‘This tyranny you have called Nature’: Zaynab Fawwaz, Arabophone feminisms, and translational patriarchy in 1890s Egypt
Lecture by Marylin Booth, University of Oxford, 2021-2022 Paris IAS Fellow (Paris Oxford Partnership Programme) as part of the 2nd International Conference organized by La Cité du Genre.
This lecture focuses on Marylin Booth's recently published intellectual biography of early Arabic feminist Zaynab Fawwaz (c.1850-1914), a study of her life in Ottoman Syria and Egypt and her writings, in the context of Arabophone debates on gender, modernity and the good society particularly in the 1890s. Fawwaz participated in published exchanges concerning social justice, girls’ education, marriage, divorce and polygyny, the question of ‘Nature’ and Darwinist notions of male/female, and intersections of nationalism, anti-imperialism, and feminism. The book argues that Fawwaz’s feminism, based on an Islamic ethical worldview, was distinct from prevailing ‘modernist’ views in posing a non-essentialist, open-ended notion of gender that did not (for instance) highlight maternalist discourses and that rejected fixed notions of sex-gender identity. The lecture particularly addresses an 1894 ‘debate’ carried out mostly in one periodical that highlights the transnational, entangled quality of gender discourse at the time, to note that Arabophone opponents of a more flexible gender regime drew on European patriarchalist and misogynist writings to make their own local arguments. ‘The West’ was not necessarily a source of progressive thinking.
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