A Poem – On Meeting a Liberal Feminist

Nancy Lindisfarne

Thinking about Afghanistan – Nancy Lindisfarne

In the spring of 2006, I had tea with a woman I knew slightly but thought might become a friend. We sat at a low table in the Senior Common Room at SOAS. The room is attractive, curved at the far end, light and airy. A portrait of the explorer Richard Burton looked down on us.

My new acquaintance was short and dressed in beige in an academic hippy style. She began, without preamble, before we’d properly settled in: ‘I’ve travelled in the Middle East’, she said, and then, with that presumed authority some English women can manage, she let fly the racist crap.

‘I’ve seen what it’s like.’ Unstoppable, wringing her hands, she told me of her concern for Afghan women and began telling stories. Horror stories, every one.

‘Did the women themselves tell you these stories?’ I asked. ‘Well, no, not exactly.’

I kept my mouth shut, screaming inside. Some for sure had been true once, but these were stories that had been around a long time. They were recycled, mythic. One was already a repeat when I read it again in a UN report on Afghan women in the early 1990s.

By 2006, for forty years, my life had been focused on Middle East. Listening to liberal feminists spout orientalist shyte was part of the deal. And this one, like others, was determined to keep me silent. She was determined to protect her perfect sense of right and wrong. And though I tried, I couldn’t counter her certainty – about American aims, and aid, about NGO aims and aid, about the torrent of money that flowed into the country along with the violence.

In this conversation she diminished me. Far worse, she denied the humanity, the complexity and evil in our world.

She evinced no interest in real people, no empathy for real women, or men, or children or even cats and dogs. But somehow, she knew best and she knew it all – what was under the veil, beyond the veil and, frankly, up the veil.

She was hateful and made me angry. When I went home, I wrote a poem.

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The Roots of Sexual Violence

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale  write: Lurking behind any discussion of men and masculinities is a deep presumption that men are aggressive sexual predators disposed to raging violence, while women are passive victims good only for reproduction. If this binary construction is ‘natural’, if it is our DNA as a species, then what is the point of asking ‘Why are men and women unequal?’ ‘Why are lesbians and gays oppressed?’ ‘Why are many men violent?’ ‘Why is sexual violence so common?’

Yet these are old, very important questions. For thousands of years the most forceful answers have come from the people who dominate society. Continue reading

Sing-Along Gender Theory: Sometimes it Takes Balls to be a Woman

Elizabeth Cook

Elizabeth Cook

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: There are three keys to thinking critically and clearly about class and gender. The first is to avoid thinking that there are essential ‘men’ and ‘women’. The second is to understand gender as relational – between men and women, but also between dominant and subordinate men, and between dominant and subordinate women. The third key is to remember that we are not actually unique, bounded individuals. Rather, we are social animals who are fashioned and exist only through exchange and social interaction.

These ideas are familiar to us in our everyday lives. However, it is easy to forget these ideas when ideologies of gender overwhelm us. The point of this Sing-Along is to make it easier to hang onto these ideas when gendering gets rough. Continue reading

Good Books on Gender

An Alternative Radical Bibliography by Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale.

home-book

This list is strong on ethnography, leans left, is shamefully Anglophone, and a work in progress. For each topic, we think these are the best books to start with. Sometimes the sub-title tells you all you need to know, and sometimes we have added comments. The topics are arranged alphabetically. The first two books on each topic are our favourites – the rest are in no particular order.

An invitation: This list will become a permanent page on the blog. Please tell us about any books on gender that have been transformative for you. We will add them to the list, along with your name. Continue reading