July 8, 2013

The Question of State-Feminism in the Gulf

The question of how the Arab uprisings have and will affect the lives and rights of women in the region is particularly significant in the Arab Gulf states.
Women in this part of the region find themselves faced with two challenges: the efficiency of state-driven feminism on one side, and their struggle to push for their rights in the public arena on the other. Both the state and social forces often fail to prioritise women's rights with the result that women are compelled to negotiate their rights within these two spheres.
In Kuwait, educated women of the upper and middle classes have fought for decades for their rights to vote and to run in parliamentary elections. In 2005, they were granted those political rights despite opposition from Islamists. Throughout their struggle, those activists recognised the state as their supporter.
Elitist rights activists in Kuwait continue to reproduce a stereotypical image of feminism as a struggle for the rights of certain women. Female politicians and activists, until the Arab uprisings, had not campaigned for the rights of Kuwaiti women married to foreign men. They failed to highlight issues of women who are not educated, do not have jobs or come from marginalised and underprivileged groups. They continue to view gender equality in terms of having more official posts and power sharing. They do not ask how society can support these women while being dependent on the state.

July 4, 2013

Nabilla Benattia, the "French Kim Kardashian": Power Behind Popularity

It was a simple expression:

“Euh, allô! non, mais allô, quoi. T'es une fille et t'as pas de shampooing? Allô. Allô! Je ne sais pas, vous me recevez? T'es une fille, t'as pas de shampooing? C'est comme si je dis: t'es une fille, t'as pas de cheveux.”

"Um, hello! No, seriously, hello. You’re a girl and you don’t have shampoo? Hello. Hello! Can you hear me? You’re a girl and you don’t have shampoo? It’s as if I say: you’re a girl and you don’t have hair.”

Never mind her problematic assumption that the amount of hair a person has determines their gender, or the now renowned phrase that is splashed over French billboards and advertisements. Nabilla Benattia, a popular French reality star, has even gone so far as to trademark the whole phrase over its popularity. The perception of her character, which may or not be scripted, along with her physical appearance, gender, and ethnicity formulate a package that merit a critique of the nature of her popularity. Were she not "exotic" looking (she is often referred to as the "French Kim Kardashian"), with a name from the "bled," the conditions of her popularity may have been different. Being a daughter of an Algerian father, by default, she is subject to a set of imposed norms that are framed by questions such as "What does an Algerian woman look like?," "What does an Algerian woman act like?," "What does an Algerian woman believe?," and other rigid notions whose scopes are limited to old binaries. These questions shape dominate perceptions, as is evident through the highest searched terms in reference to Nabilla.