Gender – جندر / جندرية / هوية جنسية / جنسانية

Gender & sexuality scholarship in Arabic is minuscule, because we don’t have the words that allow us to verbalize our struggles, or comfortably speak about either, at least not in a way that isn’t oversimplified and does not antagonize anything outside of absolute hetero-patriarchal gender conformity.

What is the Arabic colloquially recognized word for Gender? Al-Gender (which appears on the cover of National Geographic Gender Revolution Arabic issue – pictured bellow) is still English, “النوع الجنسي” is sex type, “الهوية الجنسية” is sexual identity which is another thing altogether.

 

 

Language is powerful, it’s a direct reflection of social categories and classification. Many of us migrate to English or French at the realization of how freeing it is to finally be able to speak about concepts that are so relevant to our identities, societies and the roles we’ve been socialized to preform. This migration never allows us to pause and think about what a terrifying thing it is that there are no words for us to address who we are, what we like, what we do and what we won’t in our native tongue. How can we confront hegemonic paradigms such as gender roles, patriarchy, and heteronormativity in our own society if we don’t have the language to discuss them in Arabic? Although western languages play an important role in our capacity to speak about gender and sexuality in the Arab world today, the down side to opting to use English or French whenever we speak about gender and sexual identity, is that these crucial discussions become and remain inherently Othered in our culture. In her dissertation Building Theory Across Struggles: Queer Feminist Thought from Lebanon scholar Dima Kaedbey addresses this issue using her own work as a ground for her argument:

“As for my own process of writing about activists and activist spaces that I belong (or have belonged) to, I confess that I have spent the entire dissertation period from its conception to its conclusion torn and hesitant about writing it. A large part of it was that I was working on it from inside a U.S academic institution. This project was going to be yet another intellectual production created in the “West” about an “other”. It was yet another work written in English, reemphasizing English as the primary language of intellectual productions about the entire world.”

This migration only contributes to our alienation from the preexisting -but irrevocably hidden history of gender scholarship in our region, but what can we do? I understand and live through this inner conflict, if we’re confronted by fear of social prosecution and our histories are constantly being antagonized and then erased forever; why not settle for freely expressing ourselves and dissecting important social phenomena with the catch being that the context of our discussion isn’t ours and can never reflect on our society in any real way?

I’ve read through attempts made by Arab Gender & Sexuality Activists throughout the early 2000s to coin Arabic glossaries that still sound foreign to me. These attempts might have not amounted to anything massive, but they still really matter; because there are others out there that made the attempt to create dialogue in these issues and be heard.

 

Magic Realism as an Agent of Women’s Empowerment in Raja Alem’s My Thousand & One Nights: A Novel of Mecca

Abstract:

Within Saudi Arabian discourse, the traditional patriarchal hierarchy of the sexes applies in almost every aspect of life except in realms where the discourse transcends the borders of the real and tangible world into the fantastic world of magic and unseen beings. My thesis discusses the use of magic realism as a subversive means to honor the voice of women in a patriarchal society. The research focuses on magic realism as an agent that contributes to the empowerment of women in Saudi and, specifically, Hijazi literature through analyzing My Thousand & One Nights: A Novel of Mecca, a fictional work written first in Arabic by critically acclaimed Saudi author Raja Alem and translated collaboratively by Tim McDonough and Raja Alem. This novel features a female-centered community in which women participate in redefining the historical discourse of the holy land of Mecca through the use of fantastical elements unique to the region. Alongside the discussion of definitions, elements, and theories involving magic realism and its use in Alem’s novel, I analyze the utilization of magic realism as a tool of empowerment that female characters make use of to attain personal development.

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