Academic journal article Women and Language

To Veil or Not to Veil (1), That Was the Question: A Feminist's Journey through the Land of Jordan

Academic journal article Women and Language

To Veil or Not to Veil (1), That Was the Question: A Feminist's Journey through the Land of Jordan

Article excerpt

Abstract: In November 2001 I presented a paper at an international communication conference sponsored by an Arab-US education organization, UNESCO and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan. I accepted the invitation with some trepidation, believing I would have a remarkable opportunity to share an assessment of gender identity in a region of the world with gender rules very different from those of my culture. In this paper I combine feminist standpoint epistemology, events as they occurred and contemporary research on gender issues in the Middle East--in particular, the veiling of women.


In this treatise, I call upon feminist standpoint theory to explore how patterns of thought and action arise and are symbolized within historical, social, political and material conditions, and not just from the standpoint of women's lives, but from how women (a woman), understand, interpret and represent their lives (Wood, 1992). Rather than assuming men and women are innately different socially and psychologically, this theory maintains that it is culturally constructed conditions which produce different experiences in the lives of women and men. Moreover, while acknowledging culturally induced differences between female and male genderized roles, feminist standpoint theory simultaneously recognizes differences among individual women and sub-sub-groups of women as with minority women functioning in a white-male dominated society (Wood, 1992).

Under the umbrella of feminist standpoint theory, the following epistemological and methodological approaches are called into play.

1) This paper attempts to transcend dualistic thinking and the dualism doctrine (2) as it relates to the subject of veiling in the Middle East (3). In patriarchal societies (most human societies), complexity (multiplicity), has been reduced to "either/or." Either something is objective or subjective, qualitative or quantitative, superior (logical) or inferior (emotional). This dualistic or "Aristotelian" way of thinking (tangibly imbedded in language), has for centuries, justified the practice of gender apartheid (and its inherent subjugation of women). It is essential therefore, to reach for complexity whereever and whenever one can. Complexity to the dualistic thinker, is often mistaken for a state of contradiction, ambivalence, non-commitedness or confusion (and from an androcentrist (4) point of view--weakness). But unless feminists examine the veil and the women behind it, from a multifaceted/holistic perspective, rather than judging this practice as either "right" or "wrong," "good," or "bad," we not only mimic the dualistic thinking that creates gender apartheid, we alienate the very women we hope to liberate from its restrictions.

2) This paper (in part), is interpreting the practice of "veiling" from a subjective, oftentimes emotionally charged point of view. Emotional response however arbitrary, colors one's reality--a reality often concealed by traditional (male) scholars. In fact-finding missions, pathos is often hidden behind rhetoric, or buried in subtext. Indeed, the element of subjectivity once disguised as fact, creates a political agenda that masquerades as "absolute truth" (Blair, Brown & Baxter, 1994, p. 384). To gain legitimacy, feminists have had to counter it since many academics use the norm of objectivity to denounce the very idea of feminist scholarship "All scholarship reflects the political angle and ideals of its creators. Avoiding narrowness in the academy could only be possible through insuring the inclusion of a multitude of points of view" (Nicholson, 1990, p. 3).

3) This paper introduces back into scholarship, the first person singular and the narrative voice as legitimate genres in scholarly writing. The "rational world" paradigm is an ever-present part of our cultural consciousness because we have been educated into it, but the narrative impulse is a part of our very being. …

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