The Identity Of Women Essay

1178 words - 5 pages

Though feminism in the 'Third World' has simultaneously contributed to and occasionally benefited from the progress of nationalism, these two movements and ideologies often find themselves at odds with each other. Secular state-sponsored nationalisms mobilize sexualized images of the nation, usually presented as a 'modern' woman eager to serve the international capitalist economy. By contrast, 'ethnic' and religious nationalisms make use of images of the ideal 'pure' woman, filled with traditional values and untainted by the foreign, mainly Western, world. Within these gendered conceptualizations of nationhood, individual women are identified as highly valuable, though dangerous, ...view middle of the document...

Geraldine Heng argues that though state legislation specific to women helped ensure specific protections for women, it also "enacted and codified a description of women as specially gendered subjects under the law, a sexualized codification directed specially to the state's female citizens."[1]
The production of an official feminine identity for the state's female subjects is tightly tied to the nationalist self-imagination. Heng notes that "women, the feminine, and figures of gender, have traditionally anchored the nationalist imaginary."[2] These representations of the nation as "mother land" or "a proud woman" not only portray the nation symbolized by 'woman', but transform individual women into symbols of the nation.[3] As the nation is 'feminized', so too are women 'nationalized' in nationalist discourse. Huma Ahmed-Ghosh argues that women's "bodies and characters are appropriated to define and 'claim' nationalism."[4] The role of women within the nationalist cause is generally minimized as women move from the role of agents within their societies to objects of their 'nation'.
Ethno-nationalist rhetoric of a 'pure' (feminized) homeland emphasizes the role of women as bearers of culture, reproducers of the community, and hence the most susceptible to foreign incursion. This interpretation, argues Ahmed-Ghosh, "forms the basis of hegemonic resistance to women's independence and autonomy,"[5] since it, in effect, justifies patriarchal domination of women in the name of national integrity. Kesic emphasizes the compatibility between patriarchy and nationalism, both of which "appear 'natural and imply domination, fixed hierarchy, superiority, exclusivity and exclusion, actual divisiveness and isolation, silencing of Others, territorialization, and conquering of bodies and territories."[6] In this way, she argues, the rule of one's 'homeland' or conquest of that of 'Others' is easily translatable into women's subordination in the first case and sexual violence in the second. Emphasizing rape as a "gender-specific form of war violence", she cites Croatian nationalists who asserted that "the rape of a Croat woman stood for the rape of Croatia."[7]
In addition to obscuring the human suffering of individual victims, such a construction of the 'raped' nation lends itself to imagery of the disgraced woman, thus symbolically shifting blame for the nation's disgrace from men to women. Ahmed-Ghosh writes, "The family's and the community's respectability [are rooted] in women's behavior."[8] Ideas of respectability are often defined through what Uma Narayan calls a process of "'selective labeling,' whereby those with social power conveniently designate certain changes in values and practices as consonant with 'cultural preservation' while designating other changes as 'cultural loss' or 'cultural betrayal'."[9] Thus, women's actions come under strict surveillance, leading alternately to their deification or demonization depending on their...

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