Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Recentering Feminism in Antiracist/Decolonial Inclusive Academia Work

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“But for women, there have always been two revolutions to undertake: one fought with men against regimes that oppress everyone, and a second against the misogyny that pervades the region” (Mona El Tahawy, Headacarves and Hymens, p. 24).

Woman in headscarf showing off biceps "we can do it"
Image of woman in scarf showing off biceps from Pixabay

It seems serendipitous that I return to this book, which I have had for years, and read parts of, on and off over time. I return to this book, a day after I spoke up in our university senate about gender inequality in pay systems and in representation in leadership. For some reason, no one else thought to bring it up, and then when i said it, many cheered me on, publicly and privately, in writing and in speech and phone calls. In any case, I thought of how such systemic gender inequality needs to be addressed, and that the work I’ve been doing recently on Inclusive Academia (updates coming soon inshallah!) on promoting and supporting antiracist/decolonial academic practices is necessarily intersectional and not divorced from feminism.

That quote above from Tahawy reminds me of much of the work of black feminists such as bell hooks and of course Kimberlé Crenshaw. About the struggle of being black and female. You share in the struggle of men of your kind against oppression, and yet you also have a struggle different from that of black men and white women… the one against men of your own kind and their patriarchy or misogyny. This black feminism resonates with me as a feminist from my part of the world. As I discuss identity with my students today, I can speak about myself as an Egyptian woman. Upper middle class educated and economically privileged. Muslim in a Muslim majority country but where women, by law, can be treated poorly , as men misuse the name of Islam to oppress women. I identify as Muslim and as Arab. I grew up in Kuwait where women did not get the right to vote until recently, even though they had many freedoms compared to neighboring Saudi (e.g. to dress freely, to drive, and more). As African, knowing Africans have different contexts by country and region.

Back to my main point here. A reminder to myself. That no discussion of antiracist or decolonial practices can ignore the feminist dimension. I was asking one of my colleagues, Kim Fox, if it would be problematic to do our inclusive academia work with the insertion of a feminist angle, and she reminded me of the importance of feminism at the center of the Black Lives Matter movement. Recentering feminism does not detract from decolonial/antiracist work. It enriches it and gives it nuance it needs. Feminist approaches to social justice have often been about social justice more broadly rather than for women only. They have often been for LGBTQ and more.

It’s a coincidence that I am reading Tahawy’s book today. She’s an Egyptian feminist. I only picked up her book because it was in front of me and I wanted to read something not on my kindle so as not to have to recharge my phone too often while staying outside the house all day. No deep reason. But a really good coincidence. I’m glad I am reading this book, to remember more about the systemic gender inequalities of our region and my country specifically, as I embark on work about redressing systemic injustice more generally. Stay tuned for updates.

Closing with this quote from Serene Khader (Decolonizing Universalism) citing Abu Lughod’s work, a reminder to center what is important, intersectionally, rather than choose angles and stick to them no matter what:

“A feminist politics that cares more about markers of cultural difference than starvation, violence, and lack of education and their gendered effects—and one that is unwilling to engage in politics that would reduce these harms by challenging global structures—is vulnerable to criticism for ignoring what is genuinely morally important” (Kindle position 14%)

3 Comments

  1. Beautifully written and so relatable!

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