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Intimate violence and the politics of representing sexuality in the Middle East

Event type
History of Sexuality
Event dates
, 5:15PM - 7:15PM
Dreyfus Room, Birkbeck, 28 Russell Square
Lisa Wynn (Macquarie University)
020 7862 8740

Using an ethnographic case study of intimate violence and its revelation at a particular historical moment, this paper examines the link between love and desire, violence and gender roles, and uses that as a springboard for examining a dilemma of representation: how can we write about, and write against, gender violence in the Middle East? In drawing public attention to Egyptian women’s experiences of gender violence, activists prevent the victims from experiencing gender violence in isolation, they identify the cultural and political roots of the violence, and they bring it to national and international attention in their efforts to effect systemic reform. The irony is that international attention often translates these activists’ efforts into fuel for the stereotypes that demonise Arab men. In the context of this history and international economy of representations, how, then, might we proceed to examine structures that enable the oppression of women without creating a category of passive Egyptian women who are oppressed --thus missing the ways that women successfully defy male dominance, and the ways that men refuse or fail to dominate? How do we examine sexual harassment and violence against women without letting these become “the ‘essence’ of an invented idea called ‘Egyptian men’” (Kareem 2013)? How can we understand a multiplicity of violences, ranging from the verbal harassment of women on the street to sexual assault at knifepoint, without rendering those into one monolithic concept of “male violence,” yet still stay attuned to the power that the whole assemblage of violences has to both discipline female behaviour in Egypt and organise Western thinking about the Middle East? (Warning: This paper will include a brief narrative of sexual assault which may trigger strong reactions for some listeners.)