Gendered Politics of Alienation and Power Restoration: Arab Revolutions and Women's Sentiments of Loss and Despair:
Abstract: The article suggests that from the start of the revolutions in the Arab region in late 2010 a connection between the law, state, political economy, gender norms and orientalist ideology has formed the foundation of women’s systematic exclusion from politics. As a consequence, women’s alienation from politics – a necessity for the restoration of old regimes of power – took on various forms, including: externalising, exceptionalising, and celebrating women’s revolutionary acts and contributions to revolutions. This article examines these processes that created the ideological and material conditions of women’s alienation, estranging their political involvement and exposing them to various forms of violence The article suggests that alienation of women from revolutions relied on gender normative ideology to create women’s supposedly unique and distinct interests; according to this ideology, women attempt to satisfy such interests through dancing, nikah al-jihad or the desire to be sexually harassed. Women’s power and needs were moulded as distinctly different from those of men. Hence, forms of alienation diminished women’s roles as initiators, producers of revolutions, rendering women apart. This article shows that, whilst forms of alienation differed in various political phases and often contradicted each other, the intent of each form of alienation was to show a defect, a mistake in women’s acts, and thus establish the supposedly ‘correct’ characteristics of women protesters based on women’s intrinsic nature. Through this, gender normativity was reproduced to serve the political class(s)’s specific interests, 2 determining the linkages between the alienation of women from politics, the alienation of the revolution from its people, and the entire sphere of politics. The sphere of politics not only relates to political activism and conflict between revolutions and counterrevolutions, it is also a battlefield for the (re)production of knowledge.
Summary (3 min read)
- To varying degrees from one country to another, the states’ governing principle values men over women.
- I engage with this question through examining the concept of women’s alienation and estrangement from their political roles in the Arab revolutions.
- I look at how political processes and forces are gendered, and how alienation is used in the reshaping and reproduction of the social norms that govern women’s lives and activities during and beyond revolution.
Alienation, Politics and the Reproduction of Gender Norms
- In Marx’s conceptualisation, alienation is the process of workers’ objectification within the production process, where the ‘object which labour produces stands in opposition to the worker as an alien thing’ (Marx, 1967: 58-59).
- Hence, Marx uses the concept of alienation to disrupt the normalised relationships within labour production process (Ibid.).
- Such a transformation may not only have implications for gender relations, but also for the political order.
- The worker is not only foreign to his/her product and exploited by it, but also alienated from his/her human activity and fellow humans.
Women’s Sense of Loss and Despair
- Before the revolutions, the region was going through a ‘crisis of authority’ (Gramsci, 1971, p. 274): authoritarian regimes still dominated power, but were no longer believed to be serving the people’s interests.
- Four years later, the authors have seen the revolutions’ dramatic turn toward the antithesis of their demands and slogans: people have been forced to choose between military rule and the Islamic extremism of Da’ish, and such choices have unleashed turmoil across the region and drastically altered women’s sentiments towards the revolutions.
- One feels the sense of loss in both Khadija’s and Zeinab’s words and the Egyptian women’s statement; the same sentiment can also be felt when speaking to diverse women, and people generally, from such post-revolutionary contexts, whether at a conference, in the streets or public transport, in shops, on social media or in newspapers.
- For women’s act to be seen only as relative to men is an act of alienation and estrangement intended to bring women closer to gender normative roles and keep them removed from politics.
- In the first phase of the revolution, the representation of women and gender roles used soft means to reproduce gender normative ideology, whether through attempting to demoralise the revolution by externalising women’s act of revolution or celebrating and exceptionalising women’s participation.
Mode of Subjugating Revolutionary Women
- The transition period – after Mubarak’s resignation through the first presidential election in 2012 – was a time of hostile and hard forms of alienating women.
- During this time, women protesters were targeted by the police and security forces, and subjected to forms of violence that varied from verbal harassment, physical and sexual assault, and accusations of performing immoral acts (Nazra et al., 2014, p. 11).
- Secondly, the statement ‘they are not like your daughters or mine’ was intended to send a strong message to Egyptian families: women who protest lack morals, and it is a family’s responsibility to discipline their daughters.
- Therefore, sexual harassment was not only a heinous crime in and of itself, it was also a strategy of estranging women’s political roles to transform the image of women from political activists into victims of sexual harassment; it both punished women who continued to protest and threatened those who even thought about following in their footsteps.
- Crimes of sexual harassment, together with the unrest in the region, as a whole, reinvigorated orientalists to rethink the notion of ‘Arab revolution’, question whether the region was ready for democracy, and doubt the applicability of the Western model of governance to a region with no history of civilised movements.
Mode of Objectification of Women’s Act of Revolution
- After Mubarak’s resignation, a trend appeared of pointing to women’s rights as part of Mubarak’s socially corrupt policies.
- Such a trend both denied the history of women’s struggle and activism in Egypt and linked women’s rights to the old regime (Al-Ali 2012, 2014); such a linkage was intended to mobilise Egyptians against the notion of women’s rights and estrange gender equality from the new era of the revolution.
- As can be seen, claims for a return to family values or demands for women’s equality have both been part of political agendas that were rejected or welcomed based on particular political events and purposes.
- The objectification of women and their role in politics meant to separate women from the entire process of revolution-making and relocate their position outside humanity.
- I argued in this article that the reproduction of gender norms was a necessity for the restoration of old regimes of power, and hence forms the foundation of the region’s political order.
- Whilst forms of alienation differed in various political phases and often contradicted each other, the intent of each form of alienation was to show a defect, a mistake in women’s acts, and thus establish the supposedly ‘correct’ characteristics of women protesters based on women’s intrinsic nature.
- Through this, gender normativity was reproduced to serve the political class(s)’s specific interests, determining the linkages between the alienation of women from politics and the alienation of the revolution from its people, and the entire sphere of politics.
- State’s discourse of the proclaimed gender norms, as derived from religious and cultural values, is actually quite fragile, and could be contested, particularly during crisis and in a time of political disruption.
- In addition, it is also necessary to expose hegemony’s means of alienating people through turning their lives to the abstract; where merely staying alive becomes the purpose of existence, rather than ‘life being an opportunity’ to desire, hope, work, and demand change.
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"Gendered Politics of Alienation and..." refers background in this paper
...In this narrative, a woman ‘is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her … he is the absolute—she is the other’ (de Beauvoir, 1949, p. 16)....
"Gendered Politics of Alienation and..." refers background in this paper
...Socialist and Marxist feminists have adapted and developed the normalised relation between the oppressed and the oppressor in Marx’s theory of alienation (Foreman, 1977; Jaggar, 1982; MacKinnon, 1982, 1989; Kain, 1993; Klotz, 2006)....
...…on the other hand, have provided a theoretical framework for women’s oppression by questioning whether the relationship between sexuality, housework (as forms of labour), domination and the objectification of women is a form of alienation (Jaggar, 1982; MacKinnon, 1982, 1989; Kain, 1993)....
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Q1. What are the contributions in "Gendered politics of alienation and power restoration: arab revolutions and women’s sentiments of loss and despair" ?
This article offers a gendered political reading of the concept of alienation by unmasking the processes that created the ideological and material conditions of externalising women ’ s revolutionary acts, estranging their political involvement and exposing them to various forms of violence. The article suggests that gender normative ideology ’ s characterisation of women ’ s images, roles and acts during and after revolutions corresponds to the most profound form of alienation. The article proposes that the externalisation, subjugating of women and objectification of their revolutionary acts are modes of alienation are necessary conditions for the reconfiguration of power dynamics to restore authoritarian states ’ power. The sphere of politics, the article insinuates, not only relates to political activism and conflict between revolutions and counter-revolutions, it is also a battlefield for the ( re ) production of gender normative knowledge.