World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


RECONCEPTUALISING GENDER IN THE MIDDLE EAST -3/3: Constructing gender through state processes and political contestations (195) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED, 21 / 9 - 11 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: PAIS, University of Warwick (UK)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Nicola Pratt

· NOT_DEFINED sponsor: the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies (AMEWS)

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The issue of gender identities in the Middle East is once again being instrumentalized as part of global and Middle Eastern geo-political struggles. From US rhetoric claiming to support Middle East women’s ‘empowerment’ to the rise of Islamist movements and their particular emphasis on gender propriety, imagery of women and definitions of gender relations are demarcating the battle lines in the so-called war against terror. Against this backdrop, it becomes urgent for academics to challenge this polarization in the conceptualisation of gender identities and gender relations within the Middle East and to draw attention to the multiplicity and historicity of gender in the region.

This multi-disciplinary symposium will outline transformations in gender identities and relations within a diversity of spheres—from political discourses to popular culture—and in a variety of Middle Eastern geographic locations, including diasporic spaces, over different historical periods. The emphasis will be on examining the concrete political, economic and social processes that give rise to changing conceptualisations of gender in the Middle East, understanding gender not only in terms of women/femininities but also in terms of men/masculinities and in recognising the intersectionality of gender identities.

This symposium will bring together a wide range of disciplines in order to fully appreciate the many dimensions of this theme. It will contribute to increased understandings of the historically-constructed nature of gender within the Middle East and, in this way, to challenging mainstream views (in the West and the Middle East) about the exceptionalism of gender relations in this region in global comparison.

Some of the questions addressed by this symposium include:
•In which contexts do we see transformations of gender identities/roles/relations?
•In which contexts do we see the reproduction of particular gender identities/roles/relations?
•How and why do gender identities/roles/relations change?
•Do gender identities/roles necessarily change with gender relations?
•What is the effect of changing gender identities/roles/relations?
•What is the role of women and/or men, including those acting collectively, in changing gender identities/roles/relations?
•What is the role of the state in constructing new gender identities and structuring new gender relations?
•What is the role of ideology or religion in shaping gender identities/roles/relations?
•What is the role of socio-economic transformations in shaping gender identities/roles/relations?
•What is the role of war, occupation and/or migration in shaping gender identities/roles/relations?

This panel considers how state processes and political contestations in different periods and spaces (re)construct particular gender identities, roles and relations in the Middle East. It examines the types of gender identities and relations that are constructed and considers the effects of these on state and political processes.

Chair: Hanan Hammad, Texas Christian University

Discussant:Nadje Al-Ali, SOAS, University of London

Paper Presenter: Frances Hasso, Oberlin College. “State regulation of the family and sexuality”
Legal codification and the secularization of law, legal methods, and legal systems have been central mechanisms for the governmentalization of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) societies since the nineteenth century. In contrast, Islamic legal discourse, often referred to as sharī`a, was historically uncodified and by design flexible, contextual, heterogeneous, and even idiosyncratic in application. This chapter examines the governmentality approach and its relevance to law and expansive rather than “frugal” state power in MENA states; examines legal governmentalizing practices in Egypt and the UAE, especially in the domains of marriage and sexuality over time; demonstrates how these changes often occur with the collaboration of activists and others; and illustrates that expanded state control and discourses of family crisis have been mutually sustaining for a long time, certainly in Egypt. I argue that codification and other mechanisms of rationalization and state control over the domains associated with the family have largely reinforced the power of ordinary men over ordinary women; delimited men’s and women’s options in marriage; and made these undemocratic states increasingly central to the most intimate aspects of daily life.

Paper Presenter: Nur Banu K Birdal, University of Southern California. “Role of the state in honour crimes in Turkey”
This work aims at explaining why honor crimes persist in Turkey through an analysis of institutional responses to gender based violence, particularly honor crimes, paying attention to the role of the state. It analyzes the social and political forces driving these responses, and how these are reconstructing or challenging the gender order in the Turkish society.
This paper, through an analysis of their responses to honor crimes, examines how cyclical or divergent practices of the state and the NGOs contribute to the reconstruction or eradication of the gender order. Honor crimes and how they are perceived play a significant role in the reproduction of gender relations in contemporary Turkey. Whereas the state reinforces the established conception of honor, while at the same criminalizing practices that are based upon that exact same definition of honor, NGOs aim at eradicating both the practice and the concept underlining it. Patriarchy is dependent on support from its environment. I analyze the state as the primary institution that helps maintain the patriarchal order of the society by engaging in ideological activity to diffuse its gender regime and thus reinforcing the existing gender order. The state intervenes in the gender order in various ways since it regulates courthouses, workplaces, schools and even families, and it is implicated in the social relations of gender. Through an examination of its discourses and practices in the Turkish case, I put to test the argument that the state is a patriarchal entity that both institutionalizes hegemonic masculinity and controls it. Based on in-depth interviews with state officials and NGO representatives as well as analyses of legal texts, state discourses, court registers and printed media, this paper examines the role of the state in the perpetuation of gender-based violence in Turkey.

Paper Presenter: Sarah Fischer, American University. “The Veil, Gender and Nationalist Agendas in Turkey, Iran, and France”
States that institute bans on women wearing the veil, such as France, are thought to do so because they are Western and secular and their women “liberated”; states that force women to wear the veil, like Iran, are thought to do so because they are Islamist and control women. But by creating this dichotomy, researchers have assumed that there is a vast difference in secular states that deny women the right to wear the headscarf and religious states that deny women the right to be uncovered. However, by categorizing states as “secular” and “Islamist,” scholars miss the commonalities that lead to state regulation of the veil, regardless of whether a state’s policy forces women to veil or prevents them from veiling. Using Iran, which forced women to wear the veil beginning in 1979, Turkey, which forbid women who were university faculty from wearing the veil beginning in 1981 and has been widening its ban ever since, and France, which forbid women from wearing the veil in public schools in 2004, I argue that by eliminating women’s choice of whether or not to wear the veil, these states demonstrate commonalities in the arrangement of their gender dynamics which lead them to regulate women’s bodies through veiling.

Paper Presenter: Zeynep Gulru Goker, City University of New York. “Conceptions of gender in discussions of resolution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey”
As the Turkish government unravels its plans of democratic reform to address the decades old Kurdish problem and put an end to armed combat, the parliament, military elites, commentators and NGOs all talk about what this “Kurdish initiative” should entail. Those who support the democratic resolution of the Kurdish problem diverge on the details of the project, however, there seems to be one thing that most proponents agree on, that mothers shall not cry any more.
What does this rhetoric of the “crying mother” tell us about the links between gender, militarism and democracy? What happens to conceptions of gender during times of democratic transition? Who will put an end to mothers’ cries and which mothers – Turkish, Kurdish, soldier-mothers, mothers of the disappeared-under-arrest – are addressed in such discourses? This paper will address these questions through a discussion of the links between militarism and gender as they shape democratic processes and engagements. Focusing on a particular construction of gender, that of motherhood, the paper will argue that militarism and nationalism are highly gendered discourses that construct femininities and masculinities differentiated along power structures such as class, race, ethnicity and sexuality, and determine proper femininities and their outside. Moreover, militarism, as a gendered discourse, requires the collaboration of some women who comply as its allies and the dismissal of those who dare raise alternative voices, as its others.
In the course of this discussion, the paper also aims to contribute to the challenging of essentialist perceptions of the Middle East as a war-struck region where gender relations are conceived as those between male politicians or terrorists and victimized, sad Muslim women. An analysis that locates women’s actions, including unconventional ways of doing democracy that employ emotions and mourning as political tools, and differing and transforming conceptions of gender at the centre of democracy is pressing in constructing such challenge.

Paper Presenter: Nicola Pratt, University of Warwick. “Gender identities and resistance to war and occupation”
This paper examines social movements in the Arab world engaged in resistance to imperialism/Western domination and Israel/Zionism. It analyses discourses by different actors, both men and women, of different nationalities and political orientations, within these movements in order to identify the notions of gender identities and ‘proper’ gender behaviour that are constructed by these movements. These discourses are examined in different geo-political moments: colonialist, Cold War and the post-Cold War periods, based on interviews with social movement participants, as well as relevant secondary literature. Not only is the paper concerned with examining how different political discourses construct gender norms in relation to an Other (the West and its allies) but how these constructions are historically-specific. The paper attempts to demonstrate that resistance depends upon ‘strategic essentialism’ (as termed by post-colonial critic Gayatri Spivak), which fixes gender identities in particular ways. However, the geo-political context in which resistance occurs shapes the possibilities for more or less reflexive ‘strategic essentialisms’ with particular consequences for the construction of gender identities and norms.