Muslim women and the rhetoric of freedom

In Mariana Ortega & Linda Martín Alcoff (eds.), Constructing the Nation: A Race and Nationalism Reader. SUNY Press (2009)
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Abstract

I argue that representations of the Muslim woman in the Western imaginary function as counter-images to the patriarchal ideal of Western woman. Drawing upon the work of Frantz Fanon (and supplementing it with a consideration of the role of gender), I show how the image of the veiled, Muslim woman is both othered and racialized. This “double othering,” I argue, serves: (i) To normalize Western norms of femininity. The social control of women and their bodies by liberal society is hidden. Gender oppression is rather projected onto Muslim women, and identified with their societies, while remaining invisible within Western society. Western womanhood is taken to be “free” of such oppression. (ii) To deflect attention away from Western patriarchy, and promote complicity on the part of Western women with this society rather than other women. (iii) To represent Western femininity as an ideal that solicits women’s complicity universally. The attempt is to establish the superiority of Western society and its gender norms and morally justify the domination of other societies (in the name of civilization and the liberation of women).

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Alia Al-Saji
McGill University

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