Islamic feminism is a pretty loaded term. Whatever your opinion on the matter, it’s a topic that has drawn a lot of criticism from many angles: conservative, liberal, religious, secular, communist, Marxist, and the like. Fernea’s book investigates the concept of Islamic feminism throughout several countries in the Arab and Islamic world. Fernea was a filmmaker and ethnographer who studied the lives of women in the Middle East and North Africa. This book comes after many years spent living and working in the region, and in a narrative fashion, Fernea explores different ideas about women.
Each chapter focuses on a different country and tells a completely different story. Fernea has many contacts in each location, and is taken around by women and men who wish to share their ideas of women’s roles in their country. At the time of research, Fernea was well into her 60s, I believe, and this perspective is evident in the writing and questions she asks. The book is set up to dispel stereotypes of Muslim women and is written for a mainly uninformed audience, despite Fernea’s academic background. Fernea inserts herself into the dialogue, into the stories, sharing her stream of consciousness, the details of each meal she eats with interviewees and the like. Although I understand her goal of writing a more accessible, conversational book on the topic of women’s roles in the Middle East, it frequently comes off as overplayed, and the stream of consciousness writing serves to undermine her credentials.
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