Reading and Teaching Against the Grain of Gendered Orientalism in Film

  • Author / Creator
    Hamdon, Evelyn
  • The clash of civilizations discourse, (re)articulated by Samuel Huntington in 1993 and widely accepted as true, is yet another echo in a long history of the Orientalist’s (Said, 1979) clarion call for the disciplining of Arab and/or Muslim subjects, who are often considered to embody values antithetical to Western civilization. Indeed, this Orientalist antipathy continues to find its way into twenty-first-century representational practices and public policies, including television media, social media, print media, and popular cultural art forms such as film (Shaheen, 1994, 2000, 2003, 2008). These media participate in the production and reproduction of problematic tropes and stereotypes that, whether intended or not, contribute to public misunderstandings of, and suspicions about, Arabs and/or Muslims. These misunderstandings also find their way into Canadian public policy and law, such as Bill S-7 (Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act) and Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2012). This codification of Orientalist stereotypes contributes to their being taken for granted as truth, and their circulation in public and artistic discourse through various media and by a range of political, journalistic, and artistic figures.
    This research deepens and extends emerging examinations and critiques of Orientalism by focusing on the way gender is used to garner support for ongoing Orientalist practices. The project is theoretically located at the nexus of feminist, intersectional, Orientalist, postcolonial, and anti-colonial scholarship, and it addresses issues of patriarchy, Orientalism, gender, racism, colonialism, imperialism, and their presence within popular culture, and more specifically, in Hollywood films.
    Drawing upon Edward Said’s (1978) Orientalism and Jack Shaheen’s (1994, 2000, 2001, 2008) many studies of the depictions of Arabs (and Muslims) in Hollywood film, I pick up the thread of inquiry and draw upon postcolonial feminism and Jacques Lacan’s notion of the gaze to explore the gendered nature of Orientalism in Hollywood film and its relationship to contemporary political contexts. Using a case study approach, I engage in a deep reading of the film Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow et al., 2013). This reading reveals the presence of a nested set of binaries that, taken together, produce a gendering of Orientalism in service to Western exceptionalism, white supremacy, phallocentrism, and femonationalism. The various binary orderings of subjects used in the film constitute the production of West and East as the deadly (and inevitable) antithesis of one another gives rise to not only ideological polarizations but to the drafting of subjects into impossible positions of purity and abjection.
    The research yields a number of pedagogical considerations and interventions to read and teach against the grain of gendered Orientalist representations. The first is an analytic insistence on intersectional feminism to preclude defaulting to liberal or nationalist feminisms. The second is a test modeled on the Bechdel test for gender equity. The Hamdon test looks for the presence (and absence) of characters and characterizations in film that act as objet petit a, thereby disrupting the Symbolic (taken for granted norms and normativities) and troubling the Imaginary (the comfort of being in alignment with the Symbolic). The third advocates for feminist writers, scholars, and artists in post-secondary curricula, with a particular focus on those whose subject positions include that of Arab and/or Muslim (of all genders and sexualities). The fourth is re-remembrance through critical autobiography. Remembering and (re)engaging with memory through critical autobiography (Ahmed, 1999) allows for both re-authoring and de-authorizing problematic claims. The last intervention is a pedagogy of affirmation – the production and proliferation of aesthetic works whose very presence is antithetical to Orientalism, gendered and otherwise.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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