Tradition and subversion : gender and post-colonial feminism : the case of the Arab region (with particular reference to Algeria)
This study critically examines the position of women in post-colonial societies across the Arab region and the structuring of female experience and gender by patriarchy, class, literacy, religion and historical conditions such as colonization, neo-imperialism and the rise of capitalism. The male writing of the female body and the perception of the latter as a field of power within the Arabo-Muslim culture constitutes the framework of the thesis. This critical approach also informs the growing feminist scholarship on the subject of the so-called Arab woman in the area under study. The notion of the feminine delivered by male dogmatic discourses, whether old or new, traditional or modern, orthodox or profane, is briefly presented in the first part of the dissertation while the deconstruction of such a referential setting by feminist academic work is undertaken in Part two as an attempt to integrate notions of womanhood, sexuality, identity, culture, religious belief, statehood, and material factors into a discursive order. Sexual difference becomes problematized within the critical assessment of the fictional voices developed by women, their exploration of concepts of sexual behaviour and their analysis of how gender ideology permeates the modernist endeavours of the post-colonial state in its efforts at development. A significant predicament is highlighted by the thesis: the cultural discourse on women, enduringly linked to their functions within the private realm, copulation and reproduction, as indicated by both the fictional and the scholarly literature, clashes with the developmentalist endeavours which require active roles within the public sphere. The conflict and indeterminacies generated by such a discrepancy are projected as an essential framework for understanding the construction of women as the 'subordinate sex' at various levels. It is also read as a fundamental dilemma that post-colonial societies across the Mediterranean have yet to address in order to resolve, at least partly, their present socio-economic crisis. The notion of woman is further essentialized within concepts of difference drawn by other dominant discourses examined in Part three. Perspectives of neo-colonialism emanating from the post-industrial First World become a framework in which to insert the work of feminist academics from North Africa and the Middle East as well as definitions of women, whether in the world at large or in more academic terms. The furthest concern of the debate on the 'women question' is to underline however the significance of feminism to operate as a major socio-political force within the post-colonial world. The findings of this research already indicate that the various movements for female emancipation taking place in the region open up new possibilities of struggle for economic growth, equality and secular democracy.