Disrespectfully meeting the gaze
I seem to be on a bit of a tear here (just imagine what my classes must have been like before I had a blog-deposit for all my associated thoughts…!)
Anyhow, this one is about the symposium on Gender, Equity and the Middle East which took place @ BMC this afternoon and evening. I had to miss most of the presentations in order to teach my other class (sigh…), so am hoping that someone else (Hannah, I saw you there!) might report in (@ least!?) on the one entitled “Is Male to Female as Mind is to Body?” I caught Deborah Harrold’s talk about “The Exotic Other,” and the Q&A time w/ all the presenters, as well as the documentary film directed by Wazhmah Osman and Kelley Dolak, Postcards from Tora Bora, a very powerful-and to me dislocating–account of Wazhmah’s return to Afghanistan, 20-some years after she emigrated to the U.S. with (part of) her family.
Several things that Deborah said seemed to pick up and develop the themes from our last panel (which we realized, retrospectively, as being about the gender segregation of professional work). Deborah said, for instance, that gender identities are affected by economics: “gender performances are determined by what spaces people can gain access to, economically speaking” (as one woman said, “At home I have to be a woman; @ work I have to be a man”).
The discussion during Q&A also anticipated some of the conversation we’re going to have, after break, about the representation of gender and technology. It was said, for instance, that “image technologies are never disinterested in how they organize the narrative”–meaning, for example, that an image (such as this famous one),
which is so profoundly decontextualized (both the young woman and her older self are presented with “her social group removed”), is structured so as to allow the viewers’ associations to fill in the gaps. I also heard that there are “particular Western ways of gazing (in Islamic cultures, it is thought to be disrespectful to “meet the gaze,” while lowering it is seen as respectful; that–although veiling has negative connotations in the West–“it has been very powerful for some women”; and that “the segregation of the sexes can offer also moments of liberation.”
Context, perspective and p.o.v. are of course central in all such readings…