Beginning with a macro question, my research is defined by a more nuanced context. Through reflecting on the different positions and sensitivities around how we define others', an examination of how women perceive each other across the religious divide from the secular to Judeo-Christian to the Muslim community will be attempted. The specific research question is in the area of understanding women from the perspective of feminism; is the paradigm of feminism being used as a rescue' dynamic by the Judeo-Christian and secular west, and could a better understanding of the evolution and implementation of feminism in the Muslim context help bridge gaps and tensions between these communities? This research question emerges out of my work with Muslim students in the anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity office of the University of Toronto campus, where I experienced firsthand the rigidity of the understandings of the meaning of wearing the hajib or veil, and the rules for halal food and the role of women in preparing and providing halal food. These cultural issues point to deeper contextual conflicts both inside and outside the cross cultural and intra-cultural divides among Muslim women.
[...] The hope is that such awareness could point the way towards how to best open a dialogue between different women with varied perceptions of feminism, rather than working from an assumption of a single universal woman's experience. Unfortunately many Islamic feminists note that part of the alienation they feel from Western feminism is the way that they are stereotypically bothered, and transformed into victims that demean Islamic women. Without intention, in the realm of the invisibility of white skin privilege, unfortunately, there remains a sense that western feminism is part of the problem; colonizing the experience of Arab women as a way to elevate the sense of superiority of secular culture, the deep pervasive roots of sexism that exists within society's institutions and the struggle against patriarchal oppression lends itself to ongoing fragmentation and tension between women in a multicultural society. [...]
[...] To what extent is feminism, as we understand it, in its broadest terms, if secular in orientation, opposed to the major religious systems as institutions of patriarchy, i.e. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and so on? Thus, a macro question out of which more detailed searching emerges is, religion and feminism compatible?” There are marked stereotypical conceptions within the Western feminist movement(s), of the sort that contends Islam and feminism is not compatible. But this can be contrasted with the Christian North American tradition of evangelical Protestantism, which actively encourages a very traditional, literal reading of the bible, which enforces patriarchal values and traditional gender role norms, exclusively. [...]
[...] However the Islamic women's press .is generally hostile to western feminism.” (Mojab: 130) She states that many Muslim women in the West, especially academics, may use the term “Islamic feminism” but that in the context of Islamic countries, it is a meaningless term because the state-sanctioned feminist movements are not ‘feminist' in the expansive sense of movement to abolish patriarchy, to protect human beings from being prisoners of fixed identities, to contribute towards a society in which individuals can fashion their lives free from economic, political, social and cultural constraints (Mojab: 131) One has to question though her reasoning for denying women in Islamic nations the right to struggle within the terms that they understand them, rather than impose her judgment. [...]
[...] To show how this works Volpp notes that the American Constitution denies women full equality in ways that are similar, even if different in content, from the legal restrictions placed on women in Islamic societies. Of note are such issues as resistance to equal pay, lack of universal day care, not to mention, although not in the constitution, the objectification of women in the mass media. (Volpp: 1213-1214) Feminists in North America do see these contradictions in their own society, but fail to draw the links that could create more dialogue i.e. [...]
[...] This includes the group Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian based Islamic Feminist group that formed in 1988 and now uses the internet as a way to “push the boundaries of women's rights within Islam, within Malaysia, and within our faith.” (Fernea: xi) The group not only is building an on-line community of Islamic women who want to read the Qur'an together and reinterpret it, but also is a lobby group, “sending memoranda to the Malaysian government, write letters to newspaper editors, and run a weekly legal literacy column in the largest selling daily newspaper in Malaysia.” (Fernea: xi) One of their concerns is a feminist interpretation of Islamic family law, which is very radical in the context of the highly controlling patriarchal ideas of many Islamic states with regard to women's rights. [...]
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