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How Not to Study Gender in the Middle East

How Not to Study Gender in the Middle East
One: Gender is not the study of what is evident, it is an analysis of how what is evident came to be. Two: Before resolving to write about gender, sexuality, or any other practice or aspect of subjectivity in the Middle East, one must first define what exactly the object of study is. Be specific. What country, region, and time period forms the background picture of your study? Furthermore, the terms “Middle East,” “the Islamic World” and the “Arab world” do not refer to the same place, peoples, or histories, but the linkages between them are crucial. Moreover, the “state” is a relatively new phenomenon in the Middle East. Three: A study of gender must take into account sexuality. Four: Gender is one aspect of individual and group subjectivity. Five: The ungendered body does not exist, just as the unclassed body does not exist. Six: Avoid tokenism and broad generalizations. Seven: Do not assume that gender politics or feminist concerns come in neat and familiar packages.

Related:  Sexuality in Islam

After the Arab Spring, the taboo on homosexuality remains by Brian Whitaker When the European parliament issued a critical report on Egypt's human rights record in 2008, the Mubarak regime responded with nationalistic fury. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, sided with Europe. "Respect of human rights is now a concern for all peoples," its parliamentary spokesman, Hussein Ibrahim, declared at the time. That Islamist movements, or at least the more mainstream ones, should take an interest in human rights is not especially surprising.

Hatred and misogyny in the Middle East, a response to Mona el Tahawy A veritable twitter storm has sprung up around an article by Mona el Tahawy in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, entitled Why Do They Hate Us? In the article, El Tahawy documents and condemns the abuses meted out upon women throughout the Middle East. So far, so uncontroversial, you might think. Why Do They Hate Us? - By Mona Eltahawy In "Distant View of a Minaret," the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband's repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, "as though purposely to deprive her." Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer -- so much more satisfying that she can't wait until the next prayer -- and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap.

Do Arab men hate women? It's not that simple Photograph: Foreign Policy The latest edition of Foreign Policy, the cover of which bears the same stark question posed by its main article Why Do They Hate Us?, has stirred up some serious controversy. In the article, Mona Eltahawy runs through a litany of indictments of women's rights in the Middle East, and issues a call to arms against cultural relativism. Women, democracy and dictatorship The electoral success of Islamic parties in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, has raised worries about policy and legislation on family and gender issues, this despite re-assuring noises from leading figures. Earlier electoral successes of Islamists in Iraq had brought about a disorderly mix of family policies and rule of disparate religious authorities, accompanied by much constraint and intimidation. This may be a good time to reflect on the record of various Middle Eastern countries on these issues over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first century and their relations to political regimes. In the early and middle decades of the twentieth century it was always dictators who embarked on policy and legislation which liberated and empowered women in both family and society.

Let's Talk About Sex This week Foreign Policy published a “Sex Issue.” They explained their decision to feature a special issue with these words Foreign Policy's first-ever Sex Issue…is dedicated…to the consideration of how and why sex—in all the various meanings of the word—matters in shaping the world's politics. Why? Between You and Me Between You and Me If anyone was unsure about the power and pride of Arab women, the growing number of public objections to Mona Eltahawy’s article, “Why Do They Hate Us?” published in Foreign Policy this week, will leave you with no doubts. Mona Eltahawy (Photo from Flickr user personaldemocracy) Keeping up with the lively discussion of the status of women in the Middle East this week has proven to be quite a challenge. If anyone was unsure about the power and pride of Arab women, the growing number of public objections to Mona Eltahawy’s article, “Why Do They Hate Us?”

On Listening (a response to the Mona Eltahawy criticism) Unless you live under a rock, dear blog reader, you’ve probably witnessed the hulabaloo over the past 24 hours about an article by Mona Eltahawy entited “Why Do They Hate Us?” I don’t feel the need to comment on the article’s content, particularly as many already have, but I would instead like to comment on a thread of commentary that I find particularly bothersome. I can’t find the tweet, but last night I noted someone–a journalist, no less–tweet something along the lines of “Hmm, interesting – most of my [American? foreign? can't remember] friends like [the article], most of my Arab friends don’t.” While the tone of the comment was ambiguous and I’ll assume a bit of irony, I’ve seen other similar comments that are a bit more…obtuse.

Politics at the Tip of the Clitoris: Why, in Fact, Do They Hate Us? What baffles me most about Mona Eltahawy’s Foreign Policy article is that it does not accomplish the task it sets out for itself; it does not, in fact, answer its foundational question: Why do they hate us? Instead of focusing on the why, identifying the structural reasons behind sexism and misogyny in the Arab world, Eltahaway provides illustrative evidence of the oppressions Arab women face; the list is by now all too familiar both in the West and in the Arab world. The images of a naked woman’s flawless body covered in a niqab of black paint, spread throughout the article (and on the Foreign Policy special sex issue cover) is only a bitter reminder of the resilience of a clichéd fetishization of the oppressed Muslim/Arab female body in the media, as pointed out by Seikaly and Mikdashi. To be sure, the answers to such a complex question cannot be provided in one article. However, Eltahawy’s intervention could have benefited from much needed constructive deconstruction. [4] Ibid.

Oh, Mona! « AmericanPaki Since yesterday it appears Mona Eltahawy has had her hands full fending off the massive outrage her Foreign Policy article entitled “Why do they hate us? The real war on women is in the Middle East” provoked. Even much to the dismay of disappointed feminists, her tweets suggest those disagreeing with her have not bothered to provide intelligible debate. War of Position and War of Maneuver: Sexperts, Sex Pervs, and Sex Revolutionaries The recent issue of Foreign Policy on sex has instigated critical feedback from many who have rightly challenged racist and Orientalist representations of gender and sexuality in the Muslim and Arab worlds. Several critics have rightly pointed out that essentialist approaches to culture that rely on facile binaries of men/women, freedom/oppression, and West/East lack any meaningful analyses of geopolitics, economy, colonial and post-colonial formations, and historical nuances. Most of these responses, however, have focused on Mona El Tahawy’s article, which reproduces discourses of violent Arab masculinity and victimized femininity. Here, however, I want to take up Karim Sadjadpour’s “The Ayatollah Under the Bed(sheets),” an anecdotal character study-like article that seeks to understand the perverse mentality of the Iranian mullahs and the practicing Muslims who emulate them.

On "Why do they hate us?" and its critics FP's "sex issue" coverThe piece below was contributed by friend of the blog Parastou Hassouri, who has been living in Cairo since 2005 and focuses on issues of gender and migration. She is currently a consultant with International Civil Society Action Network's MENA program, which examines the intersection of women's rights, peace and security. Given that Mona El Tahawy has, for at least a decade now, written about Islam and gender in the Middle East, and primarily for an English-speaking (read “Western”) audience, it is a bit surprising that in her recent piece in Foreign Policy’s sex issue, she would repeat so many of the same ideas and fall into the same traps into which others before her have fallen, providing many a commentator and academic with an opportunity to pounce upon her within hours of the piece’s publication. The responses to El Tahawy’s piece came fast and furious. I will admit to only having read about twenty of them, though I am sure there are dozens more.

Setbacks For Arab Women Have Outpaced Gains A protest leader gives directions to fellow protesters as they march during a demonstration in Sanaa May 10, 2012. (photo by Reuters) Author: Barbara Slavin Posted May 15, 2012 Women have participated prominently in the popular protests that have swept the Arab world in the past 15 months, but are in danger of losing social, political and economic gains made under previous regimes. Summary⎙ Print Women are in danger of losing social, political and economic gains made under previous regimes in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, writes Barbara Slavin. At a recent conference, experts presented a mixed picture in which setbacks for Arab women outnumber gains.