This week’s reading and discussion raise two critical points, the first being that women cannot and should not be analyzed as one entity, with no regard to key differences such as class, cultural, economics, etc. The second point being, Muslim and other Third World women are not all in need of the White Savior.
The encounter between the Sex And The City women and the Muslim women exemplified the erroneous generalization that not just all Muslim women, but all women are one homogeneous group united by the same reductive assumptions. In Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses, author Chandra Talpade Mohanty explains, “I am referring to the critical assumption that all of us of the same gender, across classes and cultures, are somehow socially constituted as a homogeneous group identified prior to the process of analysis… Thus, for instance, in any given piece of feminist analysis, women are characterized as a singular group on the basis of a shared oppression” (337).
When the Muslim women ripped off their religious wear to reveal the Western ideal of women’s fashion, the ‘spring collection’, it demonstrates the flawed ideology that no matter where we (women) are in the world and what struggles we must overcome, underneath it all, we are all the same. That ‘same’ being the Western ideal, of course. And let us (Westerners, or white people) show you that you are like us – let us liberate you! This is a light, more pop cultural example of what Myra Macdonald referred to in, Muslim Women and the Veil, as the victim narrative. However, I believe that scene also, albeit unintentionally, showed that in actuality, underneath it all Muslim women do not need to be rescued. Yes, some Muslim women may have the same fashion access, interests, etc., as Westerners but choosing to respect their culture/religion does not mean they are being oppressed or need to be ‘saved’.
The image of a veiled Muslim woman seems to be one of the most popular Western ways of representing the ‘problems of Islam…The metaphoric desire to “unveil” alien cultures, by “laying them bare” and bringing them into conformity with the ideological norms of the dominating power has a long discursive history amongst Western colonialists and imperialists… missions to rescue women from the brutality and oppression signified by the veil” (Macdonald 8, 9).
Additionally, I believe the scene illustrated how the West has the potential to embrace the “other” only so far as the benefits will extend, and then abandon the culture as soon as it is no longer of use. For example, the SATC women gladly welcomed the local culture and wore the veils to ‘escape their male oppressors’ after liberating their ‘sisters in struggle’, but any reverence for the garb was disregarded when Carrie exposed her leg to catch the cab. They are no longer sisters in struggle, Carrie must revert back to her Western roots to save herself and the girls.
Although Third World women are not necessarily in need of rescue, they do face adversity when it comes to overcoming socially constructed gender roles within their culture – which is equally true of Western women. Women as a whole do not belong barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, as the saying goes – unless, of course, that is their choice!
Below is an interesting video about Palestenian race car drivers – that happen to be women. They do not fit the stereotype of what most would envision a Middle Eastern woman to be. In fact, one driver, Mouna Ennab, says, “They were telling us ‘you should be at the home, not racing with the boys, you should be at the home, cooking and cleaning’, something like that.”
Paula Slier, the reporter in the story, commented, “In some small way, using the power at their fingertips, these drivers are challenging the way women are seen and treated in this part of the Middle East.”
This quote from Mohanty sums up the discussion nicely –
Instead of analytically demonstrating the production of women as socio-economic political groups within particular local contexts, this move limits the definition of the female subject to gender identity, completely bypassing social class and ethnic identities. What characterizes women as a group is their gender (sociologically not necessarily biologically defined) over and above everything else, indicating a monolithic notion of sexual difference. Because women are thus constituted as a coherent group, sexual difference becomes coterminus with female subordination, and power is automatically defined in binary terms: people who have it (read: men), and people who do not (read: women)… Such simplistic formulations are both reductive and ineffectual in designing strategies to combat oppressions. All they do is reinforce binary divisions between men and women.