The Victim Stereotyping Of Arab Women Cultural Studies Essay

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Arab women have always been victims of stereotyping, whether it is a result of Western misinformation and lack of awareness, or Eastern traditions and their obsession in imprisoning women. Women do not underestimate the difficulty of changing these stereotypes, but they try to confront them according to their own pace and terms within the reality of their own culture. Hence, texts written by Arab women should not go unnoticed, for they are attempts to influence and modify society.

The history of the Arab countries has been always a very important part of the colonial history. The Arab women in particular are part of this long history because they have been always a field of struggle and confrontation in the colonial context where both sides of the struggle (the coloniser and the colonised) sought control over each other through her. The coloniser sought control over the colonised through his ideas of female liberation. He used the colonised female body to subvert the colonised male (the local male). On the other hand, the local male was very eager to control the woman because this would make him feel that he is still the dominant figure in that sphere and this was the only way for him to hold on to tradition and also a way of resisting the coloniser's attempt to take away the national and spiritual history and identity.

During the nineteenth century, the first question that was addressed to travellers returning from the Orient is "what about women?" Hopwood writes that "Arab women fascinated male travellers and the mysteries of the veil and the harem which they could not penetrate led to the wildest fantasies" [1] . (Hopwood, 1999: 147)

Arab woman was seen as exotic and sexual but they still remained inferior to men especially to western men who have conflicting images of her. Sometimes, she was seen as a symbol of sex, eroticism, and sensuality and other times she was seen as a witch or demoness. These stereotypes were a very strong motive for Arab women to correct Western misperception and write back to these incorrect portrayals. So, the Arab women's struggle was a double one in which she rebels against colonialism and the rules of patriarchy in society. This struggle for liberation and equality dominates the literature of post-independence Arab countries.

Discourses on Arab women today, as in the colonial era, reveal misunderstanding and confusion. After the 11th of September, the Western media has connected what they call "Islamic terrorism" and the oppression of women and this shows clearly the gender politics in the "war on terrorism". It also shows that gender issues have been manipulated to reinforce the "clash of civilisations" of Islam versus the West.

Since the colonial era, the image of the Arab woman has been used to represent backwardness and oppression. The Arab culture, on the other hand, has been obsessed with oppressing women as a way of preserving culture from western contamination. This was intensified by the western feminists claim that the only true way to emancipate Eastern women is to adopt a western model of feminism. Religion codes were used by the coloniser and the patriarchal system as an ideological battle to oppress women.

After the expansion of colonialism, the interest in the colonised land became deeper and the curiosity to know more has become greater and this needed to be expressed in a new way. They tried to understand the nature and history of the people under their control. They depended on information from travellers who come back from the Orient and tried to produce a vision of that Orient, one that is mysterious, enticing, and threatening and this is very much like the context of Edward said's definition of Orientalism.

Said's Orientalism can be considered as a starting point of postcolonial criticism and it has been followed by many other writings. The main figures of postcolonial theory after Said have been Bhabha and Spivak.

Said notes that the Orient has helped to define the west "as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience". [2] (Said, 1995:2). It also helped Europe to define its self-image through the construction of an opposite Other, also Orientalism has produced false description of Arabs and Islamic culture. He argues that the West has situated itself as "positionally superior" to the East. This superiority is evoked not only on a political level between cultures, but it also works itself into the structure of the knowledge.

The Arab women suffer from double oppression, a male oppression and a Western oppression. She is faced with complex stereotypes to fight against, not only domestically with social stereotypical expectations, but also from the outside, with expectations from other feminists.

Many Arab writers have tried to represent the women as independent and strong through different forms of literature. The novel is one of these forms and it is a highly regarded literary form.

The Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif is one of those writers. She was born in Cairo in March 23, 1950. She lived between England and Egypt. Her education was between the two countries as well. She studied for a PHD in linguistics at the University of Lancaster. Soueif writes in English but the Arabic speakers can feel and hear the Arabic language and spirit through the English. She writes about the history and the politics of Egypt and she also writes a lot about Palestinians in her fiction and non- fiction. She wrote a number of novels like Map of Love, In the Eye of the Sun, and I think of You. She also wrote collections of short stories like Aisha and the Sandpiper.

The way soueif lived her life in two different places (geographically, socially and culturally) allows her to achieve what she calls "Mezzaterra". This is a theoretically constructed place or an imaginary land where it is possible to exchange ideas between different cultures instead of having them clash together for cultural dominance.

Soueif's challenge is to delineate the complex questioning of oneself and the possible transformation while keeping one's own cultural identity.

Soueif's fiction fits between different cultures and languages, and ignores all formal frontiers. She does not look at the East against the West or the Arabs against the Europeans; instead she works with both and makes the two culture mix together with great harmony.

The principle goal of this research is to overturn persistent misunderstandings and stereotypes. This research focuses on Anglophone narratives written by Arab women that construe a postcolonial position within and beyond the immediate encounter between imperial culture and the complex indigenous cultural practices. The analysis of the chosen narratives shall attempt to interrogate the strategies used to represent the Arab female in the middle of traditions, religion, patriarchy and colonialism.

In chapter one I will attempt to demonstrate that the colonial discourse resulted in resistance in the Arab World, which manifested itself through nationalism. Nationalism, in turn, on many occasions, marginalised and oppressed the Arab woman in its attempts to resist Western influence. On a few occasions it empowered them through giving them an opportunity to voice and to articulate their resistance of both occupation and male domination. The Arab woman's oppression resulted in another form of resistance in the Arab World, that which resists both Western and patriarchal oppression.

Chapter two turns to nationalism in Egypt and the Egyptians' struggle for independence through another narrative written by Soueif. Soueif's second novel, The Map of Love, focuses on reconciliation between East and West through recovering history. It juxtaposes historical and political events of the late nineteenth century with events of the late twentieth century in order to highlight major political events and the role of history in the reconciliation process. Romance and love affairs are also part of this narrative although the situation is a reverse of the first two novels analysed. The narrative highlights the relationship between Arab men and Western women as part of the reconciliatory dialogue. More importantly, it draws the Western reader's attention to the reality of colonialism in Egypt and to several cultural and social behaviours.

Chapter three discusses Ahdaf Soueif's In the Eye of the Sun focusing on sexual desire. I examine prevailing attitudes of Western and Eastern men towards Arab women and cultural stereotyping. I point out that sexual politics is significant to the repression of emotions, the subjugation of women and draws an alarming analogy between colonialism and patriarchy. Soueif deals with crucial patterns in migration/exile, and colonial/anti-colonial/neo-colonial/postcolonial transitions. The narrative moves between the political and the personal suggesting that the emancipation of women is parallel to political autonomy, which is an idea that is not shared by many Arab writers including Soueif herself in her second novel The Map of Love.

This research seeks to elucidate the connection between British colonialism and imperialism with patriarchal domination in the Arab World. I will examine Western authority and patriarchal authority practiced on Arab women as demonstrated in the chosen texts. I will also attempt to explain how patriarchal authority borrowed colonialist theses to rule women and culture.