World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010


Re-reading Muslim Women's Representations - In Memory of Dr. Bourgault (327) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Baskent University (Turkey)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Simten Cosar

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The ‘woman issue’ has been one of the most intriguing problematics in social science literature. It has formed a platform for discussions from various theoretical and methodological perspectives, based on the theme of modernization, the theme of nation-state construction and national identity, the theme of women’s emancipation. When it comes to the Muslim populated countries of the Middle East, the issue has been given particular attention in terms of religion, i.e., the politics of women’s emancipation within the nexus of Islam. Throughout the 20th century the dominant vocabulary in these studies, regardless of the thematic departures, has been modernist/Orientalist discourse, leading the researcher to approach women’s representation in Muslim contexts in terms of subjectification to the patriarchal religious codes.This panel offers a feminist critical reading of the way Muslim and/or Islamic women have been represented and have represented themselves in conservative contexts. In so doing, it aims at revealing not only the continuity of the Orientalist perspective in the representations of the Muslim/Islamic women but also the shifs and relocations in the patriarchal discourses that have been taking place in conservative settings. In this respect, the papers in the panel offer a comprehensive analysis by addressing one aspect of gendered representations - through mass media, literary texts, and in the very political discourses of institutionalized power. While the first paper analyzes the Western approach to Muslim/Islamic women, the second paper takes issue with the gendered representations that manipulate the various states of being for womanhood. The third paper, on the other hand, focuses on the seemingly paradoxical developments concerning women’s rights in Turkey under the rule of a predominantly Islamic government. The paper also aims to reveal the complex intrusions among maleist policy makers and feminists, thus searching for hints to possible outlets for women’s liberation. The last paper analyzes the blogs created and run by Muslim young women to search for the ways that Muslim/Islamic women represent themselves and the means they manipulate for self-empowerment. All in all, all the papers converge on a common concern: offering a critical reading of the (self-) representations of Muslim/Islamic women and an alternative reading of conservative patriarchy that would challenge the long established Orientalist perspective.

This panel grows out of the research carried by Louise Bourgault and Simten Coşar within the scope of Fulbright Collaborative Research and Lecturing Award that the two scholars won with their projects, “Women, Islam and Global Media: Reconstructing the Ideal Muslim Woman in Television Serial Drama”.

Chair: Simten Cosar (Baskent University - Turkey)

Discussant: Mohey Mowafy (Northern Michigan University)

Paper presenter:Simten Coşar (Baskent University), “Gendered Portrayals of Muslim Women: Between Chastity and Empowerment”.
This paper aims at analyzing the construction of gender typologies in a serial drama broadcasted on an Islamic TV Channel (Samanyolu TV) in Turkey. It offers an in-depth reading of the shifts and relocations in Islamic discourse on women. The Channel is included within the Gülen network, with reference to the leader of the Gülen movement, Fethullah Gülen. The movement is known with its tolerance and openness to dialogue, and is widely associated with “liberal Islamic” political outlook.
The paper focuses on the serial drama, named Yeşeren Düşler. It gives an account of the dominant pattern on which different female character archetypes are drawn as well as the social roles advocated in the serial drama. Alongside with the analysis of the roles attributed to women, with a view to the depiction of the “good” and the “bad,” the paper also takes issue with gendered construction of male archetypes in order to reveal the essential reference point(s) for the moral lessons taught in the drama. In this respect, the paper not only aims at giving a summary outline of desirable and contested women’s roles but also a more comprehensive account of the moralistic pattern imbedded in the Islamic discourse. Finally, the paper offers a tentative argument on the possible outlets for women’s empowerment in Islamic/conservative patriarchal settings by tracing the hints of the reflection of current Muslim feminist/women’s rights discourse on Islamic way of life.
The paper is composed of four main parts. In the first part, we provide a brief outline of the arguments that point at “liberal Islamic” political outlook in the example of Gülen movement. In the second part, we describe the theme, main characters and side characters and the roles that they represent in the serial drama. In the third part, we analyze the moralistic pattern that runs through the serial as well as the implications of this pattern for women. In the fourth and final part, we offer a tentative discussion on the continuities and shifts in the conservative patriarchal settings, which while restricting the prospects for women’s emancipation indeliberately host leeway for their empowerment.

Paper presenter: Zuhal Yesilyurt Gunduz, Baskent University, “Harems, Headscarves and Submissive Wives: The Portrayal of Muslim Women in German Media “
After 9/11 life in Europe has become even more difficult for Muslims than it used to be. In particular Muslim women living in Europe were affected by the increasing Islamophobia. In this discussion I will try to reveal how Islamophobia impinged on Europe in general and Germany in particular. I also will try to expose the images and the portrayal of Muslim women – and especially Turkish-Muslim women – in German media. Hereby the “headscarf issue” will be of main importance. The topic of integration / assimilation is examined on the basis of the ethno-religious divide through which women have been doubly marginalized due to the gendered political structure.

Paper presenter: Elifhan Kose, Ankara University, “Conservative Life Style in Turkey: Body and Ethics”
This paper aims at analyzing how Islamic literature as an effective social technology is used to form a social morality by using body/ethic rhetoric and the images of femininity constructed to represent a new Muslim woman. The paper is also an attempt to connect various (dis)continuous discourses of conservatism in Turkey to Muslim women's literature. Conservative literature provides clues about conservative life styles by developing detailed body politics on pregnancy, motherhood, manhood, ethics, family life, appropriated sexuality behavior, abortion, marriage, adultery, eroticism, fashion, desire and love, privacy, veiling. At the same time, one can observe moderation effects of conservative literature on the relation between Islam and modernization through body politics. In this respect, the paper takes issue with the interconnections between conservative thought and modernization in terms of their gendered effects on women’s body through the literary texts by Muslim women; Cihan Aktaş, Yıldız Ramazanoğlu, and Nazife Şişman.

Paper presenter: Melissa H. Seelye, Northern Michigan University, “Muslim Women’s Popular Media Culture”
The publication of Baghdad Burning, by Riverbend has raised awareness in the academic and political community to the voices of a heretofore marginalized and apparently silent group: unmarried women under the age of thirty living in the Middle East. As the research assistant of Drs. Coşar and Bourgault, I have joined several on-line English language chat groups run by and for these young women in the Middle East. My discussion will present a list of issues that appear to be of concern to my age mates in the Muslim world. I will further discuss points of divergence and convergence between their concerns and those of young women everywhere, especially in North America. I hope that my research will shed light on the ways that blogging gives voice to women’s issues and contributes to the empowerment of women worldwide.