Tag Archives: islam

Mayanthi Fernando at Osgoode on Regulating Intimacy – Religion, Sex and Secular Cunning

Fernando-WebAnthropologist Mayanthi Fernando from UC Santa Cruz gave a very interesting and very well attended talk as part of the Law Religion and Social Thought symposium today (check the website later for the tape, if you missed the talk).

The paper explored tensions in the way that liberal republican France situates and interrogates Muslim women in terms of their religion and their sexuality – both areas typically placed by liberal thought into the “private” arena.  I’m worried about doing it justice so will say only that it will be forthcoming in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2014 (speaking of, have a look at the set of things forthcoming from Signs in 2013! Set aside some time).

Fernando’s work focuses on the situation of Muslim women in France –“Exceptional Citizens: Secular Muslim Women and the Politics of Difference in France.” Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale 17:3 (2009), pp. 379-392 is perhaps a decently representative choice.  While not focused on law, law takes on a particular significance in her work, perhaps because it is a state forum where attitudes are on display and both demands and claims are made.  In her talk today, she began with two cases to illustrate the tension she sees – first, a marriage annulment involving a Muslim couple (here is a Reuters report) and second, a discrimination claim brought by a Muslim woman told to remove her niqab whilst in the public areas of (ifI recall correctly was) an inn. Fernando focused on how Muslim women in France – particularly but not only those who wear the headscarf or niqab –  are faced (!)  the relatively contradictory demand and compulsion to talk about intimate, “private” aspects of their lives in order to justify themselves as members of the French public, referring to Foucault’s idea  of “incitement to discourse” which can serve a regulatory and categorizing function.

As a scholar working in what is now an interdisciplinary space, Fernando’s work is cited in articles appearing in legal journals and by scholars attached to law schools.  See, for instance:

To ask that we pay greater attention to context, and in particular, to power and material effects, resonates with the work of such scholars as sociologist Dicle Kog˘acıog˘ lu and anthropologists Lila Abu-Lughod
and Mayanthi Fernando, who have all recently argued that particular gendered discourses about Muslim women divert attention from where it should instead be placed: institutional politics (Kog˘acıog˘ lu); history and politics (Abu-Lughod); and structural root causes of social and economic problems (Fernando). While the cases these scholars examine are varied (honor crimes in Turkey, u.s. discourse about women in Afghanistan, and
“secular Muslim women” in France), all point to how gendered discourses about the oppression faced by Muslim women function transnationally to fuel a general vision of Islam as synonymous with the oppression of women,
which absolutely ignores fundamental issues at work.

Critical Race Feminism goes to War: The States of Race (Sherene Razack, Malinda Smith, Sunera Thobani, eds.

click through to order from Amazon.ca

I’ve just finished reading this.   I enjoyed it, although that’s a strange reaction to assert in context of this book.  What I enjoyed was not the bad news that the authors offer (things haven’t changed that much, and the big change – 9/11 – wasn’t particularly positive), but the incisive arguments made by the contributors.  Click the book cover for the book’s amazon.ca page.

You may have seen the current Time Magazine cover story on the women of Afghanistan (August 9, 2010.  The cover reads “What happens if we leave Afghanistan”, and the cover picture is of a woman whose face was mutilated by Taliban troops after she tried to leave the home of her in-laws).  The articles and photo essay concentrate on the position of Afghan women as the US considers “exit strategies”.  The Afghan state may be forced to reconcile with the Taliban if foreign troops leave.   Reading Time after reading Yasmin Jiwani (media representations) and Sunera Thobani (feminist positions on the war) affected my thinking about the “point” of the Time article profoundly.

Time says:

We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it. We do it to illuminate what is actually happening on the ground. As lawmakers and citizens begin to sort through the information about the war and make up their minds, our job is to provide context and perspective on one of the most difficult foreign policy issues of our time. What you see in these pictures and our story is…. a combination of emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land and the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead.

There are other interesting pieces in The States of Race.  I’m writing a review for the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, and haven’t finished it yet.  But I’m ready to recommend the book!