be more willing to identify and counter sexual harassment than people elsewhere in Egypt, and that they might be complaining less about the effects of the blackout. (Middle-class Cairo, which is who is on these sites, went from annoyed to super mad when the Metro went down a few weeks ago. Qena and Sohag were already livid by that point.)

I don't have any conclusions yet, but there are two general thoughts swirling around this for me. 1) People make choices about what issues to take action on. The extent to which a given problem bothers them personally makes a big difference, but so also does what sort of agency and blame they assign for the existence of the problem to begin with. So probably some of these differences are traceable to how people variously define the issues of sexual harassment and electricity shortages. 2) Whether or not an issue is taken up by a stable, pre-existing coalition of political actors is not generally a determinant of whether or not there will be some form of policy adjustment to deal with the issue. However, it is an issue if you're going to be defining a constituency to lobby for future changes, or for inclusion into political processes; there needs to be a group there that can be mobilized deliberately, not just turn out into the streets in a rage every now and then. It's not clear yet whether a group can grab onto the electricity issue and use it to define a constituency the way that feminist groups have used harassment to define women's interests and women as a group.

*Disclaimer: I'm going to use the term "women" to refer to the victims of sexual harassment in this context, because of the way that gender ideologies and the gender binary work in Egypt; there isn't a defined way to talk about the street harassment of gender-nonconforming individuals within this framework, or to talk about the sexual harassment of men by other men or by women. As the issue is constructed in contemporary Egyptian politics, we're talking about men groping, touching, or catcalling women. Obviously in the world things can get more complicated, but this is the active framework on the ground right now.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
For those of us who spend a great deal of time on the internet thinking about gender, the Middle East, and the intersection of these interests, it's been a productive, if sometimes frustrating, two weeks. Mona El Tahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist, wrote a provocative (probably deliberately so) article in Foreign Policy magazine called "Why Do They Hate Us?" which centered the question of misogyny within contemporary Arab politics. Upon this happening, the internet basically blew up, with all sorts of responses from total agreement, to racist agreement, to anti-racist objection, to feminist objection, to misogynistic rejection.

Myself, I found the article to succumb to what I refer to when teaching these issues as "moving walkway syndrome": you start making a statement based from one morally defensible position advocating for social justice, and all of a sudden the walkway is moving under your feet. Every advocate for feminist social change in the Muslim or Arab world finds herself on this walkway at some point--you argue against an ahistorical reading of a particular practice, and suddenly people say you're condoning "honor crimes," you point out that real injustices exist and people say you're condoning invasion and colonization (or agree with you that it's the only solution). I don't think El Tahawy navigates this moving walkway very deftly, but, you know, it's not easy.

The two best deeply critical responses I've seen have been by Jadaliyya and by Mona Kareem, but the one I really want to share right now is My Dad Loves Me, by Jenan Moussa, because it captures one part of the complicated nature of patriarchy and misogyny in the world. (And note I say "the world"--I think this applies in a great number of circumstances, including mine here in the US.) While policies and social norms constrain girls' and women's lives in unjustifiable ways, many young women find that the men in their lives are important bulwarks and support systems, and often their biggest cheerleaders. Hate is not (necessarily) the source of misogyny, even if that is the root of the word; there's a reason that patriarchy, when we use it to describe these issues, draws from the idea of a protective father. There is love all mixed up in this, even if it's a sort of love we might want to reject, or argue against.

(This post brought to you by finals week, and therefore my desperate desire to avoid the massive amounts of grading I have to finish...)
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Today, in my Intro to Feminist Political Theory class, we made internet memes and captioned photographs as a way of exploring (and hopefully communicating) some of the concepts we've talked about in class this semester.

Why do this exercise? I've got two motivations. The first is that, if you can figure out how to communicate a concept using an ironic collision of image and text, when you don't have a lot of space or a large number of signs to work with, then you actually are demonstrating mastery of the concept. Second, one of the key lines from one of our texts, was when bell hooks exhorted her readers to make a feminist intervention where they are. These funny images are a way of making an intervention; they provide a way to engage with the world, hopefully on the terrain of humor, in a way that cuts through barriers to feminist thought.

I've uploaded a bunch of them to an album here. And, under the cut, here are some of my favorites--the ones that made me, the boring prof, LOL.

From memes from pol 175

Ordinary Muslim Guy, Condescending Wonka, and Others )

ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
I'm looking for people who use feminist ideas and feminist theory in their professional lives to talk to my feminist theory class--people who work in an area that is directly related to gender, women's issues, social transformation, or the feminist movement, or people who use a feminist/queer ethical base to drive their work. (And I'm open to any kind of feminism or critical encounter with gender as a social category--in fact, I'd like to hear from people who do things that don't match up neatly to contemporary mainstream American feminism.) Doesn't matter if you're not US-based. If you think this is you, and you'd be willing to record a five minute video for my students about what you do and how it interfaces with feminism, let me know, via PM, email, or comment here--I'd love to bring your voice to my class!

(For the record: it's an intro level feminist political theory class; we've read bell hooks on the feminist movement, Susan Moller Okin on justice and families, Fatima Mernissi on the public/private divide and Muslim social order, Wendy Brown on freedom and post-modernity, and Michael Warner on queer opposition to "normality" and alternate ethical visions. Most students haven't taken previous course work in women's/gender studies, or in political theory.)
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
Today I started teaching Michael Warner's The Trouble With Normal, a queer argument against gay marriage and other campaigns for normalization in LGBT political life--and for the abolition of sexual shame, and its replacement with a sexual morality that is not moralizing. [Google Books (preview available); Wikipedia entry (has a good summary)]

So naturally it was drag day in class.

Photo on 2012-04-04 at 11.14

I also publicly held myself up as the "right" sort of gay: married, monogamous, breeding, highly educated, white, religious.

I even wear suits.

Photo on 2012-04-04 at 11.15 #2

After all, aren't all of my teaching outfits drag, of one kind or another?
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
My dearly beloved friend Jesús Chapa-Malacara, an art and portrait photographer, has just published a new project, Women/Bodies/Fashion. It combines images with words, in particular the words of nine women (with very different bodies and aesthetics) on fashion, bodies, and gender, with Jesús's own reflections on fashion photography as a form, and how to balance the technical, artistic, and ethical imperatives at work in the medium. (The photoshoot is technically NSFW, for topless ladies.)

I happened to be one of the models he used--that's me on the cover of the essay, my hairy and scarred legs, and me pedantically lecturing my best friend on how come he hasn't read William Gibson in the interview quotes. (He did not include any images of me making faces at fashion magazines during that portion of the photo shoot, for which I am reasonably grateful.) I'm also friends with one of the other models, and she looks fabulous, too. Head over there, and check it out.

(And if you're in the market for high-end children's/family portraiture, check out red light green light, his portraiture business.)


Feb. 14th, 2012 09:57 am
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
I don't know which I find more upsetting: this long list of tweets and Facebook statuses announcing that Kids These Days (tm) don't know who Paul McCartney is, or this long list of tweets wherein people announce how much they'd like to be brutally physically abused by a famous r&b singer. I mean, the latter is much, much wronger, but I actually expect people to have totally awful thought processes about domestic violence. Whereas I assume they know who the goddamn Beatles are.


One of the things I love about teaching is the moment when your students think things totally orthogonal to what you think, and it opens up a new train of thought. We were talking about long distance nationalism, also sometimes called transnational migration, with my seminar students. Now, long distance nationalism is crucial to a lot of my research on diaspora communities and their politics--but my students are now working through this idea, and they had all sorts of interesting objections to the concept, particularly its normative foundations. I still think that diaspora political engagement is both natural and politically useful, but it was still great to work with them through their ideas. tl;dr teaching is fun.


Dean Dad reported that Arizona is considering two bills, one of which would effectively demand affirmative action for conservatives in higher ed hiring, and the other of which would mandate the use of "G-rated" language. Dead Dad spends most of his time taking apart the absurdity of the first, but I found myself more caught up with the idea of the second. Partially this is because I'm someone who uses YouTube videos of Eddie Izzard routines to teach world politics ("Hitler never played RISK as a kid" is an incredibly useful teaching tool). Partially because I see in this an attack on gender studies, among the many things this could be an attack on: I definitely said the word vagina on the first day of my feminist political theory class. Probably a few times. Not to mention that explaining the sex/gender dichotomy without being able to say the word sex would be, you know, hard.


I have discovered a circle of hell Dante could not have anticipated: translating tweets. Seriously, you've got 140 characters, nonstandard syntax and spelling, use of colloquialisms, huge variation in transliteration techniques when they've been transliterated, and, of course, frequent typos. (It took me literally fifteen minutes to figure out that تسعمية was تسع مية, which is a difference of precisely one space. And I only got it because of context.) The amount of time I have spent sorting through these lately has both given me a headache, and reminded me how much I like translating. In small doses, at least.


I should have something to say about Syria. I don't. Because sometimes thing are just so horrible that there's nothing to say.
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
Two quick things, in case you haven't seen them:

1) Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, passed away today. Her work for reforestation and democratic renewal in Kenya has been incredibly important; along with Shirin Ebadi, she's probably my favorite of the recent Nobel Laureates.

I learned about her death today through an email by the president of HWS; it turns out that Prof. Maathai's two children attended HWS, and she is a former awardee of the Blackwell Medal, honoring the first woman doctor in the US, who trained here. Appropriately enough, tomorrow my introduction to comparative world politics students begin talking about what constitutes democracy. I'll be showing them the tribute video that was shown during her award ceremony, to introduce them to her work, and giving them this quote from her speech at the ceremony:

Initially, tree planting was a very benign activity, and nobody bothered us because it was mostly a bunch of women getting together and teaching each other how to plant trees. But it became important also to teach them the other aspect of the linkage that I talked about: the linkage of governance. It's one thing to manage the resource, another to touch governance. Now who is in charge of resources, especially resources like forest, water, soil and land? It's usually the government that’s in charge. The people in power are usually in charge of these resources. And when you talk about managing those resources sustainably, accountably, transparently, sharing these resources equitably, you are stepping on the very big toes of those in power.

When we started talking about the importance of protecting forests and rivers, it meant that we would have to explain to the people in power how the resources were being poorly managed and how sometimes they are privatized by the people who are in charge, and how sometimes you get mismanagement, like illegal logging and cultivation in the forests. We started realizing that it is very important to hold our leaders accountable for the way they manage resources because they are not the owners of the resources; they are custodians. We put them in positions of authority to manage the resources for us because all of us cannot be managers. They are not supposed to privatize them, they are not supposed to own them and they are not supposed to exploit them to enrich themselves all at our expense.

When we started pointing out these problems in the government, that said that we were not doing what we were supposed to be doing. They told us to just plant trees and not worry about what happens to the forest, what happens to the waters. And of course we could not do that because that's part of the second leg, the second pillar, of what I talked about. Sustainable management, good governance. Good governance means you have to hold your leaders accountable, and you cannot hold your leaders accountable if you do not know how these resources are managed. That is when the Greenbelt movement started being seen as a dangerous organization.

2) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has granted women the right to vote in Shura council and municipal elections. Not in the elections happening next week; no no no, in the next round of elections, the ones in 2015.

I've written before about the role of symbolic rights in felt political injustice, and I would argue that the right to vote for an "advisory" body in a monarchical system is something that is definitely symbolic, but also very meaningful. However, I'm also very skeptical. If you know anything about Kuwaiti politics, this move looks very familiar: it's reminiscent of the 1999 emiri decree, which I've argued elsewhere fell not because of misogyny pure and simple, but because of the attendant anti-democratic nature of the decree and its position in parliament/monarchy battles. (I've realized this conference paper isn't online anywhere, but if anyone wants a copy, let me know--it's currently in the article-shop-around phase.) It's worth noting that the time Kuwaiti women got voting rights, and it stuck, it was because of cooperation between legislative and monarchical forces, not because of a top-down imposition. Now, granted, the Saudi Shura council probably isn't strong enough to cancel out a royal decree (the Kuwaiti parliament has substantially stronger rights), but it would not surprise me even a tiny little bit if sometime in the next four years this right disappears.

In any case:

ajnabieh: Happy woman with broom: FIGHT ALL THE OPPRESSIONS; same woman, dejected, "Fight ALL the oppresssions?" (ALL the oppressions?)
I am watching two political struggles going on today. The first is the attempt to get the New York State Senate to pass a bill allowing same-sex marriage. The second is the "Women 2 Drive" protest in Saudi Arabia, where dozens of women who hold international driver's licenses are driving in violation of the law. (Check the Twitter hashtag if you want to see what's going down right now, on 6/17.)

The differences here are obvious and striking. One is about negotiating within a highly fractious electoral public, and mobilizing constituent power for and against a political position that's at the center of ongoing debates. The other is about civil disobedience against an authoritarian government, in the hopes of mustering transnational support for a change in policy. But what I keep coming back to is that both of these struggles are about symbolic rights.

I support both these demands. In fact, I'm spending a lot of my time engaged in the one that's happening in my home state (*ahem*). And I think the Saudi protest is pretty amazing, considering precisely how hard it is to mobilize any action at all in KSA. By calling these "symbolic rights," I'm not trying to diminish the importance of the claim, nor the strength of those making it.

But the centrality of driving to Saudi women's protest is largely about its symbolic value. Of all the injustices that Saudi women cope with--an enforced dress code, highly segregated work opportunities, unequal access to marriage and divorce, etc--driving seems relatively minor by comparison. And yet, it isn't: it's a daily insult to their personhood that, despite being autonomous adults with responsibilities and roles in the world, they have to be driven around like ten year olds going to soccer practice. The symbolic injustice so rankles that it becomes a mobilizing force for change.

I feel similarly about marriage. Frankly, in the world where I am philosopher-king, there would be no state-recognized marriages. 'Marriage' would be a purely social bond, which people could enter into or not enter into as they saw fit, in whatever configurations they felt appropriate. Simultaneously, the state would allow people to formally establish family relationships (among couples raising children, friends collectively supporting each other, siblings caring for an elderly parent, etc) which would provide for legal rights such as hospital visitation, tax benefits for providing unpaid caring work, rights of survivorship, etc. Being 'married' would be one thing. Being a legal unit would be another.

I don't get to be philosopher-king, so that's not how it works. But, even in this world, marriage isn't the battle I would put first of all my queer rights. I'd rather we were fighting harder for non-discrimination legislation, for the inclusion of material on LGBT issues in educational institutions, to make it easier for trans people to legally transition, and for rights to adoption and parenthood. And, frankly, I am married--I've got the white dress and the credit card debt to prove it, and anybody who tries to tell me I'm not is both empirically wrong and a douche of epic proportions, as far as I'm concerned.

And yet, it rankles whenever I look at my "legal docs" file, and realize that I have to have a will, a power of attorney, a health care proxy, and a living will to give my wife the same rights that straight couples get merely for registering their relationship. It rankles when I say "my wife" and people respond "your partner." (No disrespect to the many same-sex and opposite-sex couples I know who use partner; I think it's a good word. It's just not mine.) And, yes, it rankles that if I were an infertile man, my name would be on my son's birth certificate as his father even though he was conceived with donor sperm, but because I'm a woman I had to drop thousands of dollars and collect letters of reference to earn the right to be his legal parent.

The insult to me, and to thousands of queers like and unlike me, is enough that it's worth fighting for. And the massive insult that the Republican caucus can't even decide to bring this to a vote--and that thousands of people are mobilized to condemn my relationship--well, that makes me want to get a big angry sign and go yell at somebody, long and loud.

The deep political insight here is the one that Axel Honneth makes so clearly in his work--that the vast majority of injustices that people experience are injustices based in misrecognition, the sense that something crucial and important about yourself is being disregarded, misinterpreted, or silenced in social interactions. And the more daily one is that disrespect is a key experience of being an oppressed group within a society. Symbolic victories are real, because they undo this disrespect, and counter with the sort of recognition that make societies possible.

So, yes, I'm cheering for the women in Saudi who are driving through the streets, and hoping for their safety. Yes, I'm dropping emails to state senators, bombarding my poor Facebook friends with action links, and endlessly refreshing New York 1's website. Because symbolic rights are rights nonetheless, and we all deserve them.

And you know if the law passes, my ass is getting married. Again.

Lazy Links

May. 21st, 2010 07:24 pm
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
I am just finishing up my grading for the semester, which means I'm rather on the edge about everything--it's a period of high burnout and frustration. (Though, thank you, student who titled your response paper "My Final Response Paper: What I’ve learned of Resistance and an Opportunity to Call Out People Who Believe in Radical Semiotics," for making me feel better for quite a while.) So, here are some linky links. How lazy am I going to be? I'm not even going to bother to code them. DW will make them clickable via magic, right? Awesome.


This has nothing to do with Arab-Americans, but it is made of awesome.

Assorted: includes stuff on media studies, Arabic literature, queer stuff, health stuff, Israeli/Palestinian conflict stuff )

Special section on Rima Fakih, because the party don't stop )
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (dressing my best)
I'm a little late finishing up Dress Your Best Week. However, I did have some photos and thoughts I wanted to post, so might as well get them up. The ladies of Academichic have posted some really great guides (here and here) to what was posted last week; I recommend you check them out, if you've got an interest. (And thanks again for hosting!)

Anyway, here is my outfit from Wednesday, May 12

reception outfit

Blazer: Banana Republic
Graphic tee: hand-me-down
Belt: Macy's
Jeans: thrifted
Shoes: vintage, from my mother-in-law (I told you she was an endless font of shoe-y goodness)

Celebrating The Rest of the University, and My Wedding Anniversary )


I spent most of the rest of the week and weekend dressed like a slob, because I was on vacation: a roadtrip to Western Massachusetts, and then my wife's reunion. This involved some adventuring in the wilderness:


zomg water

But I did have one day when I had to dress up: for Ivy Day. I'll admit, I have more warm and fuzzy feelings about Smith than I do about Yale. Some of it is that it's a women's college, which means there's a feeling of solidarity and support for your fellow members of the community that isn't there at co-ed schools; some of it is that Yale is kind of a big giant semi-evil behemoth; some of it is that I didn't go to Smith, so all my memories of it are of having fun on weekends with my wife and her friends. But Ivy Day is my favorite of all Smith traditions: you march through a long cordon of awesome women (and, especially in the more recent classes, more than a few awesome men), and everyone cheers for each other.

Here are me, my wife, our friend, and Mr. X on Ivy Day:

ivy day

On me:

Blazer: Banana Republic
Shirt: Ann Taylor, hand-me-down
Skirt: Thrifted
Shoes: Vintage, from my mother-in-law

On Mr. X:

Shirt: GAP Kids
Pants: Thrifted

On my wife (L):
Everything's thrifted (we basically cleaned out our Goodwill; who owns this much white?

On our friend (R):
I have no idea, but the tights are mine! And, hey, I don't think she returned them...

Oh, and my friend, while asking not to be identified, did want me to relay that her hometown has some serious issues.

I had fun doing this! (And thanks to [personal profile] sofiaviolet who joined me.) I do have thinky thoughts on dressing for fieldwork and dressing for teaching, which I'll probably haul out in a couple weeks, when I'm stressing about my writing and in a bad mood.
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
(Thanks to everyone who commented on my two Dress Your Best posts so far. I've got two more outfits I photographed but haven't had time to write up...I'll try to do that in the next few days. Now, to transition back into normal blogging...)

This morning, I woke up to see a friend's Facebook status:

An arab muslim american crowned Miss USA?

I responded:

yay, now everyone gets objectified?

This is basically how I feel about Rima Fakih's victory last night: well, sure, it's a new thing, and it represents a step towards greater inclusion of Arab and Muslim Americans in American society but...it's a beauty pageant. The level of social justice revolution involved is highly limited.

However, as I read the internet today, I saw more buzz about Fakih's win. Here is some of what I saw.

Why I am celebrating the first Arab American Miss USA - KabobFest

Here's where there's good in this: Maytha says, "The image of a woman stereotypical in her phenotypical representation of Levantine beauty, sandwiched in by corn-fed Heidis from the hilltops of Oklahoma and other breadbasket states, and her win over these shoe-ins for belles of the nationally televised American ball, still registered as incomprehensible." Yes, having an Arab-looking woman crowned in a beauty pageant matters for a group routinely profiled for looking different. I'm not going to say otherwise.

Miss USA's Bigot Backlash And Stripping Scandal Begins Now! - Jezebel

Jezebel does the thankless task of pinpointing all the absurd racist crap that's being said about Rima Fakih. It's the usual suspects: Daniel Pipes, Debbie Schlussel, Fox News. I'm fascinated by the idea that there was "affirmative action" for Fakih to win. I mean, let's be honest: look at her. She looks good, people. She was apparently coherent and poised during her interview. (I do not have the emotional energy to YouTube this.) She looked good in a bikini. I don't think she needed affirmative action. And even if she was selected to send a message about acceptance and diversity: that's bad now? The only way that sort of narrative makes sense is if you already believe there's an evil conspiracy of Arabs to dominate the US through their cultural imperialism. Well. Okay then.

American Arab will bring Arab culture to Miss Universe Contest - Ray Hanania.

And then there's Ray Hanania.

I am proud of Rima Fakih but I know that in her achievement, she will face the usual criticism from the extremist corners of the Arab World who are blinded by anger discourse.

We need to support her and encourage her and cheer her on because winning the Miss Universe Contests can only serve to shatter the glass ceiling and add to the movement of empowerment for women of Arab culture in the Arab World and in the West."

I'm just going to say this once: fundamentally, beauty pageants do not empower women. They are about judging women for being ornamental, adhering to an impossible beauty standard, and making themselves available to the male gaze. While certainly some women gain things from these pageants--self-esteem, fame, needed scholarship money--women as a class do not make out like bandits because hot chicks in bikinis parade around and get crowns. No. Just no.

So, I will not consider the women of the Arab world perfectly empowered when they participate in Western-style beauty pageants. I find the small trend of pageants that have arisen from the region (like Miss Arab World) interesting, because of the ways they demonstrate the different beauty norms of the region, and because I think that examining different norms of beauty and feminine performance has the potential to undo the naturalness of the ones you hold to begin with. But still. Women will be liberated as women when gender injustices are abolished (and will be liberated as their other identities when injustices tied to those identities are abolished). Beauty pageants aren't doing this. They can't. It's not possible. Calm down.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (dressing my best)
This week, I'm participating in Dress Your Best week, a week of fashion blogging to celebrate your best features, rather than camoflage your worst. It's about celebrating your body and your sense of style; that's something I can get behind.

Although, like many people, I have insecurities and anxieties about my body, for this week I'm going to be positive, even aggressively so. I'd appreciate it if my readers would act in kind; body-snarking will not be well-tolerated.

On to the first set of outfits:

mom jeans #1

Outfit one:

Blue notch-collared t-shirt: hand-me-down
Grey Cable-Knit Cardigan: GAP Outlet
Belt: Macy's
Jeans: hand-me-down
Pink leather flip-flops: vintage, from my mother-in-law

(On Mr. X: onesie, Target; pants, GAP Kids)

mom jeans #2

Outfit two:

Lilac ribbed long-sleeved shirt: hand-me-down
Corduroy Blazer: vintage, from my father-in-law
Jeans: hand-me-down
Belt: Ann Taylor (Outlet?)
Scarf: vintage, from my mother-in-law
Shoes (not pictured): Vegan Saucony Jazz in Black/Oatmeal (I love these shoes, but sadly, they wear out very easily--they've had a tear in the toe since about three months into owning them. Sadface.)

(On Mr. X: sweatshirt, Hanna Anderssen; pants, GAP Kids; sneakers, Merrill)

This is me in my mom jeans.

The concept of mom jeans, the patriarchy, and the political use of problematic symbols )

Actual notes on the outfit, including minimal-effort principles for looking less like a schlub while wearing one's mom jeans )
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
I'd like to thank the folks who've thrown some paid time and points my way! I'm very much looking forward to being able to play around with DW's shiny advanced features. Plus, OMG infinity icons.

I am thinking about participating in Dress Your Best Week, which is a fashion-blogging thing where bloggers highlight their best body parts, in an attempt to move away from fashion as being about "hiding problem areas." I think this is a really great, body-positive, feminist thing to do, and I'm up for doing it if any of my regular readers would be interested in seeing some outfits I put together.  Some things about me that may influence whether you are interested in seeing how I dress:
  • I'm not terribly fashion-forward.  In fact, I'm fairly fashion-backward, plus committed to a Quaker aesthetic of simplicity, though not in a dogmatic way.
  • Most days I don't actually put together orchestrated outfits--but luckily, next week I'll be on a road trip and having to interact with people, so I'll be giving a smidge more thought than usual.  Otherwise, you'd mostly just be seeing gardening-and-playing-with-baby clothes.
  • I'm on the heavy side (which is an issue I'd want to devote some processing to).
  • My major struggles when assembling outfits are a) the juncture between my soft-butch aesthetic and my hourglass figure and b) my tendency towards performative drag in my clothing choices.

Poll #3038 Would you be interested?
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 9

Would you be interested in fashion posts from me next week?

View Answers

7 (87.5%)

1 (12.5%)

Are there any particular things that would interest you for me to post about w/r/t fashion and things?

View Answers

Dressing for the classroom
4 (50.0%)

Dressing for fieldwork in communities outside your own
6 (75.0%)

Parenthood and clothing choices (i.e., "In Defense of Mom Jeans")
4 (50.0%)

Performing gender (from a non-trans person's perspective)
6 (75.0%)

Questions of size
4 (50.0%)

Something else I'll mention in comments
0 (0.0%)

Are there fashion blogs/feminist blogs/whatever on the subject of anything related to what I've mentioned you'd recommend to me in advance of my posting on the subject?

View Answers

Yes, and I will post in comments
1 (25.0%)

Yes, and I will message you
0 (0.0%)

I think you're perfectly capable of doing enough research on your own, and don't you have grading to do?
3 (75.0%)

ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
(I love this icon; it's a photo I took of a store on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. The store sells clothing; a mixture of hijab/jilbab combinations and standard outer-borough, low-income, body-revealing clothing: Baby Phat, tank tops, short skirts...it's a great example of the ways in which fusions of different norms and practices happen in diasporic communities.)

I'm teaching an online class right now called The Middle East in Diaspora at my university. It's a full-credit class, and I have a mix of students from both our traditional small liberal arts college and our non-traditional BA program. Teaching online is...a thing. It's got problems and benefits which I won't go into here, though I might later if folks are interested. Suffice it to say that I'm looking forward to teaching face-to-face in the fall.

Anyway, this week we began our unit on gender and feminism in Middle Eastern diasporas. Every week, I begin the class by posting lecture notes, laying out some framework for analyzing the week's readings. I think two of the things I put in my lecture notes this week were particularly useful, and I wanted to share them with this blog. This is the first time I've written them down in exactly this form, but they're principles I take to be core to my personal study of gender in the Middle East and in Middle Eastern communities elsewhere.

The first thing is a set of key assumptions that I assume at the beginning of any of my research. They're things I'm happy to defend, but that I also want to take as background and agreed.

Throughout this section, I am proceeding with the following assumptions:

1) That there are real gender injustices experienced by women in Middle Eastern diasporic communities.
2) That those injustices have multiple and complex causes, which include constructions of gender roles in Middle Eastern communities, constructions of gender roles in receiving countries, and discriminatory attitudes towards Middle Easterners in receiving countries.
3) That the gender injustices experienced in Middle Eastern communities are not inherently 'worse,' more severe, or more endemic than those in other communities and sub-communities in the receiving countries, but that they do have specific elements that mean it makes sense to treat them collectively.
4) That feminism and a Middle Eastern identity are not mutually exclusive.
5) That there are multiple equally valid ways of being a feminist, and that differences between Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern diasporic feminisms and Western feminisms does not mean that one of them is "not feminism" or "bad feminism."

The second is a section on the "symbolic centrality" of gender to conflicts between Middle Eastern diasporic communities and their host societies (or between the Middle East and the West, for that matter).

The title of this week is "the symbolic centrality of gender." What do I mean with that title? To be simplistic: gender is a key area of contestation between Middle Eastern diasporic and majority communities in the West, and one that is frequently seized up by those who want to highlight the differences and incompatibilities of the two groups. Gender matters not just to those of us who are interested in it for itself, but for anyone studying conflicts between Middle Eastern communities and majorities: it's core to all the ongoing political conflicts we're interested in here.

There are several tropes here. The first is that the gender constructions of Middle Eastern communities are completely and totally 'other' than Western constructions. Women are to be confined to their homes, deprived of movement, denied access to the public sphere; they are compelled to cover their bodies, to be subservient and silent to others, to be apart from men at all times. Now, with my own, American critical feminist eye, I'd like to note that many of these have strong parallels in American gender constructions: the assumption that women do the majority of care work, that women who are dressed provocatively are "asking" for sexual harassment and assault, that women who speak too much in classrooms or boardrooms are pushy bitches. I'd argue that Middle Eastern gender constructions are different than Western ones; though they share some ideological elements (unsurprising, given the common base of cultural elements shared on both sides of the Mediterranean--there's been a lot of traffic back and forth through the years), their particular instantiation is different.

The second is the idea that the gender constructions of Middle Eastern communities are incommensurable, and inherently worse, than their Western analogues. Middle Eastern women, particularly Muslims, are terribly, horribly oppressed: by their culture, by their religion, by their fathers, husbands, and brothers. This oppression is directly and linearly tied to their identities. If they were to leave their families, their religion, their culture, they would inherently become free. Again, I'd like to destabilize this: plenty of non-Muslim, non-Middle Eastern women are also oppressed by the gender constructions they are subject to. "Honor crimes" (the killing of women and girls for violating gender norms in ways that are seen to undermine the honor and respectability of the woman and her family) sound a whole lot like domestic violence to me; lots of family structures have differential expectations for their male and female members; equality in child-rearing, waged work, and unpaid household labor are a long way off for most people. What's happening here is that these oppressions are called an effect of culture, not of, say, the overarching patriarchal framework of most human societies.

The way these two discourses are put to work is plain. The idea that "they" have entirely different gender norms ends up marking Middle Eastern communities as unassimilable, unable to be incorporated into a general liberal consensus, unable to be made a part of the norm, unless they give up entirely on their culture. The idea that "their" norms are worse by several degrees of magnitude than ours--that theirs are unsupportable and terrible--ends up allowing mainstream communities to label Middle Eastern diasporas as wrong, terrible, frightening--groups that shouldn't be allowed to bring any of their own identities into daily life.

As I've tried to do here, I think we can destabilize these notions by talking about the continuities between Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern women's experiences. Without erasing the differences, the specificity of the experiences of many different types of women with systems of gender, I think we can find ways to treat them as different species of the same thing, not totally foreign objects. (This requires being convinced that all is not perfect for women in the contemporary West. I have no problem believing that, having spent the past *coughcoughmumble* years being a woman in the West.) Nevertheless, understanding the way these constructions are deployed is essential to understanding the way that Middle Eastern diasporic communities are othered in the political discourses in their countries of residence.

It felt good to write this down, and get it on paper. I can see myself using the first set of assumptions (altered out of the diasporic framework) as a starting point in my fall class on Gender and Politics in the Middle East. I'm not certain where I'll use the second text again, but even working through it concretely is useful for when I want to develop this contrast again. (And, as I have a whole chapter on gender in Arab New York to write, I'll most certainly be developing it again.)

I also had to write down the distinction between the "women" and "gender" frameworks for talking about gender injustice and the life experiences of women and men, as well as different frameworks for writing about men as men and not as the human default; I'm less satisfied with how I teased that out, though I hope it got through to my students. We'll see...


ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

March 2016

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