Gender Studies

Rethinking Orientalism: Women, Travel, and the Ottoman Harem

Reina Lewis, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004. 297 pages.

In her book, Reina Lewis discusses how to acquire an accurate understanding of the various strands of neo-Orientalism that perpetuate long-lasting and contemporary stereotypes of Muslim women from traditional Islamic societies. Within the context of the current global and geopolitical landscape as well as the alleged American war on terror, the competing western imperialist and orientalist images, along with negative stereotypes, that characterize Muslim women are rhetorical. According to Lewis, all of these elements are at the center of knowledge that is produced and reproduced. This book focuses on Ottoman women’s writing from the beginning of the twentieth century and traces their “travel accounts, memories, and fractions that reveal a gendered counter-discourse that challenges Occidental stereotypes” (p. 1). The author’s main theme is how these writings not only challenged western Orientalist discourses, but also intervened in the Ottoman debate about women and national emancipation. The book, which follows an interdisciplinary approach, is divided into six chapters.

Gender, Modernity, and Liberty – Middle Eastern and Western Women’s Writings: A Critical Sourcebook

Reina Lewis and Nancy Micklewright, eds., New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006. 259 pages.

This book presents a dialogue between western and Middle Eastern women that is often presumed never to have happened. It supplies us with a collection of extracts from Ottoman,  Egyptian, British, and American writers, each accompanied with a biography and literary introduction of its writer. The book covers 100 years, beginning with 1837, and focuses on writings by women from Istanbul and Cairo, key locations for the flowering of Middle Eastern feminism. As mentioned in the “Introduction,” the articulation of women’s views was particularly advanced in these two cities.

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