Gender Studies

Gender Anthropology in the Middle East: The Politics of Muslim Women’s Misrepresentation

The Western view of the role of women in Muslim societies presents a strikingly ambivalent attitude. On the one hand, the patrilineal, patriarchal structure of the Muslim family has been so emphasized that it is believed to be at the heart of the assumed subordination of women in Muslim societies (Rassam 1983; Joseph 1985). On the other hand, a matrilineal structure is believed to exist in at least some Muslim societies. Frantz Fanon speaks of how the French colonizers of Algeria developed a policy built on the “discoveries” of the sociologists that a structure of matriarchal essence did indeed exist. These findings enabled the French to define their political doctrine, summed up by Fanon as: “If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the women, we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves, and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight” (Fanon 1965, 39).

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