Transnational Feminism, Islam, and the Other Woman: How to Teach

By Gurel, Perin | Radical Teacher, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Transnational Feminism, Islam, and the Other Woman: How to Teach


Gurel, Perin, Radical Teacher


Let's admit it: feminism is always confronted by the other woman. No, not the "Other" woman, not the women of color, poor women, women of the Third World: to those, even the most traditional liberal feminist gives a sympathetic nod, a phenomenon Audre Lorde described as "the special Third Wodd Women's Issue." (1) The other woman is the individual who seems to come out of the woodwork and to whom The Man suddenly begins to pay attention. If she is a Muslim woman, she denounces Islam with indignation. If she is a woman of color, she denounces her "culture" as a thoroughly patriarchal, oppressive, and static entity. Making a name for herself as the voice of freedom and feminism in the process, the other woman finds a willing and widespread audience in the United States, from Midwestern housewives in book clubs to men in policy think tanks.

All the complex and contextualized discourses transnational feminists have built around women and Islam seem to crumble when an aunt asks us during Thanksgiving dinner, with quasi-feminist indignation, whether we have read The Infidel or The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Here is what we want to say: "Yes, I did, and I was amazed that Ali ignores the work of Leila Ahmad, Fatima Mernissi, Lila Abu-Lughod, or anyone who has done extensive research on Muslim women, and writes as if nuanced criticisms of political Islam by Muslim women do not exist." For my part, I only said "Yes, I did" last Thanksgiving, and let Aunt Sally give me the glowing look of a comrade-in-arms against "Islamofascism." This was a delicate moment, and one in which I believe I failed as a teacher.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty criticized the construction of "The Third World Woman" as a victim of her culture years ago. (2) More recently, Inderpal Grewal revealed how U. S. refugee practices require women of color to represent themselves as victims and their cultures as pathological. (3) Yet, as transnational feminists, we still feel uncomfortable criticizing vocal, politically active women of color, whose monolithic denigrations of Islam and un-nuanced adoration of Western liberal feminism go against everything our movement and work represents. Like Ali, I am of Muslim extraction and I live in the West. As an academic feminist, I do not really want to silence an intelligent woman from a marginalized background who is denouncing practices I also criticize in my work. I cannot, in good faith, say that a woman who serves neo-cons has "false consciousness." To me, such moments reveal that transnational feminism is still an offshoot of Western feminism, and that modern western feminism was built upon the activism fault line between busting structures and aiding individuals. According to Nancy Cott, the successes of the American "woman movement" by the 1920s and the dissolution of gender-segregated "separate spheres" brought to the fore contradictions inherent in a movement that called for women's unity while trying to recognize the diversity among women. (4) Of course women of color and working class women had long before questioned what it meant to base a politics exclusively on sex. (5) The "globalization" of feminism, beginning officially with the 1975-1985 UN Decade of Women, made these fault lines even more acute. So how do we teach about women and Islam to our Azar Nafisi-reading students and our Ayaan Hirsi Ali-reading Aunt Sallys, given this complex grounding of modern and, yes, transnational, feminism?

Here are a few preliminary suggestions, based on my experience co-teaching an upper-level/graduate seminar called "Women, Religion, and Representation in an Age of Globalization" with two influential feminist scholars, Laura Wexler and Sally Promey, in the spring of 2009. (6) Regardless of other pedagogical aims, I believe the progressive scholar engaging women's issues in the Muslim world must strive to do three things: historicize feminism, historicize Islam, and highlight the complexities of representation. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Transnational Feminism, Islam, and the Other Woman: How to Teach
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.