Feminist critique and Islamic feminism: the question of intersectionality

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From The Postcolonialist

Written by Sara Salem

Abstract

Since its inception, mainstream Western feminism has constituted a site of exclusion on multiple fronts, a consequence of first-wave feminist assumptions that have continued to influence mainstream feminism. Questions of definition and change are central to any project aiming to bring about social, political and economic change, but definition brings with it an intrinsic risk of delineating borders that include some but exclude others. In other words, the act of defining constitutes an exercise of power that creates certain women’s experiences as patriarchal and others’ as emancipatory. This article focuses on the tensions that have often arisen within the feminist project on the subject of religion and religious women. Mainstream Western feminism has long had difficulties in engaging with women who are religious. On the one hand, it is argued that religion is an inherently patriarchal institution that by nature excludes women and renders them unequal to men. On the other hand, many women see themselves as feminists and as religious, thus raising important questions about whether feminism has conceptualized religion too simplistically. At the center of this debate is the question of choice and how judgements about choices are made, and by whom. In other words, who decides that religion is oppressive to women, and what power relations are inherent in such a decision? The aim is to contextualize the consistently exclusionary approach on the part of many feminists towards religious women through focusing on the specific case of Islamic feminism, as well as to question whether intersectionality poses a possible solution to this exclusion. Continue reading