Written From (What Doesn’t Feel Like) the Margins of Arab Feminisms

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arab-feminimsFrom October 4th to October 7th 2009, the American University of Beirut (AUB) will host “Arab Feminisms: A Critical Perspective,” the awaited conference that will bring together feminist thinkers, researchers and scholars from the region and around the world.

The event is organized by The Lebanese Association of Women Researchers (Bahithat) and in collaboration with the Women and Memory Forum, Cairo, The Department of Women’s Studies at Bir Zeit University, the Anis Makdisi Program in Literature at the American University of Beirut and the Center for the Advanced Study of the Arab World.

Opening on the 4th, with keynote speaker Mervat Hatem mapping future directions of Arab Feminisms, the conference, for the three remaining days, will tap into several core themes. On Monday, focus will be on theories and strategies, as new directions for feminist thought will be explored by speakers like Zeina Zaatari, Global Fund for Women, and Hoda El-Sadda, University of Manchester. The second day will address both feminist studies & social transformation as well as feminism & islam as the main themes. On day three, feminism, islamism and secularism will be tackled, and then so will war, occupation and Arab feminism. The conference will also include daily round table discussions (scheduled at 4 pm each day) and respectively on Feminism and the Arts, Globalization and Colonial Feminism, and Feminism in the World.

As young queer activists, it is essential for us to recognize that our sexualities have profoundly shaped our feminist consciousness. How can we even begin to discuss “feminism and social transformation” while our very own desires, bodies, genders, and sexualities are excluded from the program? After all, and this should not be a mind-boggling question, is sexuality not meant to be at the very heart of feminism?

We perceive this conference as a challenging but stimulating platform. Challenging, because of the program’s traditional setting: speakers can only be “producers of academic documents” most of which hold higher degrees from prestigious universities in Lebanon or abroad. Challenging, because it privileges academia over experience and thus is insuficient in identifying frameworks that structure the lives of women and men living in Arab societies.

I would have been interested to see what clashes and mediations would emerge when experiences – of a (possibly) lesbian (most likely) colored (definitely) female migrant domestic worker in Beirut -  were incorporated within an Arab Feminisms conference at an institution such as AUB.

So yes, this conference is challenging, because even within its limited and traditional academic scope, there is barely any indication of a sensibility towards color, class or sexuality within the program.

As feminist queer activists, we have always been keen to theorize our own experiences, to challenge  – as individuals and as a collective – dominant frameworks and discourses that either deny us or ignore our very existence. What is remarkable here, to me at least, (and this is addressed to you my dear fellow activists) is  my own perception of our feminism as I write this article. While we often talk about “writing from the margins,” and “being in the margins” – our creative and dynamic feminism is so vibrant that this doesn’t feel like the margins at all.

We’re here, we’ve been here, and we will be here for a long time to come.

As for the conference, it is up to us, young feminist queer activists attending “Arab Feminisms: A Critical Perspective,” to show up with a myriad of “critical perspectives” that bring gender, sexuality, class and color into the so-called mainstream Arab feminist discourse.

See you there!

Lynn is actively involved in Meem, a community of queer women and trans folk. She's also into pixels, among other things.

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