Mapping Complexities: women, issues and veiled identities


When thinking “women’s issues” in Middle Eastern countries we associate women, veil, men and burned noses. I think we all remember the “Girl without a nose”

I have recently reviewed a book from Riley and although I found it profoundly biased – there is nothing wrong with being biased but I imagine some of the women I know from ME would agree with me- I must admit that her attempt to work towards a popular-culture representation of women in Middle Eastern (used as a synonym of Muslim or Islamic…I already feel the confusion) countries is striking. Why? very simply because everything is true. the first time I approached my thesis, I had in mind the first chapter of the UN DoHR (we are all equal basically) and the poor Afghan girl whose beautiful face was disfigured by her crazy husband -affiliated or not with the Taliban, he deserves to be locked up in some mental hospital-. Riley’s book made me think a lot. A lot. Although academically problematic because it doesn’t shed a light on the complexity of “woman” in a MESEA context, it is fundamental and it should be read.

And it made me think in terms of association, dis-association, belonging and complexity. The term women is complex and is not just the plural of woman; it entails a complex set of features, characteristics, elements and navigational tools that one embeds since the early age, when we are still embryos whose life is being conjectured and imagined by mom and dad (if and when lucky).
There is a complex set of relations that need to be disentangled in order to be understood.

Some time ago I saw a kid struggling with a toy. A spiderman with a parachute; the parachute was all entangled and the poor mom was desperately trying to disentangle it, trying to find trajectories, putting it closer to her yes and then pull it a bit far, zoom in and out, continuously.

Apply that idea to the concept of the woman; then do the same to the concept of issue, then do the same with the concept “women’s issues” then do the same with women-Muslim-Islam-MiddleEast-South East Asia and so on and so forth…can we really talk about representation of the woman? can we talk about patriarchy without having problems and being paranoid that we are perhaps coming to conclusions before having at least considered the vast array of complexities?

In all this, how can we find our way around? I looked at that mom for almost 45 minutes in the end calling to her husband’s “fresh eyes” and then, eventually, succeeding in her task, accomplishing THE task, and proudly giving the spiderman with his parachute back to her kid. I also figured that it wouldn’t take too long for the kid to try new tricks with spiderman and for the parachute to get entangled once more. Again.

This is the work we have to do today as -and I use a strong term here- as scientists of the social. We must have a scientific approach and be ready that -whatever we produce- will be dismantled and we have to be ready to put our hands up and surrender, open the doors to more complex ideas and not be prisoners of old frameworks. I agree with Butler that certain gender divisions are passively imposed on us. Barad talks about the “girlification” (always referring to Butler of course) that happens when the scan of the foetus reveals the sex of the foetus. it is impossible to resist the temptation of thinking that our girl will be a beautiful engineer who will go to the female equivalent of Eaton, that will be pushed by her wonderful parents to speak mandarin, english ancient greek and perhaps -why not?- even Swedish by the age of three and will sit down with the mom to learn good manners so that by the age of 2 she will be able to eat properly, without dirtying herself, her expensive pink clothes and her beautiful hair.

Conversely, I can imagine any mom whose scan reveals the boy thinking on the discipline, the schools, the clothes. And, in both cases, imagine the grandparents buying Barbies and pink dresess, beautiful handmade clothes (pink or mini-gentlemen versions) and so there is a chain that is established that is cute and scary. Complex and multiple. The foetus becomes a person and this person has already a scarily planned future. it will not become but it is already; it is a she and it is a he; we would be lucky if the overall sphere of expectations and “what’s good for you” didn’t come along. And I am conscious that sometimes we do not have that passive pressure, but this painful aspect cannot be discussed here.

I have heard many couples giving advice on how to raise kids (whether they have kids or not), explaining why kids need to socialise and why they should be “forced” to learn some alphabet even at the age of 2.. I am not an expert parent so I cannot express my point of view (apart from a very Pink Floyd leave-the-kids-alone) but this aspect cannot be neglected. We are before being born and the characteristics of the technological device (the scan) that shows what we are -female or male parts of the human species- also influences (without having an “effect” because effect is a hard one) who we are and projects what we will become.

Scary. So, if we take this perspective and apply to our idea of the woman and then do the same to the concept of the issue and then to the concept of “women’s issues” and then to the concept of Islam and Muslim and so on and so forth, what comes out -take it from me and my experience- is a complex and multiple non-mapping something that is disentangled but re-entangles 10 minutes after having been entangled. So, what is our jobs as “social scientists” or scientists of the social (if we can still talk about a social but this is another story)? it is one of understanding that we will never understand. Some good dude some time ago argued that wise is who knows to know nothing and although arrogant, I guess this is the only way forward.

In the previous post I argued that some (and I repeat some) people are thinking to Facebook as an ecosystem and I agree and I am fascinated by this assumption. So, if an analysis of the above complexity had to extend -as in space-time- to the digital world we are embedded in, we would see complexity and the need to expand this notion of the map, topography and topology to include the way we navigate our lives from when we are not even a fully formed entity and the set of affections -no, not Touring- that cannot (cannot) be forgotten when talking about empowerment and identity. So, how to expand and intersect the world of digital with that of a complex word: woman in specific situations? My question is, if we privilege one – i.e. the scan and the foetus- over the other -the facebook pages that talk about FGM- are we not burning a big chunk of identities? In light of this, are there tools (theoretical or visual no matter) that could help redesigning the concept of the map? A new cartography of complexity?

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