Muslim Women Online: Giving Voice to Orthodoxy or Reform?

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:30
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Rosemary HANCOCK, University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia
Discourse on Muslim women often focuses upon their supposed repression and submission – to the veil, to patriarchal cultures, to conservative forms of Islam. Muslim women are ‘spoken for’ – writers characterise them as voiceless and powerless, while simultaneously speaking on their behalf. This paper, instead, draws attention to Muslim women who speak – loudly – for themselves. Through an analysis of eight blogs written by self-identifying Muslim women, who proudly take ownership of their religion, their identity, and their authority to speak on Islam, I unpack the way in which Muslim women use the Internet to both reinforce traditional gender roles in Islam, and challenge these roles. I argue that the medium of the blog – an online ‘diary’ of sorts – blurs the boundaries between public and private space, and thus is an ideal location to challenge the (frequent) division of Islamic public spaces along gendered lines.

The paper is informed by the methodologies of feminist sociologists (for example, Devault 1990; Taylor 1989, 1996, 1998; Taylor and Whittier 1992) who prioritise giving autonomy and voice to women and women’s experiences, whilst attempting to negotiate the political and ethical difficulties of using Western theory to describe Muslim women. The adoption of feminism by Muslim women has a contentious history – where critics (both male and female) see a Western theoretical construct attempting dismantle Islamic culture and history, some Muslim women have embraced feminism, arguing the principles can be adapted to the Islamic context. This tension is evident in blogs written by Muslim women—and this paper addresses the place of feminism and feminist language in Muslim blogs.