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Gender and Civil Society - An Interview with Suad Joseph

Gender and Civil Society - An Interview with Suad Joseph

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Published by M. L. Landers

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Published by: M. L. Landers on Aug 12, 2012
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SuadJoseph,an editorofthismagazine,teachesanthropologyat theUniversityofCalifornia,Davis,andis afounderoftheAssociationforMiddle EastWomen's Studiesand the MiddleEastResearchGroupin Anthro?pology.She haspublishedexten?sivelyonsectarianism,genderand thefamily,andconstrue-tionsoftheselfand stateinLebanon. She is authormostrecentlyof "ConnectivityandPatriarchy Among WorkingClassArab Familiesin Leb?anon,"Ethos,inpress;"GenderandRelationallyAmongArabFamilies inLebanon,"FeministStudies,inpress.JoeStorkspokewith her inearlyMay.Middle EastReport?July-August1993
 
Whatquestionsdoesthe idea ofcivilsocietyraiseconcerninggender?The Western constructofnation-state,whichbecamethecompulsorypolit?ical formfor the restof theworld,isbasedon citizens as detachedfromcommunities,as individuals.Infact?intheArabworld,theThirdWorld,andmuch of theWest?personsaredeeplyembeddedincommunities,infamilies,inethnic,racialorothersocialgroupings.TheWesternconstruct of citizen?that of acontract-makingindividual?impliesadegreeofdetachmentandautonomythatisnot universal.Thecapacitytomakecontractsemergesfrom the fact thatthis individualizedself is conceivedofasapropertyowner,firstof allas ownerof himself.Iuse"him"consciouslyhere.Why"himself"?The Western liberalnotion of citizenimpliesamasculinized construct.Malesweretheproperty-owners.CarolPatemanarguesthatthecontempo?rarystateisinfacta fraternalpatri?archy.In thediscoursethatestab?lishedthephilosophicalbasisofiberalbourgeoissociety,the idiom is thatof brothers.Thesocialcontractisenteredintobyfree men whoconsti?tute themselvesas acivilfraternity.It's an associationofautonomous,indi?vidualized, contract-makingpersons,andcontract-makingispossible onlyifyouareapropertyowner,ifyouownyourself.The seriesofassertionsthatunderliethisphilosophicalbaseareassertionsofexclusion.Women andmanyminorities arenot contract-mak?ingpersons,becausetheyare notprop?erty-owners.Civilsocietyis a frater?nity,notasorority,and notafamily.If we movebeyondthegender-boundlanguageof thesepara?digms,andifwomenbecome moreequalaspropertyownerstomen,whatkeepsthestate masculine?Is thisstillaproblem?Inliberalfeministthought,withitsgoalofntegratingwomen into and notchallengingthe basic structureof thestate,theproblemstarts togetresolved. Marxistfeministsarguethatthisonlyresolvestheproblemfor elitewomen!Class, race,patriarchyandother formsofexclusionarestilloper?ating.But isn't thatjust sayingthattheintegrationis notinclusiveenough?Is it acritiqueof themodelof the state itself?There's nowaythatyoucouldhaveenoughinclusion withouttransform?ingthe class-based structureof soci?ety.Theveryexistenceofclassesisademarcationof exclusion.Ultimatelywhatgetsreorganizedand restruc?tured areclass boundaries. Ifyou'regoingto useinclusion as the avenue ofresolvingtheproblem,that canhap?penonlyifclass itselfischallenged.It still strikesmeasmoreMarxistthanfeminist,inthat the locus oftheproblemis class.What's moredifficulttoreconcile?classorpatriarchy?Therearefeminists who wouldarguethat classandpatriarchyare dualsys?temsthatoperateautonomouslyofeachother;youhave tofightthem ondifferentgrounds.Othersarguethattheyare wovenintoeachother andyour strategyoforganizinghas to takeaccountofthe fact that classalreadyhaspatriarchybuilt into it. There isn'tasinglefeminist answerastothepri?marysourceofoppression?gender,class,or race.Thequestionwewant to examineis: Whathas theimpositionofthenation-state,with itsgenderedconceptsofcitizenshipand civilsociety,meantinthose countrieswhere ithasbeenimposed?There waspatriarchyin the Arabworldpriorto colonization.What isinterestingtoinvestigateis the inter?sectionsofthepre-colonialandpost-colonialpatriarchyintheattemptsto construct thecontemporarynation-state.Mysenseisthattherewasmuchgreater fluiditytothepatriarchythatexistedin the Arab worldinthe17th,18th,19thcenturies.Judith Tucker'srecent workonNabluscourts,deal?ingwithissuessuch ascustodyanddivorceandchildsupportcasesinthe18thand19thcentury,indicatethatwomenmade useofthe courtseffec?tivelyandactively,andacross classlines.Womenwereveryassertiveinclaimingtheirrightswithinwhatmightbe considered apublicdomaininPalestine.There'sinterestingworkfrommedievalEgypt upto the19thcenturywhichshows that womenwereactivepropertyowners. JuliaClancy'sworkon colonialAlgeriaindi?catesthatwomenwere activeinreli?giousmovements,were lookeduptoandsoughtout assaintlyfigures.Thepointthatcomes outofallof this isthat therewasalot morefluidityinthepre-colonialperiodthanwe hadpreviouslyimaginedin termsofgen?derhierarchy.Contemporary representationsoftheArabworldoftendepictmorerigidgenderhierarchies?greaterexclusionof womenfrompublicdomains,toanextremedegreeinsomestates.HishamSharabiarguesthat whathe calls neo-patriarchyisapost-colonialphenom?enon: it'snot that there wasn'tpatri?archybefore,butcontemporarypa?triarchyis aproductoftheintersec?tionbetweenthe colonial andindige?nous domains.Is thisinany waysimilarto what'shappenedinothersocieties?There aresomeparallels?althoughwe havetosituategender/statedy?namicsculturallyandhistoricallyineachsociety.I'mparticularlyinter?ested incomparingthe Arab worldtoIndia andChina,for acoupleof rea?sons. Oneis thatallthreeare areaswithverylonghistories of statefor?mation,andthenperiodsof colonialcontrol,andthenperiodsofattempt?ed"modernization."In all threesoci?eties,theliterature seems to indicateaconsolidationofgenderdominationforwomeninthecontemporaryperi?od:increasingcontrolbymen,fami?lies,communities,andthestate.There'sevidencethatthecontempo-Middle EastReport?July-August199323
 
raryperiodinsomewayshascreat?ednewcontrolsover women that weremuchmorefluid inearlierperiods.Is thisowingto thegenderchar?acter ofcapitalism perse,oralsoto thereactions tocapitalism?Both,and Ithink it's also related totheparticularconstruct of the nation-statethatthese societies haveattempt?ed to erect.But it'salso a class constructofcitizen.Absolutely.Recall here EdwardSaid'sargumentinOrientalism thatthe EastisfeminizedinrelationshiptotheWest.Manyscholarssubsequentlyarguedthat notonlyis the Orientfem?inized,but that theoppressed,the sub?ordinate,theminorityisfeminized.Hierarchyhas tended togenderizeincontemporarynation-states:thoseinthesuperordinatepositionaremas?culinized,and subordinates arefem?inized. So constructs of class and cit?izenshiphavebeen imbued withgenderedmeanings.And thisispeculiarlymodern?The individualcitizen,as anau?tonomous,contract-makingself,is apeculiarlymodern and Westerndis?course,a discourse that's becomehege?monic. It isimportantto lookatwhatthese notionsofcivilsocietyandciti?zenshiparebased on in Westerndis?course,and theproblemscreatedbytheir uncriticalapplicationtoThirdWorldsocieties.Iwas struckyearsagobyan articlebyRolaSharara,a Lebanesefeminist,inKhamsin,inwhich shearguedthatwomeninLebanon,asinmanyArabstates,cannot feel theimpactofthestateintheir lives.Theyfeel theimpactof theircommunities,andinparticu?larthemen oftheircommunities.IthinkLebanon was an extremeexam2pieofthis,wherecitizenshipwasmain?lyexperiencedthroughcommunities.Thatis, ethnic,religious,kin-basedcommunities exerted considerableauthorityand claimed theloyaltiesoftheirmembers.Insomesocieties,suchcommunities werecompetitivewithstateauthority.Womenmayat timesfeel theoppressionofthepatriarchyof theircommunities moredirectlythanthatofthe state.Elsewhere,perhapsIraqis anexample, peoplehave oftenexperiencedcommunities asa sourceofprotectionfrom arepressivestate.Local women's movements willtake dif?ferent forms as a result.Mypoliticalstance is one of criticalsupport?to sup?portlocal formsofresistance,buttoengageinacriticaldialoguebased onthe historicalexperiencesof othercoun?tries.But,I do not think the controlofwomenbycommunitiesisindependentof state control.That'spartof theparadigmofmodernization.That'swhatmanyof thesestates,notably IraqandSyria,wereattempt?ingtodoby underminingthese com?munitiesinordertoclaimthe controland theloyaltiesoftheircitizenry.We have to be carefulnot toromanticize the controlthatdoesor didexistat the communallevel.Yes,it'scoercive,particularlyforwomen. It's not aquestionofpreserv?ingtheseethnic,religious,tribal com?munities,or of the statesavingwomenfrom these communities. States andcommunities canbecompetitiveor col?laborative formsofdomination.These communitiesareorganizedthroughpatriarchalidioms,morali?ties,and structures of domination.Forwomen,in those states wherecom?munities aretheprimaryvehiclethroughwhichthey experiencetheirmembershipincontemporarysoci?eties,these relationsaremediatedthroughpatriarchy.Insocietiesinwhichthe stateis morekeenlyfelt,state forms ofpatriarchy penetratemoreeffectivelyintolocalcommuni?ties. Therearenew,complex,shiftingforms ofgenderdomination. Insofaras the state isexperiencedasmorerepressivethan thecommunities,thenwomenoften secure themselvesintheircommunities,wheretheyreceivesomeprotectionfrom arepressivestate. Buttogainthatprotectiontheymust submit to the controlofthemenoftheircommunity.Western liberalphilosophershaveadvancedcivilsocietyas thesolutionto theproblemofstate authoritari?anism ordespotism.If civilsocietycon?sists ofvoluntaryautonomousorga?nizationscapableofresistingarbitraryexercisesofstatepower,let'slook atwhoor whatare thesevoluntary orga?nizations.Incontemporarysocieties,theywouldbeprofessionalassocia?tions, unions,politicalactiongroups,chambersofcommerce,evenreligiousfraternities.Allareinthe"publicdomain."Theyare thekindsofasso?ciationsnearlyalwaysassociated withmen. Civilsocietyisalreadyidentifiedordefinedinasitefromwhich womenarethoughttobe excluded?thepub?licdomain. And it's characterizedbysets of associations that are linkedwithmaleactivity.Ifyou goback tohow itis that thiscametobe,theconstructofcivilsocietyassumes from theverybeginningasplitbetweenpublicandprivatedomains.It'sbasedon anassumedthree-waydistinction be?tweenthatwhichiskin-basedandnon-voluntary,that which is non-kin-based,public,andvoluntary?civilsociety?andthat which isnon-kin,public,andsemi-voluntary?thestate.That definition of what constitutescivilsocietyisbased onagendereddis?tinctionbetweenpublicandprivatedomain. Men and maleactivityareasso?ciatedwiththepublicandwomenandfemaleactivitywith theprivate.Thecivilsocietyconstruct,aWesterncon?struct,isnowbeingchallengedin theWestbyfeminists andpeopleofcolor.Itsuncriticalapplicationto ThirdWorldcountries and the uncriticaluseof therelative existenceofcomponentsof civilsocietyas measures of"modernity"orprogressarehighly problematic.What doesthismeanin terms ofthe Arabworld?Thedistinctionbetween whatispub?lic andwhatisprivate,andthereforethedichotomythat theconceptof civilsocietyrestsupon,is even moreprob?lematical in the Arab world thaninthe West.InmanyThirdWorldcoun?tries,Arab onesincluded,kinshipand24Middle EastReport?July-August1993

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