"Saving brown women": cultural contests and narratives of identity
From the literature of empire through contemporary cultural production, "brown women" have been alternately fetishized, objectified, and absented within dominant discourse. In this dissertation, I examine western constructions of third world women, particularly Arab women, and their resistant narratives and theories to argue how third world women's subjectivity has been limited by, but also subversive of, the discourses of colonialist writers, hegemonic feminists, and postmodern culture.Western representations of women and imperialism expose the complexities of gender and political relations in British works by Sir Richard Burton, Lucie Duff Gordon, and E. M. Forster, as well as in Virginia Woolf's anti-imperialist writings. I further examine U.S. media representations of Arab women during the Persian Gulf War, and the treatment of raced subjects in postmodern novels by Acker, Gould, Barth, and Pynchon, to expose how the fashion of "difference" covers over the power dynamics inherent in racial or cultural subjugation.As a means of moving from western representations to third world narratives of identity, I include a personal chapter about my Lebanese grandmother. Arab American women's writing, as well as Morrison's Beloved and Kogawa's Obasan construct generational and racial female subjectivities grounded in the bonds of family and community. In postcolonial women's writing, including El Saadawi's Woman at Point Zero and Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions, the collective women's text operates as a curative story against colonial and patriarchal systems, which have fragmented women's struggle across class lines. In emerging debates, Arab feminists address nationalist and religious issues as "necessary contradictions" to Arab women's liberation. The Palestinian women's movement, for example, integrates the theoretical concerns of third world feminism and nationalism with women's daily lived experiences of resisting Israeli occupation.Throughout this study, I employ and examine the writings of postcolonial critics, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Homi Bhabha, as well as those of third world feminists, particularly Leila Ahmed, Chandra Mohanty, Trinh Minh-ha, Nawal El Saadawi, and Hortense Spillers, in order to theorize the competing and contradictory sites of contestation for third world women and to draw connections between arenas of struggles.
- English