Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Complexities of Gender Relations in a Masculine State

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Complexities of Gender Relations in a Masculine State

Article excerpt

The Complexities of Gender Relations in a Masculine State Madawi Al-Rasheed's A Most Masculine State: Gender, Politics, and Religion in Saudi Arabia, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013

A deep exasperation with banal clichés about women in Saudi Arabia opens Madawi Al-Rasheed s absorbing, thought-provoking, and lucid A Most Masculine State. Al-Rasheed has no truck with the two stereotypical images of Saudi women as "either excluded, heavily veiled victims of thenown religion and society, or wealthy, glamorous, cosmopolitan entrepreneurs benefiting from inherited wealth and state education" (l). So she sets out to tell her readers a deeply researched story about the trajectory of women as political subjects in Saudi Arabia since the end of the nineteenth century. Her central contention is that to understand Saudi Arabia, we need to analyze the peculiarities of Saudi "religious nationalism," as well as the power of the Saudi state to shape both the ideologies pertaining to the position of women in Saudi society and the material conditions of thenexistence. The instruments for this process of social and ideological engineering are, inter alia, notions of piety and public propriety, laws around marriage and employment, provision of education, and labor regulatory regimes that make housework a job best suited to migrant laborers. It is the genius of the book that it also provides a persuasive analysis of why so many Saudi women are themselves invested in the maintenance of the rigid system of control in which the women are embedded. She further argues that what ultimately counts-far beyond ideological attachments of the women themselves-is their class location where "wealthy Westernised elite women enjoy far more freedoms than young marginalised divorcees and mothers" (37).

What makes the book so rewarding and useful is, first, the thoughtful, richly detailed historical context it provides for understanding women's education, the regulations of womens bodies and sexuality, and the place of women in business relations in Saudi Arabia over the span of several decades. But Al-Rasheed is also very attentive to both the state-centered mythologizing and religious discourse-making that goes into the maintenance of gender relations, as well as the contestation over the boundaries of control. She provides an instructive chapter on "the new religious women" who are crucially engaged in the thoroughly modern "resort to an Islamic discourse in which they find solutions to gender issues such as gender discrimination, inheritance, marriage, divorce, and employment" (254). …

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