Ambivalence about focusing on Egyptian women

Okay, so I totally want to keep telling stories about women protesting in Egypt.  There are two reasons for this.  The first one that I will happily admit and is true: I like it whenever any woman uses the arena of politics to make her voice heard.  A big reason for that is that, historically, the political arena is often one of the hardest for women to break into (yeah, here in America we got the vote 90 years ago but our representation on every level – federal, state, local – is nowhere near equal to the percentage of female citizens). And yes, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann (easiest targets, right?) grate on me.  But I don’t ever begrudge them the right to run or hold office, and I would never put them down because they are women.  That doesn’t mean I have to agree with them, though.  And I don’t.

The second is one that I feel is more sinister in its nature, one that is hard for me to admit (though I did write about it a bit last week), and is also very much true: I am buying into some narrative about Egyptian women and also Muslim women (and also, really, Muslim men) that says that they must NOT already be politically active.

So, that could be true.  But the thing is, I don’t really know if that is true.  In reality, it’s probably not.  And even though I write that now and I continually tell myself that as I am blogging, I still don’t think I really try to do much about it when it comes down to posting about women in Egypt.  When I post stuff that shows women involved in the protests, I am participating in those very Western, colonial, islamaphobist, orientalizing (of the Edward Said variety) tropes that I hate.  And yet still find myself using.  Fuck.

At the same time, the fact that so many people in the media and our society at large buy into the idea that Egyptian women aren’t actively taking part in the protests makes me want to show that indeed they are.  But then I am right back there, just being part of that narrative.  I’m just reinforcing the need to find the ladies!  It will just set up the next event: “unlike the women in Tunisia and Egypt…”  It never ends, I feel.

This post is now reeking of weird introspection that makes me rather uncomfortable (I can feel people rolling their eyes at me now – wow! look at the American girl who has figured out that American ideas about the Muslim world are colonial, old, and condescending).

But I do hope that when people are talking about Egyptian women (or Tunisian women or whatever women in whatever country rises up next), they realize that they are part of a very complicated, nuanced, and ongoing discussion that often exists ONLY to make Westerners feel better about themselves and their own progressive qualities.  It rarely, if ever, is based in actual fact.  Here in America, we have little right to lecture any other country on how they should act towards their female citizens, for crying out loud.

This is all to lead to a post at Sarthanapalos, titled, “A Guide: How Not to Say Stupid Stuff about Egypt.”  While I recommend that you read the whole thing, here’s the bit that pushed me to finally write this:

“The women are so brave”:  Egyptian women have always been brave.  If you want to know about Sadat’s Egypt, read Nawal El Saadawi’s memoir while in jail.  Memoirs from the Women’s Prison

[I have been thinking about it since I saw this tweet earlier tonight – why are they “strong”? Because women normally aren’t? Because Muslim women normally aren’t? Because women in a predominantly Muslim country aren’t given the platform easily and so to attend such protests takes extra strength? There’s a LOT embedded in that single word.]

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2 thoughts on “Ambivalence about focusing on Egyptian women

  1. I had a mentor that taught me that social justice is about continually recognizing, acknowledging, and fighting the social constructs with which we are indoctrinated. We can never escape them, and if we are honest, they will always shape our perceptions. Our responsibility, along with so many other things, is to constantly acknowledge, process, and resist.

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