Selections from Remaking women by Lila Abu-Lughod

Lila Abu-Lughod (Ed.)

Remaking women: Feminism and modernity in the Middle East.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1998.



Lila Abu-Lughod -- Feminist Longings and Postcolonial Conditions


Chapter 1

Khaled Fahmy -- Women, Medicine, and Power in Nineteenth-Century Egypt

all health institutions were sites of contestation (p. 37)

Rather than viewing the founding of a modern medical school in 1827 ... as "... attempts ... to resurrect ... science, we should place these "experiments" of the pasha's within his larger military career (p. 41)

Why? Why not? Is it case of "either/or" or "and/and/and/..." (with context specification)

On the one hand, one can clearly see how the school helped the girls who joined it by turning them into hakimas and thus saved them from a worse fate: they were picked from the treets, educated, cared for, and given a regular salary and lodgings during their stay in the school. On graduation, they weretied to various places not only in Cairo but also in the provinces, when! they were entrusted with important and arguably prestigious tasks. They were thus offered free education, economicpower, mobility, and an enviable social status-in short, they received all the benefist that scholars of modernity and modernization programs represent as accruing to women under such programs. Yet as we have seen, these women found themselves strongly enmeshed in a hierarchical system in which they occupied the lowest positions. When disputes arose, as they often did, these women wrote petitions, protested against what they considered an unjust system and often complained of their inferior positions in the new medical structure. Nevertheless, they found themselves and their bodies tightly controlled and had no one to turn to except their families and friends. They soon realized that the school was at once both an agent of discipline and regulation and an
"enlightening" and even "empowering" institution. In short, while it is clear that the sojourn of the hakimas in the school and their subsequent jobs had given them the opportunity to become empowered, emancipated actors, and even in some cases strong-willed subjects capable of undertaking small acts of resistance, they were also clearly aware that they were intentionally used by the state as agents of discipline and regulation. (p. 62-63)

Chapter 2

Mervat Hatem -- 'A'isha Taymur's Tears and the Critique of the Modernist and the Feminist Discourses on Nineteenth-Century Egypt

The feminist and the modernist discourses that represented Taymur a an exemplar of the progressive character of the new society and its gender role. It offered ideological formulations of the change. They exaggerated the importance of her father's support, offered an unsympathetic discussion of her mother's role, and maintained silence on the contributions made by her mother, daughter, and female tutors to the completion of her literary education and training. The result was a masculine formulation that generally devalued women and ignored their contribution to the initiation and sustenance of social change.(p. 85)


Chapter 3

Afsaneh Najmabadi -- Crafting an Educated Housewife in Iran

based on reading books, media article, poems, and similar written sources (no ethnography)

By the first decade of the century, women had taken charge of girls' education, wrote tirelessly in the press on female education, encouraged women of means to put their resources into this cause, organized fund-raising events, and provided free schooling for those who could not afford it. The early girls' schools were all established by women and often in their own residences. Many of them faced hostility. Memoirs and letters of some of the women involved provide us with moving accounts of the difficulties they faced in this pioneering work. (p. 107)

Chapter 4

Omnia Shakry -- Schooled Mothers and Structured Play: Child Rearing in Tum-of-the-Century Egypt

This essay attempts to explore some of the conjunctures and disjunctures between European colonial and metropolitan discourses and indigenous modernizing and nationalist discourses on women and mothering in tum-of-the- century Egypt. Tracing the proliferation of debates on motherhood and proper child rearing through a number of scientific-literary and religious journals, I will attempt to elaborate the changing conception of the "good mother" and proper mothering as situated within the contemporaneous discourses of domesticity. I will be analyzing what Dipesh Chakrabarty has recently referred to as "public narratives of the nature of social life in the family." Such narratives crystallized into a normative and didactic discourse that helped to re-create and redefine the parameters of what was considered ideal in conceptions of motherhood, child rearing, and domesticity within a colonial context. (p. 126)

"Public discourses," not ethnography. Who wrote, read, acted upon these discourses? At best, this is Ruth Benedict looking for the pattern of a culture through the most public of myths and rituals. At worst, this is the readers of Benedict, abaited by Margaret Mead and many others, generalizing a model built on the reading of texts into what the So-n-so's are like. The subtitle of the article should have been " Child rearing public discourses in tum-of-the-century Egypt." Shakry also dismisses the possibility that these discourses directly echo similar discourses in metropolitan centers (e.g. tum-of-the-20th-centuryTeachers College and the development of its various programs in family life and child development)

Chapter 5

Marilyn Booth -- The Egyptian Lives of Jeanne d'Arc


Chapter 6

Zohreh T. Sullivan -- Eluding the Feminist, Overthrowing the Modem? Transformations in Twentieth-Century Iran

I'd say Amina Tawasil's work makes this paper sound almost anachronistic and anchored in a very Western discourse about what is to count as feminism (if I may use the kind of language ubiquitous in all the papers of this collection)

Chapter 7

Lila Abu-Lughod -- The Marriage of Feminism and Islamism in Egypt: Selective Repudiation as a Dynamic of Postcolonial Cultural Politics

I want to explore here one facet of this vexed relationship between feminism and cultural nationalism, reexamining that familiar dynamic of postcolonial politics in which "the woman question" animates political and ideological contests couched in the language of cultural authenticity versus foreign influence. (p. 243)

Those supporting some sort of self-consciously Muslim identity and associated with a range of positions regarding the importance of structuring society and the polity in more Islamic terms now also produce popular forms of public culture. While progressive television writers and other intellectuals have worked through the official state-run instruments of mass media, the Islamists (except a few associated with the state) are forced to disseminate their messages through magazines, books, and booklets sold in bookstores and street stalls, pamphlets distributed in mosques, and sermons and lessons, often recorded on cassettes carrying notices like "Copyright in the name of all Muslims."
These two sets of politically motivated culture producers can be thought of as in dialogue with each other, although both conceive of themselves as oppositional voices in Egypt. What a comparison between their output on women suggests, however, is that there are surprising areas of overlap, even as they define their projects quite differently vis-a-vis modernity and the West. (p. 248)

Mostly tied by class to Europe and Europeans, even as many were anti-imperialist, they adopted not just the "feminist" projects of education and public roles for women but also the ideals of uplifting the lower classes and the key components of a new domesticity, companionate marriage and scientific child rearing. They thus retained and elaborated many of the ideals Amin promoted. Their journals carried dire stories about the tragedies of forced marriage and polygyny, carried information on how to run a proper household, and provided advice about child rearing. In short, as part of their call for awakening women and transforming their lives and possibilities, they encouraged modem bourgeois "rational" modes of housewifery and child rearing, similar to the modes of domesticity being developed and marketed through magazines in Europe and the United States at the time.69 Most telling, they promoted the ideal of the conjugal couple, arguing against arranged marriage, polygyny men's rights to easy divorce, and women's lack of access to the same. (p. 261-2)

Just as the hijab and the modest dress being adopted around the Middle East are modem forms of dress, representing, despite the rhetoric, not any sort of "return" to cultural traditions but rather a complex reaction to a wide set of modem conditions (including, to be sure, a confrontation with Western consumerism), so the Islamist call for women to return to their roles as wives and mothers does not represent anything resembling what could be considered "traditional." ... Cultures cannot simply displace or undermine each other, as the quotations with which this chapter opened might suggest. The complex processes of borrowing, translating, and creating new mixtures-what some theorists prefer to call cultural hybrids-cannot be subsumed under this sort of dichotomous image. Nor can the ways in which new ideas are given firm bases by social and economic transformations as well as ideological familiarization, especially now through powerful forms of mass media. What the case of feminism in Egypt shows, however, is that the elements of borrowed, imported, or imposed"culture" are susceptible to disaggregation for political purposes. Elements that apply to only a tiny minority can be singled out for self-serving vilification as foreign, while those widely accepted, especially by the large middle and lower middle classes, are less likely to find themselves carrying the tainted label, "Made in the West." (p. 263-4)

Again, discourse, though with an emphasis on disputes in what is made public, with interesting suggestions about the political positionality of various discourses at various times. And then a few comments on "culture," hybridity, borrowing, disaggregation, etc. This is the same argument many are making in comparative education. I take this as Abu-Lughod's theme when "writing against culture." But she is really writing against a caricature of what anthropologists wrote (though many directly contributed to the caricaturing), and also, more powerfully against the discursive implicatures of "culture" when it is used in political discourse around the world at the turn of the 21st century (beyond post-colonialism). As I like to say anthropologists have lost control of a concept which, of course, they had borrowed but had gained some authority in controlling. They have lost this authority but cannot quite do with what I call (when hiding my theory of culture) "temporary moments of arbitrary representation in the practical discourses of everyday life made inescapable for some human beings who must live with them." But these moments can only be caught through careful ethnographies of the local. The "public discourses" found in whatever media (books, televisions, newspapers, etc.) can only give us a sense of what people have to deal with, particularly when these discourses are politically inscribed in institutions, including institutionalized resistances. Thus, living in Egypt now, as every, is being caught within a particularity. Egypt is not Jordan, is not..., even if people in Egypt find out on an ongoign basis what is happening in Jordan...--as Adely's ethnography of Jordanian young women in high school so powerfully reveals.


Deniz Kandiyoti -- Some Awkward Questions on Women and Modernity in Turkey

created on December 11, 2014