Academic journal article Canadian Woman Studies

Revolutionary Womanhood: Feminism, Modernity and the State in Nasser's Egpyt

Academic journal article Canadian Woman Studies

Revolutionary Womanhood: Feminism, Modernity and the State in Nasser's Egpyt

Article excerpt

REVOLUTIONARY WOMANHOOD: FEMINISM, MODERNITY AND THE STATE IN NASSER'S EGPYT

Laura Bier

Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011

"The woman question" in its various articulations and cultural expressions has historically been bound up with notions of national identity and nationalism. Through developing and unpacking the concept of state feminism Laura Bier grappled with the complex and contradictory discourses that shaped hegemonic notions of womanhood in the Nasser era. Drawing upon policy studies, political speeches, women's press, film, and literature the study was grounded in a cultural history, and fleshed out the connections between the construction of national womanhood and the conceptual framing of revolution. In short, the primary focus of the study was the relation between the construction of feminine identity and the modern nation-state.

State feminism is the central point of analysis, which was then explored through a descriptive problematizing of four themes: the ideological framing of working women, secularism and law, family planning and reproduction, and international feminism. As a category for inquiry state feminism was located in the Nasser regime's modernizing project, but had its historical roots in the earlier period of colonial control. As such, state feminism was framed by the interlocking discourses of modernity, inclusion, and political participation, which were then set against traditional modes of social organization. State feminism, then, must be understood as a constellation of practices and ideologies that aimed to transform women into modern political subjects. Thus, for Bier state feminism was at its core a didactic project.

Noting that the Nasser regime did not significantly transform the number of women in the workforce, Bier put forth the argument that the discursively constructed figure of the working woman played an important role in the articulation of the public sphere as modern and secular. The reconfiguring of the public sphere also shaped images of the home around a bourgeois model of domesticity. As such, the image of working women as a sign of modernity did little to destabilize the patriarchal organization of domestic labour. In fact, Bier gave extensive examples of state policies and incentives that were designed to create the conditions for women to access the tools of modern living, thereby creating a prescriptive model of femininity that drew upon imagery of both domesticity and professionalism.

Policies that dealt specifically with the family drew multiple conflicting perspectives into the public debate, which then had adverse outcomes for women generally and working class women in particular. …

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