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Decentering Feminism, Demystifying The Harem, And Revising 'Muslim History'

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explores Mernissi's postcolonial feminism, characterized by a double critique targeting Western ethnocentrism and local androcentrism. The first section examines Mernissi's uneasy relationship with feminism; her critique of some American feminists' colonialist discourse; and her grounding of 'her feminism' in indigenous terms, engaging in a kind of 'decentering' of feminism. The second section examines her deconstruction of the term 'harem,' constructed by Orientalist narratives as a space of pleasure and its female dwellers as passive, sexually available beings. The last section of the chapter deals with another aspect of Mernissi's double-front demystification: her feminist venture in the realm of history and history writing in Islam, unearthing forgotten queens and women who succeeded to seize power even from the secluded space of palaces and harems, in an attempt to counter both local and Western fantasies about 'submissive Muslim women'.

Keywords: local androcentrism; Mernissi; Muslim history; Orientalist narratives; postcolonial feminism; Western ethnocentrism



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