Session 8a: East vs. West
Chair: Katerina Liskova
Scheherazade Rediscovered: Sex, Sexuality, and Power in the Arabian Nights
University of Silesia, Poland
The paper focuses on notions of oriental feminine identity, sexuality and power relations in The Arabian Nights. Scheherazade, the narrator and the protagonist of tales, is embodied with the image of oriental femininity, since through ages she has been a recurrent subject in literature and art of the eastern and western culture. Scheherazade’s indeterminacy facilitated the appropriation and distortion of her image by the Occident. Hence, the aim of this paper is to rediscover Scheherazade’s feminine identity and also to analyse sexual and power relations between the characters of tales. Sex and sexuality permeates The Arabian Nights, since a depicted world is overflowed with kings’ wives, concubines, and slaves – all bounded by the space of a harem. Nevertheless, Tales From a Thousand and One Nights, which are an extraordinary example of constantly interweaving issues such as sex, sexuality, sexual initiations, power relations and transgender movements, are frequently associated only with the most popular tales such as about Sindbad, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves or Aladdin. The time of great colonial expansion and first European translations of The Arabian Nights contributed to increasing popularity of tales and the appearance of variety of pseudo-translations, which distorted the image of Scheherazade, feminine identity and sexuality, embalmed a simplified image of the East in the European awareness. In consequence, the image of oriental femininity, depicted in the eighteenth century literature and art of the West, has become appropriated by the occidental culture. In order to be reclaimed to the Orient, the culture of its origin, it must be rediscovered.
Globalizing Locals, Localizing Globals: Gender and Sexuality on the ‘Golden’ Beaches of the Sinai
Department of Anthropology, Freie University in Berlin, Germany.
This paper is based on an ethnographic fieldwork in one of Egypt’s tourist destinations, Dahab (South Sinai). I focus on daily interactions between young Egyptian men and foreign female travelers. I explore working class Egyptian male constructions of sexuality, risk and reproductive health in relation to heterosexual interactions with “foreign” female tourists. I further examine these interactions at the intersections of globalization, tourism, and the hegemonic demands of family and gender within the Egyptian society. Central to my analysis are the ways, in which working class Egyptian men living in Dahab rely on their sexuality and urfi marriages as survival strategies in the face of an increasingly globalized economy.
Furthermore, I explore female tourists’ constructions of masculinity in the West versus the East. I demonstrate how Western women in Dahab seek experiences that magnify their femininity, which include protection and also being flattered by their Egyptian male partners, while exercising different means of control and power over the Egyptian men and the established relationships.
I further argue that the gender struggles that emerge between these Egyptian men and foreign women complexify post-colonial theorizations of sexuality that highlight relations between European men and native women. In Dahab, foreign women negotiate their sexuality as simultaneously class privileged tourists and targets of Egyptian patriarchy while Egyptian men confront the violences of globalization on white women’s bodies. This paper thus situates the study of gender and sexuality in the Arab world within the context of material circumstances and the relationship between the “local” and “global” while inserting men into gender studies and tracing cross-border gender struggles in an era of globalization.
Imagining Manhoods: Voyeurism and Masculine Anxieties in East African and Asian Fiction
School of Language and Literature Education, Western University College of Science and Technology, Kakamega, Kenya, East Africa
(After National Service all the Asian boys agreed upon at least one observation.
‘These blacks, bana, they have such long ones, dangling there like anything – ‘
‘Yes, like a donkey’s or something –‘
‘And we sitting there with our shriveled peanuts of cocks’” […] These dangling things don’t have stretchability. […] ‘Indian boys studiously avoiding each other in the showers but (I swear!) all the while throwing casual glances at each other’s members …”) The Gunny Sack, pp 209 – 210.
Policing the woman’s body has in many ways been used to ‘preserve’ the ‘purity’ and ‘integrity’ of communities with the potential for inter-cultural / racial mixing. Where these women ‘defy’ such forms of socio-cultural confinement – often encoded in norms of ‘proper’ marriage or liaisons – they are seen as having transcended “racial / cultural spaces” (Siundu, 2004) or subverting what Anne McClintock (1995: 34) has so powerfully identified as “the cult of domesticity.” In such communities, putting the woman’s body beyond the sexual reach of men from the ‘Other’ communities not only locates them within definite social spaces, but also ensures the continued propagation of ideas of moral / racial superiority of entire groups in environments that portend threats of contamination. Yet, as I show in my doctoral thesis (2005), the patriarchal tendency in such communities to ‘protect’ the woman from the Other’s contamination also belies deep seated anxieties about the men’s own imagination of what the Other’s ‘manhood’ is like, hence my epigraph above. This is the thesis of my proposed paper.
I intend to argue that a), men’s anxieties regarding their bodies vis-à-vis those of the Other’s are actually masculine anxieties that intersect with issues of cultural power, sexual pleasure / repression with threats of emasculation. That this is the case can be illustrated by drawing on the way in which Asian boys from the epigraph above “supposedly concede the general smallness of their phallus in comparison with those of the Africans, but in the next breath revoke this concession by denying the Africans’ phalluses stretchability as an attribute of manhood” (Siundu, 2005: 67 – 68). A subsidiary argument, b), is that by Asian boys “throwing casual glances at each other’s members,” they point to the crisis of bodies whose owners’ are trapped in a grove of superiority: their bodies are largely visible by virtue of being a fairly wealthy minority, yet parts of their bodies remain invisible to themselves, thereby capturing tensions of sexuality that pits possible homoerotic desires with mere voyeuristic pleasures frowned upon by their largely homophobic communities.
By reading oyez Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack and The Book of Secrets, I intend to engage with these issues in the proposed paper to show how minority discourses of immigrancy for instance have tended to look at bodies in their completeness, and not parts, and what this means to the dialectics of visibility / invisibility as they affect the East African Asians.