recently i was discussing samah salaime‘s visit to rochester with some friends and explaining the disturbing aspects of having a palestinian woman talk about the lack of women’s rights in arab communities inside of israel, without first providing the political, economic and social context within which these crimes are taking place. the term “honor” killings is extremely loaded to start with. it is viscerally associated with muslim (or otherized) communities as if a white man killing his girlfriend or wife in a bout of jealousy (a common occurrence in western countries) doesn’t have anything to do with patriarchal ideas related to a man’s “honor.”
yes, samah alludes to some prejudice in the gentlest, most elusive of ways (by mentioning the lack of cooperation from israeli police) but she doesn’t say the words occupation, nakba or apartheid. she doesn’t talk about how palestinians have been turned, deliberately, into a marginalized, ghettoized minority through long term violence and racist state policies. all of this becomes even more problematic when she makes these context-less presentations that reinforce all the tropes about arab backwardness (can’t forget those pictures of murdered women with an ancient, blood-covered “dagger” in the middle), in privileged parts of israel or the u.s. – countries which are responsible for creating the conditions under which such crimes occur.
i was reminded of that conversation when i read about a new book called “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?”
it’s reviewed here by Subashini Navaratnam:
Abu-Lughod notes the irresponsible damage inflicted by books like Half the Sky, The Caged Virgin, and The Honor Code, because truly virulent messages about Islam, in particular, and the people who inhabit the Global South, in general, are disseminated to a wide readership through sweetened doctrines of liberal humanitarianism and pro-democracry. “Half the Sky, like Hirsi Ali’s The Caged Virgin and Nomad, and even Appiah’s The Honor Code,” Abu-Lughod writes, “is an invitation to Westerners to do something elsewhere. These books do not ask us to examine the role Westerners already play—whether in their everyday practices, their governments’ actions, or their economic strength—in perpetuating global inequities that exacerbate (and sometimes cause) the sufferings of women elsewhere”.
[…] When women, who are usually expected to perform reproductive labour and care work without complaint, refuse this work, it can be a form of resistance to the ways in which patriarchy is deeply entwined with capitalism. But merely resisting the work or refusing to perform it doesn’t change the structure, or help to envision a new one. Contemporary bourgeois feminism’s focus on “independence” and “choice” neglects to ask how freedom comes about, and at whose expense.
As Abu-Lughod points out, when Gateefa’s young daughter-in-law wants to take care of herself and goes off to get her eyebrows done, she leaves her children with another elderly female relative. As Abu-Lughod points out, Gateefa dislikes this attitude because it’s not a communal concept of child-rearing, as modern women want the benefits of the household without the work of the household. This is the case both among rural and urban young women who have grown up on liberal feminism—there is always another woman or a domestic helper, usually less-educated, less mobile, and/or older, doing the work for no or very little pay. Yet, it seems to be patriarchy’s intent that we go on blaming women for this condition without asking why women are being valued for the activity of their uterus while also being encouraged to have it all, which necessary entails not being present for this work in order to present a more efficient self elsewhere—in their career, for example, or to their male partners. More here.