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Representations of Muslim women and the veil: questions of image and voice
Unformatted Document Text:  to ‘correct’ our misapprehensions about the veil, and to present what Leila Ahmed refers to as ‘resistance narratives’ of the veil, signifying ‘the dignity and validity of all native customs’ (1992, p. 164). Arguments about its liberating properties (freeing women from unwanted sexual advances, or from Western consumerist values) and about its compatibility with fashion and self-expressiveness are comforting to Western feminist ears. The veil as feminist accessory allows those of us who are Western feminists to remain ‘easy within our skins’ (in contrast to Elspeth Probyn’s characterization of the defamiliarizing reflexive voice that renders us pas bien dans ma peau or uneasy in our skins [Probyn, 1993, p. 80]). The voices of diasporic Muslim women in Western cultures, or of British or American Muslims need to be heard, but they too easily become apparently representative of a wider sisterhood. They need to be situated in relation to class, education, and the contingencies of the societies and cultures these women live within. For many Muslim women in non-Western parts of the world, the experience of being caught on the borderland between competing cultural values, that informs not only subjectivity but often the daily struggle for survival, is still denied expression in terms that unsettle non-Muslim feminist thinking. The question is not only the Spivakian ‘can the subaltern speak?’, but ‘how can the subaltern speak in a way that discomfits the powerful?’; in a way that makes us uneasy in our skins, and that requires us to engage in dialogue: and not in the easier responses of pity or romanticized admiration of ‘the other’. The media, under intense commercial pressures, may not be the place to look for solutions.

Authors: Macdonald, Myra.
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to ‘correct’ our misapprehensions about the veil, and to present what Leila Ahmed refers
to as ‘resistance narratives’ of the veil, signifying ‘the dignity and validity of all native
customs’ (1992, p. 164). Arguments about its liberating properties (freeing women from
unwanted sexual advances, or from Western consumerist values) and about its
compatibility with fashion and self-expressiveness are comforting to Western feminist
ears. The veil as feminist accessory allows those of us who are Western feminists to
remain ‘easy within our skins’ (in contrast to Elspeth Probyn’s characterization of the
defamiliarizing reflexive voice that renders us pas bien dans ma peau or uneasy in our
skins [Probyn, 1993, p. 80]). The voices of diasporic Muslim women in Western cultures,
or of British or American Muslims need to be heard, but they too easily become
apparently representative of a wider sisterhood. They need to be situated in relation to
class, education, and the contingencies of the societies and cultures these women live
within. For many Muslim women in non-Western parts of the world, the experience of
being caught on the borderland between competing cultural values, that informs not only
subjectivity but often the daily struggle for survival, is still denied expression in terms
that unsettle non-Muslim feminist thinking. The question is not only the Spivakian ‘can
the subaltern speak?’, but ‘how can the subaltern speak in a way that discomfits the
powerful?’; in a way that makes us uneasy in our skins, and that requires us to engage in
dialogue: and not in the easier responses of pity or romanticized admiration of ‘the
other’. The media, under intense commercial pressures, may not be the place to look for
solutions.


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