ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
First, the fun bit: I have an article in the new (well, earlier-this-week) issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, called Fannish discourse communities and the construction of gender in The X-Files. (That was the original subtitle; the original title is a quote from one of the posts I analyze, and I'll leave you to guess which one.) I've been told it's both accessible and interesting, so there's that. I haven't had a chance to read the rest of the issue yet, but I'm looking forward to Lori Hitchcock Morimoto's piece on fan subjectivities, Shannon Farley's piece on translation theory and fanfic, Craig Norris's piece on fan pilgrimages, and Juli J. Parrish's work on metaphors and meaning. Thanks to the editors who put the edition together--it was a very professional and helpful process throughout, and I appreciated it.

And, random other things from my life:

  • The rentrée/start of the semester is always exhausting. The exhaustion amount goes up when you're teaching new preps. It goes up again when you're at a new institution. Which probably explains why I want to collapse at the end of every work day, and why all I get done on my evening commute is stare blankly at my phone.

  • That being said, I adore my commute: one bus, usually not that crowded (I get on and off far enough on either end that I've always gotten a seat, though sometimes people have to stand), one block from my house, two blocks from my office. The downside: it only comes every 20 minutes, so there's often quite a wait. Luckily I have the timing worked out for the morning commute; I'm sure I'll get better at timing the afternoon commute eventually...

  • Tasks I have managed to master conducting in French: ordering coffee, pastry, or lunch from the really epically delicious café on the first floor of my building; asking for a book I had brought from the off-site facility in the library; introducing myself at a staff meeting. Tasks I have not mastered conducting in French: understanding the full content of a multi-hour staff meeting, most of which I don't have historical context for and sometimes conducted heavily in acronyms. Tasks I have not yet mastered but have shown improvement in: elevator/hallway small talk. It's getting there.

  • Elements of Canadianness I have shown improvement in: paying with a chip card (or even by tapping); being chatty and oversharing with random strangers (I'm a New Yorker, THIS IS VERY DIFFICULT). Elements of Canadianness I have not yet shown much improvement in: understanding exactly where on the milk bag to cut and how then to pour without spilling (I think the organic milk bags from Costco are bigger than our jug); apologizing for things that are someone else's fault; understanding what it means when my thermostat reads 19.

  • Though I don't yet know if I'll do anything with it, I started a tumblr, [tumblr.com profile] ajnabieh; I figure it might be another ethnographic space for future work, who knows. BUT, the actual fun thing is that I also created a side-tumblr, [tumblr.com profile] size16skinnyjeans, for my occasional outfit blogging thing. And maybe Thinking Thoughts About Clothes In The Academy. Who knows. If you can think of critical/feminist-y/academic-y fashion blogs I should follow, or things that might be relevant to my research interests, lemme know. Or just, you know, follow me and watch me reblog things...

  • I think that's it for the moment. How are y'all?
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Quick hits from my reading list:

Egypt, the IMF, and Europe. A policy paper by Farah Halime, whose blog is a great resource on Middle Eastern economics for folks (like me) who want to incorporate thinking on economic issues into our work without being, ourselves, experts in economics. (I am still confused how I fell into doing political economy work at this particular moment in time.) The ongoing disaster that is Egypt's economy, and how it relates to the world economic system, isn't nearing a resolution, but this paper neatly lays out what's going on in Egyptian politics and economics that's making negotiating with the IMF so difficult, and what the policy problems with loans are going to be. (It's not anti-loan or anti-IMF, but it does acknowledge the multiple issues with loans and their consequences--more reformist than radical.)

The Anatomy of Protest in Egypt and Tunisia. The Arab Barometer project is the best collection of cross-national quantitative data on public opinion in the Arab world; as a qualitative researcher, I'm always glad when someone else has collected high-quality quant data that I can use in a glancing manner when I need some of it, so I don't have to. Here, three of the researchers associated with the project lay out some conclusions about protesters in Egypt and Tunisia during the revolutions. The centrality of economic and anti-corruption concerns for protesters stands out, as does the relative lack of interest in Islamist transformation, and the lower interest in civil and political rights.

Engaging the Haitian Diaspora. The Caribbean countries are some of the most important and most-studied cases of diaspora political involvement, and the details of the Haitian diaspora's demographics recounted in this article are fascinating, and demonstrate why diaspora political and economic engagement is so important in this case. I'm also glad to see more stuff not about the Middle East coming from the Cairo Review, which is a brilliant new(-ish) journal from AUC.

What is Tuz? Storytelling from the Queer Arab Diaspora. I haven't listened to this yet--in fact, I rarely listen to podcasts and radio shows, because I am weird and prefer to assimilate new information by reading, rather than listening--but it seems really awesome. And makes me miss NYC.

Explanation is Not the Point: Domestic Work, Islamic Dawa and Becoming Muslim in Kuwait (PDF) This brilliant article by Attiya Ahmad on migrant domestic workers' conversions to Islam in Kuwait is fascinating as a piece of ethnography, and insightful as an exploration of what 'conversion' means in different cultural contexts. I'm particularly interested in it because I'm returning to an old project on the construction of an idea of preference for Muslim domestic workers in Gulf countries, and this comments interestingly on the subject in one of the footnotes. (Also, because of my obsession with everything related to Kuwait ever. KUWAIT.)
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: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
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Not the best photos, but here are some of the outfits I'm bringing with me to Cairo. (That mess behind me on the piano is the rest of the clothes. Although by now they've been tucked into my suitcase.) Packing for fieldwork is an interesting process; you have the constraints of a limited wardrobe, just like any trip, while also having to be prepared for multiple occasions and, usually, at least a few presentations of self. There may also be location-specific constraints. In my case, they were:

•It is going to be hot--around 90F/32C during the day, and 75F/23C at night. So I need to pack to stay cool...but also to keep from burning to a crisp (I burn fairly easily), and to go from sweltering-outside to air-conditioned-inside. (Pretty much, this is exactly like New York City at midsummer.)

•I'm going to have to look like a professional. While I don't have my whole interview schedule lined up, a part of it is going to be with professors, people involved in politics, and other people with whom I have to present myself as a similarly positioned professional.

•I can't always look like a professional. Some of my other interviews will be with activists, students, and other people who I'll be meeting in a personal, not professional capacity. You don't wear a suit to interview activists, not if you actually want them to talk to you. So both pairs of pants I brought can be worn more casually, and I'm bringing some more relaxed t-shirts as well.

•I can't bring much. I'm traveling with one suitcase of a size that it technically fits in a carryon compartment, one very small duffel-bag-ish thing that'll actually be carryon, and my purse (which probably is larger than the duffel thing, all told). So, everything I bring has to do double duty.

•Local modesty norms. I'll say more about this below, but I had to make sure that the things I brought wouldn't make me look rude or inappropriate.

After going through this mental list and my closet a million times, here is what I settled on:

Read more... )

When I tell people I'm traveling to the Middle East for work, I always, always get questions about what I "can" wear. This is an interesting balance, because I do take the location into account when I pack, but it's also not quite like what my interlocutors mean.

modesty, identity, and fashion )

Well, I'm off to the airport in a few hours--wish me three on-time flights and no line at customs!
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."   (marxist feminist)
One of the things about coming to a new school means encountering new academic cultures, which differ by huge amounts from institution to institution. Some elements are systemic to particular sorts of schools; some are idiosyncratic. It's hard to puzzle things out, sometimes.

But I've noticed a quirk here, and I wonder what it means. Here at my new school, I've seen three different people openly disclose that they were 'spousal hires.' For those not in academia, that means that 1) their spouse/partner was hired for a permanent job here 2) said spouse/partner said "I will take the job if you give my spouse/partner a faculty position as well" 3) such an offer was made and accepted. Two of those spousal hires I've met are in my incoming faculty cohort (which is huge: 33 people, I think?), but one was a faculty member whose office is on the same floor as mine, who I got talking to in the break room.

And that's the thing: all three of the people I've heard identify themselves as spousal hires are men with female partners. On the one hand, that means that my school is doing a great job recruiting female faculty and making them good deals (an offer that comes with a job for your spouse? is an excellent offer). It's also congruent with the faculty culture here, which is very geared towards equality among faculty and support for junior/institutionally disadvantaged faculty. (There's pay equity between tenure-stream and non-tenure-stream faculty, for instance, and near-equivalent research/travel money available, and a higher-than-average-number of people jump from non-tenure to tenure-stream positions. We non-tenure-stream faculty were told to remind people that we're not tenure-line, and that we therefore are excused from certain service duties, because permanent faculty apparently tend to 'forget' and ask us to do things we're not required to do, because they see us as equal colleagues. Etc.)

On the other hand, I'm wondering if men are less anxious about identifying as spousal hires. For a woman to get an academic job (hugely competitive, seen as a sign that you have been victorious in a meritocratic race towards excellence) on the basis of her husband's/partner's work smells like affirmative action; it smells like failure. Is the identity penalty for men in identifying as a spousal hire less? (I'm also wondering, because I know several other academic couples here, some even where both spouses are in the same department; nobody has identified as "the spousal hire" in those pairings, and in at least one of them I'm fairly certain it was the female partner. Are they less likely to leap into the identity?)

So I'm wondering what other academics' experience is. Do people openly identify as spousal hires in your academic contexts? Have you noticed any difference between men's and women's willingness do to so? Or is this, like so many things, just something odd about my new institutional place?

(I should note, here, that people hired as 'spousal hires' are frequently awesome and excellent colleagues and teachers. One of my undergraduate advisors was the wife of a much more famous and noted scholar, and was one of the best scholars I've ever worked with. One of my graduate advisors left my institution to go to a full professor position at her husband's university, which enabled them to live together to raise their children. So, I'd like not to have this turn into a conversation about how spousal hires are evil and wrong; they're complicated, and many places can't do them in any real sense, but they provide some excellent scholars with jobs, and some dual-academic families with solidity, which I can't knock.)
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
Why, yes, I am still here!

As you can guess by the fact that I made precisely zero posts between the first week of November and the first week of January, it was a bit of a mad dash to the end of the semester. Much of that busyness was productive. I served on a search committee making three senior hires in my field, and we had all the job talks in five weeks. That was followed by a full-barrelled attempt to finish a draft of my last dissertation chapter before I got final papers to grade, and then a total hard drive failure (Extended AppleCare: It works, bitches), and then the arrival of all those papers, timed perfectly to coincide with the first Christmas where my kid really understood what was going on. And then what happened? Oh, yeah, a blizzard. That.

So, it was a good semester, but a chaotic one. I'll admit, I'm very much looking forward to this semester "off," by which I mean that I have no teaching (or committee) responsibilities, and just four solid months to revise my dissertation and schedule a defense. It sounds blissful, and I'll probably do a post at some point soon about the process of planning for such a thing, which I'm thinking about a lot right now.

Before we get there, however, I wanted to share a cool project that I discovered with my students this semester. Women's Voices Now is a new international feminist group, in the process of organizing a film festival called Women’s Voices from the Muslim World, to be held in Los Angeles in March. All the films were submitted online and are available for viewing. While some of the messaging around the festival and the project made bitter-old-me roll my eyes, many of the films were fascinating, moving, and really engaging. We spent about half a class in my Gender and Politics in the Middle East class watching them and talking about them, and I found that it was a useful exercise for the students, one that got them involved in the material.

Another thing about this festival is that they're choosing (in part, I think) who to bring to LA based on the votes by viewers through the site. I'm enthusiastic about getting more viewers involved in the process, even if this does inject a tiny bit of popularity-contest into the mix.

Not all the videos we watched in class are still on the site; I think that low-ranking films must be getting eliminated. (At least one of the films I wanted to post was awful, so this is at least my hope.) But here are five short films from the Middle East which I think are worth watching.

(Caveat: I literally haven't watched any of the ones from outside the Middle East world, or any of the ones recently posted; see note above about my semester. If you're looking for more about the festival, or more recs, check out Muslimah Media Watch's coverage; they're now a sponsor of the festival, and posted a whole bunch of videos with discussions. Or if you've got favorites, feel free to rec in the comments! I do want to watch more of them.)

Films from Sudan, Qatar, Egypt, Iran/The Netherlands, and Jordan )
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
hat tip to Muslimah Media Watch for their piece about this, and spurring me to write these thoughts down.

While visiting my parents a few weeks back, I caught a bit of the coverage ABC (an American broadcast TV network) is doing on Islam in the US. I was really fine until they got Pamela Geller on there, and then I started squirming and muttering at the TV, until my wife was generous and took me away to watch the past week's Modern Family on her iPad, thus saving my parents from having to listen to me yell.

Apparently a later bit of the series involved a reporter, Bianna Golodryga, wearing the hijab in a number of cities around the country. (I think you can watch the video here, but I haven't. Warning for comments that look exactly like you'd expect.) Now, the practice of non-Muslim women wearing hijab and other Muslim coverings to "experience what Muslim women do" is not new; it goes back to Lady Montagu (Wikipedia entry, her letters on Project Gutenberg), and it pops up with regularity (see this recent column by Naomi Wolf). But I first experienced it in the heady post-9/11 days of liberal and progressive communities in the US (particularly university-based ones). I was a sophomore in college, a double major in political science and gender studies in the process of building a specialization in Middle Eastern politics, so I was, shall we say, attentive to these discourses. And when I started to see calls for non-Muslim women to wear hijab in solidarity with Muslim-American women who were being harassed for covering, I got...suspicious.

That suspicion has lasted until today. I profoundly dislike when non-Muslim women wear hijab in an attempt to experience what Muslim women experience when they wear it, or even in an attempt to be in solidarity with Muslim women who wear it. My reasons for this are largely philosophical, and I know that many Muslim women are absolutely fine with it. But I want to try to think through why this practice bothers me so much, and what I think is so problematic about it.

Thing One: It's Appropriative

Some muhajjabat (women who cover) believe that the wearing of a headcover is mandated by God; some feel more comfortable covering their hair because of cultural tradition or the environment in which they live or were raised; some wear it because it marks them as (an observant) Muslim in the eyes of others. But no matter what the basic reasons for wearing it, a woman who wears hijab becomes a symbol of the Muslim community, and is consistently visibly identified as a Muslim by other. The hijab is a mark of identity, particularly in the context of religious minority women in North American and Europe.

To wear that mark of identity without holding that identity trivializes what it means. It snaps up the signs of that identity and does not, necessarily, require any shift of perspective in the wearer; it strips them of their meaning (which strikes me as an act of profound symbolic violence), and gives them an empty and moveable content. It's taking what is someone else's.

But here I should pause, and say two things. The first is that none of the muhajjabat who I've talked to about this practice object to it. Most think it's meaningless, but others will say, "Maybe they'll learn something." (And those who think it's an injunction on all women and a proper way to be modest believe it's an unallayed good.) So clearly the appropriative element of it isn't a huge concern to all of the people whose practice is being appropriated.

And, second, frequently these acts of hijab drag are done with content: they're an attempt to learn what Muslim women who cover experience, or to be in solidarity with them. This isn't hipsters wearing headdresses; this is a political act. So should I give up my squickiness about it? I'm not yet convinced, because of thing two.

Thing Two: Drag Does Not Make You Other

The queer student group I helped run as an undergraduate did semesterly 'drag days' during Pride Week and Coming Out Week. They were a ton of fun; I have many fond memories of applying mascara to my scarce lip hair, going shopping for ace bandages, borrowing my best friend's clothes, and filling unlubricated condoms with dollar-store hair gel (much more comfortable than a rolled tube sock, let me tell you). At a post-drag-day conversation one year, someone said that they really hoped that those who had participated had taken their experience and really thought about what it meant to be a trans student on our campus.

My only reaction was, "Oh hell no."

I didn't learn anything about what it's like being trans on my campus by crossdressing for a day. I wasn't physically threatened when I attempted to enter women's bathrooms; nobody hollered anything offensive at me; when people talked about me as a woman wearing a fake mustache (nobody was looking at my crotch, sadface), it didn't hurt me to be called a woman; I didn't have to contest my housing assignment or the name on my ID, not once. I did get a sense for how my body felt when trying to perform a sort of masculinity, and learned that I liked it--but I performed all sorts of masculinity in college, from wearing ties at Model UN conferences to making jokes about dating a woman who went to our traditional "sister college." And none of them taught me what it was like to be a trans man, or a trans woman, for that matter.

There are certain sorts of experiences that you cannot have for yourself. You have observe the edges of them, you can watch other people having them, you can listen to other people's stories about them, you can draw analogies between experiences you've had and ones that others describe. But you cannot just acquire them. I have been a racial minority in my neighborhood, but that does not teach me what it means to be a person of color in a white community. I have passed for a biological parent, but I will never know what it is like to have been pregnant and have given birth, to have that sort of a connection to a child. I have worn hijab, but I will never know what it is like to be a Muslim woman who covers for religious or personal or cultural reasons. That's not accessible to me, not without a series of changes of identity that aren't likely for me, not at this point in my life.

The way I can know what Muslim women who cover experience is by asking them, and then by listening. If the only way you will believe that muhajjabat experience discrimination is by wearing hijab and being discriminated against yourself, then you're calling all muhajjabat liars. You're refusing to admit that they may have an experience you cannot have. You're assuming that they can't be trusted to report on what has happened to them; you're arguing that their impressions and feelings about their experiences are probably exaggerations or misconceptions or paranoia or lies.

I'm glad of the times I've worn hijab. They have taught me something; that having a piece of cloth wrapped around my head changes the way I hold my neck; that if the scarf isn't secured with pins or tight knots, I'm constantly monitoring it, and it becomes difficult to take interview notes; that other women are compassionate, and will tuck flyaway hairs back under your scarf so as not to embarrass you. But they haven't taught me anything about being a muhajjaba, because I'm not.

This is one of those uncomfortable parts about choosing to make yourself an ally to communities you're not a part of, particularly when there's a clear privilege differential between you and them. You have to accept, and become comfortable, with not knowing some things through direct experience, with knowing that you'll have gaps. So as much as the non-opposition of the muslimahs I've spoken with has nudged me along towards being less dismissive of hijab drag, I still oppose it from my position as an ally activist and academic. I don't want us to forget that we are not in the communities we're working with, no matter how long we're there. We have to get used to being uncomfortable, not to forget that we should be.

So if you feel called to participate in hijab drag as an act of solidarity, and checking in with the muslimahs around you suggests none of them would take offense, do it. But don't be presumptuous about what you'll learn. And maybe you didn't need to wear the scarf to do it.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
Stumbling around in the post-vacation haze, I spent today alternately sending pleasant interview-request emails and poking through my well-worn copy of The Foucault Reader. I rather love reading theory, but I get sad that I have no one to talk it through with, the nature of the scholarly endeavor (when not in the classroom) being what it is.

Do other folks like reading/talking about theory/philosophy/etc? If so, I may occasionally post evocative lines from what I'm working through, for discussion.

Today's line of the day was:

But the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs....[T]he body is bound up, in accordance with complex reciprocal relations, with its economic use; it is largely as a force of production that the body is invested with relationship of power and domination; but, on the other hand, its constitution as labor power is possible only if it is caught up in a system of subjection....[T]he body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body." (from Discipline and Punish; on page 173 of The Foucault Reader, ed. Rabinow)

My thought, when reading it (and this should tip my hand with what I'm working on at the moment) is this: well, that's a masculinist way of thinking about it. Because it's not only productive value that bodies are used for, but reproductive value. And not just its reproductive value in the sense of producing children, but its value in reproducing society, culture, ethnicity, and meaning. Our bodies are disciplined and constrained by power because it is through our bodies--in their appearances, consumption, performances.

(Haven't had a chance to read Foucault? Foucault.info has a reasonable collection of his texts, in English and French, online. I'm partial to Polemics, Politics, and Problematizations, myself.)

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: 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)
Day Two: Mannishly

Jacket: Vintage, from my father-in-law
Sweater: Banana Republic, hand-me-down
Jeans: GAP, hand-me-down
Invisible Tank-Top: Banana Republic Outlet
Shoes: I actually wore my sneakers out of the house; these I just threw on to run in the back yard.

There is a picture of me somewhere in existence, though I don't now have a copy. It was taken my senior year in college. I'm walking down the aisle of a ballroom set up for the closing ceremonies of a Model UN competition. I had just won a best delegate award for my committee (a reenactment of the 1947 partition plan drawing committee in Palestine, if I remember right), and the team's photographer was taking pictures of everyone as they walked back from getting their awards. (We had a pretty high win-rate--and were undefeated that year.) I'm wearing grey dress slacks, a blue oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and my blue-and-purple silk tie. My hair is pulled back, and I'm flashing devil horns at the camera with the hand not holding my cheap wooden gavel.

In my head, that is what I look like when I am awesome.

thoughts on gender performance and daily drag )

This is, in fact, the hammer

My arms: These Are, In Fact, The Hammer )
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)
(My iPod, which is my number-one research tool [I should write a post on this], recently had to be reformatted, so I sent myself a bunch of old notes off it. I found this draft blog post from September, was amused, and thought I should share. A little lighthearted note from the life of the ethnographer.)

I attended a screening of Bil'in Habibti/Bil'in My Love hosted by Adalah-NY and Salam Lutheran Arabic Church in Bay Ridge on Wednesday [September 30, 2009]. The film is very emotionally affecting; I certainly recommend it to anyone looking to spark a conversation about the wall Israel is building in the West Bank, variously called the separation fence, separation wall, security wall, or apartheid wall, depending on one's political preferences. Perhaps the film hit me particularly hard because it was filmed in 2005, which is when I attended an international protest in Bil'in. I kept half expecting to see our signs and flags; alas, we didn't make the cut.

But I want to comment on an amusing exchange in the film. Mohammad, one of the leaders of the popular committee against the wall [who I think, now, with more knowledge, is Mohammad Khatib] is speaking in a lighthearted moment to Shai, the filmmaker, who is a member of Anarchists against the Wall. "When you first came," he said in Hebrew, "we saw you anarchists. You seemed strange to us [strange was in English], you didn't seem to care about your clothes, your hair. But you've been coming here for a year, and, now, I'm with you. I haven't bathed in a week." He then turned to the organizer next to him, and said, "You're always wearing a new suit." The other man said, with great and slightly annoyed dignity, "I have to. I'm a teacher."

Now, this got laughs from the crowd, and probably anyone who has ever organized with anarchists or, really, young leftists anywhere. (Oh, college, I remember you well.) But what struck me, looking around the room at that moment, was that if you lined up all the women's purses and bags in a row, I'd be able to guess which belonged to white American leftists and which belonged to the Arab women activists. Is the bag in question metallic or patent leather, does it have rhinestones, is it a designer name, does it contain any makeup, and does it match the carriers' shoes? 'Arabi. Is it a backpack or canvas bag, could it use a wash, is a metal water bottle clipped to the outside with a carabiner, does it contain a Powerbar, a laptop, and/or a leather-bound notebook? Inglizi.

We are always teaching each other about how we perform gender and proper public behavior. And we can always recognize each other through those practices. Norms vary in predictable ways; there are many femininities; and it matters who's performing them.

At least I left my Kleen Kanteen at home. But I had the Powerbar.
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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