Jarmakani - MO BI LI ZI N G T H E P O LI TI CS OF INVI SIBI...

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M O B I L I Z I N G T H E P O L I T I C S O F I N V I S I B I L I T Y IN ARAB AMERICAN FEMINIST DISCOURS E Amira Jarmakani A few years ago, I walked into a coffee house in Atlanta, GA, ordered a drink, and laid the book I was reading, Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing, down on the counter in order to pay for my drink. 1 “Arab feminism”, the coffee barista exclaimed, “that’s just an oxymoron to me!” Her comment, cloaked as it was in certainty and self-assurance, solidified my understanding of the way in which Arab American feminism is, in some ways, forced to construct itself negatively. That is, Arab American feminists must necessarily respond to the stereotypical images by which they are largely understood in a U.S. context and are, therefore, put in a position of first correcting common misconceptions before creating a defining discourse. The barista’s comment was made to me in September of 2002 and was, therefore, undoubtedly influenced by the cultural context of U.S. attitudes toward the Middle East that emerged after the events of September 11, 2001. Her unquestioned certainty that Arab feminism could not exist was framed and bolstered by a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, which was cast as a project of liberation meant to save Afghan women from the oppression of the Taliban. 2 Indeed, the rhetoric surrounding this project of liberation has depended on the symbol of the veil, or burqa, to pictorially reinforce U.S. assumptions about the way in which all Muslim and Middle Eastern women have been forced to hide behind the oppressive and silencing shroud of the veil. 3 Feminist scholars have offered lucid critical analysis of the problematic interpretations and deployments of the veil in U.S. and Western European cultures. 4 However, because the image of the veil has been appropriated as a powerful metaphor to describe and interpret Arab women’s lives, and given the way in which Arab American feminism has had to construct itself in opposition to this metaphor, it is worth reviewing the way in which it has functioned in U.S. discourse about the Middle East. The power and efficacy of the symbol of the veil as a cultural marker of difference is multi-dimensional: it serves as a useful, and accordingly prolific, Amira Jarmakani is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Otterbein College. Her research focuses on representations of Arab womanhood in U.S. popular culture.
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131 articulation of female oppression in the Middle East; it reinforces and solidifies a monolithic and flattened understanding of Muslim and Arab womanhood; and it presents itself as an indigenous, and therefore authentic, example of the oppression of Muslim and Middle Eastern women. In other words, as a signifier, it almost single-handedly creates and reinforces a mythology of the oppression of Muslim and Arab women worldwide. The function of this mythology is to create a comprehensive narrative about Arab womanhood that ultimately serves the needs
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This note was uploaded on 02/20/2011 for the course WGS 100 taught by Professor Laura during the Spring '11 term at CUNY Hunter.

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Jarmakani - MO BI LI ZI N G T H E P O LI TI CS OF INVI SIBI...

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