East And West Culture Boundaries Cultural Studies Essay

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Introduction: East meets West - Where is the Line Drawn?

The aim of this chapter is to analyse historical legacies of Western colonial constructions of knowledge towards the East to provide a critical reflection on the creation of geographical borders and cultural boundaries which has seen orientalised women of the Iranian Diaspora become 'other-ed', hidden behind the image of the veil. By taking accounts into consideration, analysis of Iranian women's literature will deconstruct a stagnant representation of lost identity and bring to the foreground the space and agency that literary depictions have given to women perceived as bound, veiled and silent.

4.2, Unveiling the Middle East

The revival of postcolonial writing through gendered theory perspectives has seen Western representations of the veiled other progressively move toward defining the cultural movements and identity of Eastern women as structured and confined to bounded representations of Western patriarchal frameworks of constructed differences between the orient and the occident. The consequent critical literature that has been produced from imperialist thought has resulted in a particularly persistent western trajectory of unmasking the traditional to make way for modernity. These ideals can be found particularly in the East, where a fascination (or obsession) for defining two distinct worlds in dualistic thought as defined by Fanon (1965) as 'a world cut in two', has given agency to the voyeuristic tendencies of the West to move through the folds of a culture seemingly masked into obscurity. Through this divide, where seemingly impenetrable cross-cultural borders were established and are still being redefined into a first or a third world or the orient and the occident, the pursuit to define European western experiences of the 'other' have maintained a linear course.

Historical legacies of colonialism and post - colonial theories are principally laced with a concentration of contemporary Middle East studies. Said (1978) defines 'Orientalism as an epistemological and ontological distinction between West and East' (YeÄŸenoÄŸlu 1998) cementing a primary evaluation of the 'non-west' as backward looking, lacking in enlightened modernisation processes and in many ways threatening to the positionality of the West - a set of processed conclusions that can be assumed to be obtained by the West based upon a rhetoric ideology, through which cross cultural boundaries are further delineated. This construction has created a geographical understanding focused on a theoretically legitimised euro-centric composition of the colonised other. However, when taking into account the affect of the colonised other, a wider range of geographical theories on this construction can be explored, opening newer and at times, more complex pathways into the distinction between West and East. One distinct factor in the formation of a continual allure in manipulating, controlling and defining the illusive culture of the East is the practice of veiling women by averting western gaze from the mystery and desire to reveal the phantasmal secrets of the East. Much of the data collected concentrates on the postcolonial gaze on Middle Eastern countries and in particular, post - revolutionary Iran, a country in which the issue of veiling and the status of women and social practice of order and power is continually assessed through the western gaze of modernity and the positionality and repression of women

Although Iran was independent from the colonial domination of the West unlike many other African and Islamic countries, the transference of colonial notions of hierarchy, classifications of knowledge and governance reflected in Said's concept of Orientalism have been legitimised through a constant battle with the 'unknown', an idea of that which appears to be hidden and the cultural concepts contained within Muslim society which seem to repress the issues of modernity and cast out Western theories of progress. "Orientalist writing is the European imagination at work in the field of the other. The veil attracts the eye, forces one to think, to speculate about what is behind it" (YeÄŸenoÄŸlu, 1998). The speculation of thought through the creation of a barrier between Western gaze and the feminine body being other-ed, only fuels the argument in which Western systems of order speculate and define perspectives on positionality, identity and representations outside the conventional colonial representation of women.

4.3, The Impact of Physical and Cultural Borders and Boundaries:

In development studies boundaries between and within cultures play a significant role in understanding and the formulation of insider/outsider constructions of knowledge that are very complex.

'Borders' will be in the twenty-first century what 'frontiers' where in the nineteenth. Frontiers were conceived as the line indicating the last point in the relentless march of civilization… The march of civilization and the idea of the frontiers created a geographic and body-graphic divide' (Mignolo, Tlostanova 2009).

The formulation of borders and boundaries in this instance stems from the positionality of the Western voyeur and constructed feminist theory of travel writers, Iranian National patriarchal ideology and the bounded identities of the Iranian female Diaspora.

When defining boundaries the recognition of power is crucial to the understanding of spatial conventions. The context in which power is constructed can be through the hegemonic production of knowledge and territory as power, or within a country in which gender differences can be defined through patriarchal systems of power over feminine movement through space. Movements can be defined through cultural and often invisible boundaries within masculine territories that are restricted through the authoritarian delegation of rules defined by structures of religion and the tradition of feminine roles in society, positions designed to reduce deviation from command or duty, all masked to preserve the mystery of those confined to such roles. The occupations of women within such patriarchal structures is an essential element in the function of keeping males in a dominant position, without which in the East, there would be no order to power hegemony. This concept is articulated by YeÄŸenoÄŸlu (1998) who argues women become the ground of the struggle between the patriarchal power and Orientalist hegemony: it is the effacement of sexual difference which keeps both the male and the colonist dominant.

The oriental practice of veiling in Muslim cultures has been considered as a sign of inferiority from a Western perspective since the nineteenth century. F. Milani (1992) asserts 'the veil both polarises and delineates boundaries, consigning power, control, visibility and mobility to one social category at the expense of the other'. Western concentration has stemmed toward the relationship of power through knowledge and understanding of ideology in a relationship with veiled cultures in a manner considered both static and unchanging (Hoodfar 1993). On a grand scale of hierarchical structures assembled through complex hegemony and the formation of a public sphere of masculinity, gendered movements within patriarchal structures (as seen within Western women's travel accounts in Africa) are governed by the boundaries in which gendered territory is allocated. Within Muslim culture, this idea of gendered space plays a fundamental role in which women must exist. The established boundaries express the recognition of power, particularly in relation to public and private space, through which traditional values on veiling and the restriction of women is truly encapsulated.

When considering spatial boundaries within Muslim culture, Mernissi (1975) describes the strict allocation of space as 'ritualised trespasses of women into public spaces'. Space has been defined into two distinct categories all found and bound within the concept of veiling. Firstly, the introduction of an idea of visible and symbolic (and therefore restrictive) boundaries of space, both through which the possibility of positive and negative feelings of power and belonging can be experienced. Secondly, the boundaries of tradition, a cultural contradiction of acceptance of duty and moral code, which deems women to be instruments in the downward spiral of social order, but also as 'standard bearers of a nation's culture' (Bulbeck, 1999) particularly in modern Iran to reject modern interpretations of Western culture.

Within Muslim culture the visible and symbolic boundaries in which the concept of veiling is required and lived by women demonstrates itself through the power and division of space (public and private). This concept gives women the authorisation to cross borders in a society, while still representing not only the position of women in Iranian society as cloaked and unseen but also the traditions and patriarchal systems of dominance of the Islamic state which demand these women obey specific rules of the state, to preserve the 'soul of the nation' (Sciolino 2000).

A good representation of the restrictions through and within space is given in Elham Gheytanchi's literary contribution 'Becoming a Woman' (Gheytanchi (eds.) Karim 2006) that demonstrates the limitations and reduced presence females have within Iranian society from a particularly young age. "'You shouldn't run in the street so much. Try to act like a woman". "I knew my mother was never quite accepted in her male-dominated work-place as a woman… I felt a threat in her words". A sense of stifling claustrophobia toward voice and identity leads to an inevitable resentment of gender allocation, in which boundaries are drawn and the ability to access elements of civil society, is withdrawn from young women. "Acting like a woman, I gradually found out, indeed meant severe limitations, less presence in public, and definitely no running like I used to… I had to wear hijab [veil] to school. My space shrank even more. I yearned for the freedom… I resented womanhood". The emphasis on national patriarchal ideology is reflected in Susan Atefat-Peckham's 'Fariba's Daughters' (Peckham (eds.) Karin 2006) where the acceptance of obligation to obey rules and where women are seen as standard bearers of purity is found in the safety of the chador [a piece of material that covers a women body from head to toe, so that only her face can be seen, or in some circumstances only her eyes], "Perhaps there is a joy in being captive, some comfort in knowing we obey". This representation in itself arguably demonstrates the western constructed assumption of lack of agency, hidden identity and boundaries within cultural obligation that oriental women must abide by.

When considering movement within and across boundaries two common themes in which the battle between freedom and restriction on female movements and participation in society are assessed. In this case the reflection contributed by Elham Gheytanchi further stipulates the restriction of freedom in space faced by Oriental women "I had my parents shave my head twice that year. I would go into the street without hijab and ride the motorcycle with Kia. I would run fast and kick a ball as hard as I could… I became a woman, resented it, and struggled to define myself differently".

Women's positionality within countries is defined by strict traditional and moral codes initiated by the state which are subject to different criticisms and interpretations viewed from within and also disillusionment across geographical boundaries. "The veiled women is already other-ed in her own culture, gender-ed in and by particular forms of dressing, but she is other to the western subject in a way that differs from her position relative to the dominant male subjects of her culture"(YeÄŸenoÄŸlu 1998). This notion of cross cultural boundaries through colonial theory can be transgressed through an assumption of empathy, confusion and curiosity into the positionality of women rather than creating working coalitions of understanding, turning the oriental women into an enigma (YeÄŸenoÄŸlu 1998).

Restriction is also transgressed through the consideration of the position of the other, as argued by Said (1978), "There are Westerners and there are Orientals. The former must dominate and the latter must be dominated". Arguably the restriction of knowledge from Western frontiers in the attempt to acknowledge the limits of the other 'self' creates a desire to unveil and unravel the mysteries of the hidden representations of women within an exotic society. Western dominant ideology today presents a static colonial and repressed image of veiled women, which on the grand scale of conceptualising the agency in which Muslim women operate, a reproduction of a dimension of superiority is recreated. The recreation of knowledge, a space within which Western women can occupy an identity through Western patriarchal norms, performs a role allowing the construction of a notion of masculine feminist perspectives through which dominant patriarchal structures of the passivity of Muslim women in formidable patriarchal systems of oppression are reassessed as backward and undeveloped.

4.4, Summary

Movement away from tired, familiar representations through the agency given to Iranian female writers provides them with the voice to be represented amongst Western and male dominated Iranian literary assumptions. After considering the construction of boundaries and borders, further analysis into the examination of complex spaces of cultural separation will be focused on in the chapter to further deconstruct static boundaries.

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