Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Relax… Don’t be Afraid of Feminists!

This is my answer to one ‘intellectual’ - and highly educated - person who expressed yesterday his ‘fear’ of Feminism in Lebanon and the Arab World: ‘you, Feminists, want women’s power over men. Men will not help you in your fight. Even most women in our countries, who are impregnated with the Patriarchal System, seem to like it; or they must be thinking: too much of a risk! You, Feminists, are all alike!’ Fortunately, I was only drinking a Perrier while having this conversation. Unfortunately, this statement is not an exception in our context, even - and especially - in the Academic circle. I often hear the following: ‘There are no gender stereotypes’; ‘Gender Studies should not exist’; ‘Feminists want Matriarchy’; ‘Feminists are Lesbians, thus hate men’; ‘Why do you complain? Women and men have particular functions. Stick to what is being assigned. You bring children, we rule’; ‘God created men, and gave them women to serve them!!’ etc… In the most ‘refined and advanced’ elitist areas, this is a sample of what I and other women have to deal with. Being a Feminist, as I see it, as I am, as others also are, simply = fighting for equality, partnership and a better management of diversity in a society.

A little bit of history (included in my upcoming book on ‘Womanhood in Western Asia’, to be published by Dar el Machreq by the end of this year) is needed here in order to differentiate the many movements within Feminism. 

Feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms. However, there are many different kinds of feminism. Feminists disagree about what sexism consists in, and what exactly ought to be done about it; they disagree about what it means to be a woman or a man and what social and political implications gender has or should have. Nonetheless, motivated by the quest for social justice, feminist inquiry provides a wide range of perspectives on social, cultural, economic, and political phenomena. Important topics for feminist theory and politics include: the body, class and work, disability, the family, globalization, human rights, popular culture, race and racism, reproduction, science, the self, sex work, human trafficking, and sexuality.

The term ‘feminism’ has many different uses and its meanings are often contested. For example, some writers use the term ‘feminism’ to refer to a historically specific political movement in the United States and Europe; other writers use it to refer to the belief that there are injustices against women, though there is no consensus on the exact list of these injustices. Although the term “feminism” has a history in English linked with women's activism from the late 19th century to the present, it is useful to distinguish feminist ideas or beliefs from feminist political movements, for even in periods where there has been no significant political activism around women's subordination, individuals have been concerned with and theorized about justice for women. So, for example, it makes sense to ask whether Plato was a feminist, given his view that women should be trained to rule (Republic, Book V), even though he was an exception in his historical context.

My book involves two claims: normative and descriptive. The normative claims concern how women ought (or ought not) to be viewed and treated and draw on a background conception of justice or broad moral position (men and women are entitled to equal rights and respect); the descriptive claims concern how women are, as a matter of fact, viewed and treated, alleging that they are not being treated in accordance with the standards of justice or morality invoked in the normative claims. Together the normative and descriptive claims provide reasons for working to change the way things are; hence, feminism is not just an intellectual but also a political movement.

My book is based on a third wave feminist approach. In order to understand what this approach is about, it is important to present a general overview of the different waves of feminism:

It is common to speak of three phases of modern feminism; however, there is little consensus as to how to characterize these three waves or what to do with women's movements before the late nineteenth century. For instance, some thinkers have sought to locate the roots of feminism in ancient Greece with Sappho (d. c. 570 BCE). Still, this book introduces to Western Asian women who also fought for their rights, long before Sappho.
However, it was not until the late 19th century that the efforts for women's equal rights coalesced into a clearly identifiable and self-conscious movement, or rather a series of movements. The first wave of feminism took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, emerging out of an environment of urban industrialism and liberal, socialist politics. The goal of this wave was to open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage. The wave formally began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 when 300 men and women rallied to the cause of equality for women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (d.1902) drafted the Seneca Falls Declaration outlining the new movement's ideology and political strategies.
In its early stages, feminism was interrelated with the temperance and abolitionist movements, and gave voice to now-famous activists like the African-American Sojourner Truth (d. 1883), who demanded: "Ain't I a woman?" Victorian America saw women acting in very "un-ladylike" ways (public speaking, demonstrating, stints in jail), which challenged the "cult of domesticity." Discussions about the vote and women's participation in politics led to an examination of the differences between men and women as they were then viewed. Some claimed that women were morally superior to men, and so their presence in the civic sphere would improve public behavior and the political process.
The second wave began in the 1960s and continued into the 90's. This wave unfolded in the context of the anti-war and civil rights movements and the growing self-consciousness of a variety of minority groups around the world. The New Left was on the rise, and the voice of the second wave was increasingly radical. In this phase, sexuality and reproductive rights were dominant issues. This phase began with protests against the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City in 1968 and 1969. Feminists parodied what they held to be a degrading "cattle parade" that reduced women to objects of beauty dominated by a patriarchy that sought to keep them in the home or in dull, low-paying jobs.
Because the second wave of feminism found voice amid so many other social movements, it was easily marginalized and viewed as less pressing than, for example, Black Power or the effort to end the war in Vietnam. Feminists reacted by forming women-only organizations (such as NOW) and "consciousness raising" groups. In publications like "The BITCH Manifesto" and "Sisterhood is Powerful," feminists advocated for their place in the sun. The second wave was increasingly theoretical, based on a fusion of neo-Marxism and psycho-analytical theory, and began to associate the subjugation of women with broader critiques of patriarchy, capitalism, normative heterosexuality, and the woman's role as wife and mother. Sex and gender were differentiated—the former being biological, and the later a social construct that varies culture-to-culture and over time.
Whereas the first wave of feminism was generally propelled by middle class white women, the second phase drew in women of color and developing nations, seeking sisterhood and solidarity and claiming "Women's struggle is class struggle." Feminists spoke of women as a social class and coined phrases such as "the personal is political" and "identity politics" in an effort to demonstrate that race, class, and gender oppression are all related. They initiated a concentrated effort to rid society top-to-bottom of sexism, from children's cartoons to the highest levels of government.
One of the strains of this complex and diverse "wave" was the development of women-only spaces and the notion that women working together create a special dynamic that is not possible in mixed-groups and that would ultimately work for the betterment of the entire planet. Women, due whether to their long "subjugation" or to their biology, were thought by some to be more humane, collaborative, inclusive, peaceful, nurturing, democratic, and holistic in their approach to problem solving than men. The term eco-feminism was coined to capture the sense that because of their biological connection to earth and lunar cycles, women were natural advocates of environmentalism.
The third phase of feminism began in the mid-90's and is informed by post-colonial and post-modern thinking. In this phase many constructs have been destabilized, including the notions of "universal womanhood," body, gender, sexuality and heteronormativity. The third wave feminists have stepped onto the stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization and defining feminine beauty for themselves as subjects, not as objects of a sexist patriarchy. The web is an important aspect of this new feminism. At the same time, it permits all users the opportunity to cross gender boundaries and so the very notion of gender has been become more problematic.
This is in keeping with the third-wave's celebration of ambiguity and refusal to think in terms of "us-them" or in some cases their refusal to identify themselves as "feminists" at all. Third wave feminists tend to be global and multi-cultural and they shun simple answers or artificial categories of identity, gender and sexuality. Their transversal politics means that differences such as those of ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, etc. are recognized as dynamic, situational, and provisional. Reality is conceived not so much in terms of fixed structures and power relations, but in terms of performance within contingencies. Third wave feminism breaks boundaries.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lebanon: Mimesis, Scapegoats and Violence

The latest events occurring in Lebanon following the explosion at Achrafieh, violent demonstrations in Beirut, clashes in the city of Tripoli and hatred between supporters of 8th and 14th of March political movements, reminded me of the theory of Rene Girard on mimesis, violence and scapegoats.

According to Girard, much of human behavior is based on mimesis, an all-encompassing expression of imitation. He describes a situation where two individuals desire the same object; as they both attempt to obtain this object, their behavior becomes conflictual, since there is only one object. Violence is generated by this process; or rather, violence is the process itself when two or more partners try to prevent one another from appropriating the object they all desire through physical or other means.  However, they often deflect their destructive energy from one another onto a substitute… The Scapegoat. Anger and hostility must be vigorously dispersed or vented according to Girard. A dramatic and cathartic event must occur: the destroying of the scapegoat.

Try to apply this theory on the Lebanese case:

1) When a sectarian community or a political party/current faces great stressors, it has the potential to believe that one individual or group of people are the cause of its problems. Despite having no rational evidence of guilt, the community or political party/current frequently proceeds to victimize the individual or group as scapegoats.

2) However, it becomes more dangerous when rivals or enemies desire the same object – in Lebanon, political power. The Scapegoat  would be the Lebanese people – at least individuals and communities who are vulnerable and close at hand, more easily persecutable, with no direct bearing on the problems that are causing national disturbance, but bearing the signs of the victims. Unfortunately, the scapegoat does not disagree with the charges laid against him/her. He/she believes the charges.

One might criticize Girard's theory because it proposes conflict and rivalry as a core interpersonal dynamic. It is difficult to imagine that cooperation would ever be able to occur in such a situation. Girard doesn't propose a mechanism that would account for general cooperativity found in communities and one might not expect as much since his purpose is specifically to elaborate mechanisms of conflict. However, his theory does at least describe the phenomenon of cooperation, especially in relation to the community persecution of the scapegoat.

In conclusion, one should bear in mind that:

1)      to dispel violence, the scapegoaters must know and understand that they are being scapegoated.

2)       peace achieved by the scapegoating process is not lasting, nor is it ethical. The process itself lays the seeds for future violence and embeds patterns of violence within the framework of a nation’s ritualized processes. Violence begets violence! As I see it, conflicts are resolvable by means of transformation, mediation and compromise rather than violence.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Will be presiding a round table on violence against women in the upcoming international conference 'La femme dans les societes arabes'. USEK (Lebanon), Friday, October 26, 2012.

Programme / Program

Mardi 23 octobre 2012 Amphithéâtre Jean-Paul II 18h00 : Inauguration 

Allocution du R. P. Jean Akiki, Vice-Recteur à la Recherche de l’USEK 
Allocution du R. P. Hady Mahfouz, Recteur de l’USEK 

Allocution de la Première Dame du Liban,
Madame Wafaa Sleiman

18h50 : Première conférence 
Madame Randa Berriمستقبل المرأة اللبنانيّة ودورها في حياة الدولة والمجتمع 
على ضوء المتغيّرات في المشرق العربيّ 

Mercredi 24 octobre 2012
9h00 : Conférence - Salle des Conférences
 - Tunisie 
نساء يكسرن الأقفال: إسهامات النساء في مجال المعرفة الدينيّة 

Salle des Conférences 
  • Table ronde I : 11h00-12h30 Modérateur : Nayla Tabbara - Liban

    Souheila HAMMAD ZEIN EL ABIDIN - Arabie Saoudite
    المرأة العربيّة المسلمة بين النصّ الدينيّ والواقع الاجتماعيّ
    Rima FAKHRY - Liban
    المرأة العربيّة وحاكميّة الدِّين
    Clémence HÉLOU - Liban
    المرأة المسيحيّة المشرقيّة بين الكتاب المقدّس والواقع الاجتماعيّ

  • Table ronde II : 14h30-16h00 Modérateur : Victor El Kik - Liban

    Mohammad SAÏD - Tunisie
    Des femmes arabes distinguées dans la période préislamique
    Nayla TABBARA - Liban
    Rôle de la femme arabe dans la transmission de la culture religieuse musulmane. Survol historique
    Eqbal BARAKA - Égypte
    The Veil: “A Contemporary Vision”

  • Table ronde III : 16h30-18h00 Modérateur : Carine Azzi - Liban

    Jean AKIKI - Liban
    من تفّاحة حوّاء إلى قربان رفقا، رَغَبُ الموجوع
    Joumana HADDAD - Liban
    Thou Shalt not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Wife nor Donkey
    Bacima KHOURY - Liban
    المرأة في الكتاب المقدّس عامّة وفي العهد الجديد بشكل خاصّ

Auditorium Jean El Hawa
  • Table ronde I : 11h00-12h30 Modérateur : Fadi Ahmar - Liban

    Victor EL KIK – Liban
    المرأة والتنمية
    Abdelbary ALMUDARRES - Kurdistan/Irak
    المرأة الكرديّة والحركة النسويّة في كردستان العراق ودورها في النظام الديمقراطيّ الجديد
    Hosn ABBOUD - Liban
    تصوّر الوطن في شهادة السجينة العربيّة

  • Table ronde II : 14h30-16h00 Modérateur : Marie Fayad - Liban

    May HAZAZ - Liban
    Des femmes libanaises « agentes actives anti-guerre »
    Fadi AHMAR - Liban
    Le rôle de la femme syrienne dans les conflits géopolitiques :
    contexte socio-religieux et enjeux politiques
    Bouchra EL HINDI - Bahreïn
    الواقع الحقوقيّ للمراة البحرينيّة (انتفاضة اللؤلؤة أُنموذجًا)

  • Table ronde III : 16h30-18h30 Modérateur : Joseph Khalil - Liban

    Mohamed BAHI - Maroc
    La femme tunisienne : de la soumission à l'explosion
    Imane Nora AZOUZI - Tunisie
    L'écriture politique de Hélé Béji
    Mirna MZAWAK - Liban
    La femme maronite : positionnement socio-ecclésial

Jeudi 25 octobre 2012
9h00 : Conférence - Salle des Conférences
Nahla CHAHAL -
وجود النساء في الحقل العامّ: معيار وهدف 

Salle des Conférences
  • Table ronde I : 11h00-12h30 Modérateur : Khalil Abboud - Liban

    Hayatte LAKRAÂ - France
    Femmes arabes dans l’imaginaire occidental : de victimes à
    Elham KALLAB-BISSAT - Liban
    إدراك وتصوّر المرأة العربيّة لدى الرجل الغربيّ. الفنّ الاستشراقيّ أُنموذجًا
    Paul ZGHEIB - Liban
    Image de la femme dans la photographie orientale de 1839-1885

  • Table ronde II : 14h30-16h00 Modérateur : Joseph Chreim - Liban

    Hanane HALASEH - Jordanie
    بين عشتار... وحوّاء: الفكر النسويّ لدى كاتبات الرواية الأردنيّة
    Ghada CHBEIR - Liban
    دور المرأة العربيّة في مجال الموسيقى والشعر على مرّ العصور
    Hala NOHRA - Liban

  • Table ronde III : 16h30-18h00 Modérateur : Chakib Khoury - Liban

    Watfa HAMADI - Koweit
    خطاب الكاتبة والكاتب وتجلّيات الرؤية النسويّة في النصّ المسرحيّ العربيّ
    Khaled BENFAFA - Algérie
    تمثّلات المرأة في الغناء الشعبيّ: غناء المدّاحات أُنموذجًا
    Georges HOSRI - France
    المرأة الشاعرة والمراثي العربيّة: هل من أسلوبيّة رثائيّة "نسويّة"؟

Auditorium Jean El Hawa
  • Table ronde I : 11h00-12h30 Modérateur : Najib Abdo - Liban

    Carmen BOUSTANI - Liban
    La femme de lettres libanaise dans son contexte arabe
    Nehmetallah ABI-RACHED - France
    Ailleurs, sexualité et identité chez les romancières libanaises
    Raif Georges KHOURY - Allemagne
    Les grandes femmes arabes de May Ziyāda et leur importance
    dans son œuvre

  • Table ronde II : 14h30-16h00 Modérateur : Mireille Issa - Liban

    Élisabeth VAUTHIER - France
    Du silence à la parole dans Retour vers l’enfance de Leila Abouzeid
    Khadîja BENAMMAR - Algérie
    Réécriture du mythe et construction de nouvelles réalités féminines
    à travers Ombre sultane de Assia Djebar
    Laurence DENOOZ - Belgique
    Interrogations identitaires féminines et errances mémorielles fantasmées

  • Table ronde III : 16h30-18h00 Modérateur : Mirna Mzawak - Liban

    Norma ZAKARIA - Liban
    L’éducation de la femme chez les pédagogues du patrimoine arabe à travers les propos éducatifs de Ibn Sahnoun, Al Kabissi, Ibn Hazm, Al Ghazali
    Fahmieh CHARAFEDDINE - Liban
    صورة المرأة في الإعلان والكتاب المدرسيّ في مناهج التعليم العامّ
    Fatiha HARRAT - Algérie
    La distinction sexuelle dans l'éducation familiale au Maghreb : une survivance stéréotypée  

Vendredi 26 octobre 2012
9h00 : Conférence - Salle des Conférences
 - Liban 
المرأة العربيّة والموسيقى 

Salle des Conférences
  • Table ronde I : 11h00-13h00
    Modérateur : Pamela Chrabieh - Liban

    Chérifa BOUATTA - Algérie
    Violences contre les femmes : une guerre de basse intensité
    Marta LUCEÑO MORENO - Espagne
    L'affaire du voile : une construction médiatique et politique
    Pascale SALHANI - France
    Pourquoi les femmes sont-elles discriminées et qu’est-ce qui permet à cette discrimination de se perpétuer ?

  • Table ronde II : 15h00-17h00
    Modérateur : Georges Hobeika - Liban

    Soheil KASH - Canada
    Le féminin pluriel arabe au singulier
    Catherine CORNET - France
    Naked Aliaa: The Democratization of Art through New Media, its New
    Agency on the Middle Eastern Public Sphere
    Mhammed Hassine FANTAR - Tunisie
    La femme dans l'imaginaire de la Tunisie d'hier et d'aujourd'hui

Auditorium Jean El Hawa 
  • Table ronde I : 11h00-12h30
    Modérateur : Charbel Chléla - Liban

    Sobhi HABCHI - France
    عشرقة المحاربيّة: من رماد العشق إلى فضاء الحرّيّة
    Nael ABOU CHACRA - Liban
    شاعرة القصر حلا طليقة سجن القبيل
    Hoda NEHMÉ - Liban
    المرأة في رائعة نادين لبكي "وهلّأ لوين"؟


17h00 - Salle des Conférences 
Conférence de clôture avec Madame May Mikati suivie de la lecture des recommandations 

20h30 - Amphithéâtre Jean-Paul II 
Ghada CHBEIR Hymne à la Femme 
Soirée musicale

For more information:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Rise of the Phoenix

Following the enormous explosion of yesterday’s afternoon at Achrafieh (Lebanon), one cannot but think of the absurdity of hate, tensions and conflicts between fellow citizens, brothers and sisters, even if different in their political and religious/sectarian affiliations. 

So many Lebanese died, disappeared, suffered psychologically and physically, from all sides, for absolutely nothing, paying the price of twisted minds and Machiavellian schemes. Continuous wars, murderous identities, wounded memories… A sick nation unable to heal itself, lost in a vicious cycle of violence. 

Still, no amount of manifest absurdity could deter those who believe in the rise of the Phoenix or the Phoenix’s ability to be reborn from its own ashes, not to be the offspring of the older version, but a new being. Lebanon, and Beirut in particular, was often depicted symbolically as a phoenix bird having been destroyed and rebuilt 7 times during its long history.

I am a believer, and I have a duty to transmit this belief to my readers and my students; especially those students who lost faith in their country; those who are ready to leave everything behind, even the memory of the ones who fought and sacrificed to keep the dream of a ‘unified in diversity’ nation alive. I will keep on digging in the past, not to revive it, but to understand it and transmit its lessons, while searching for something to look forward to. Maybe, one day, soon, we will all be able to live out of its dark shadows.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Youth and Peace: alternative voices in Lebanon

Announcing the publication of my latest book chapter: "Youth and Peace: Alternative Voices in Lebanon", in The Metamorphosis of War. Plaw, Avery (Ed.) Rodopi, Amsterdam/New York, NY, 2012, XVIII, 257 pp.

Abstract: In the last few decades,
 Lebanon has witnessed several armed conflicts, piling new war memories onto old, reviving old wounds and shattering the 
dreams of reconstruction and stability. In this context of multilayered social and political crises and conflicted identities, the role of Lebanese civil society, Diaspora and transnational civil society in spreading courage and hope despite constraining conditions, and in working towards breaking the cycle of War by building a culture of Peace is of the utmost importance. This chapter presents a summary of recent research conducted on five organizations (including youth groups and a collection of forty Lebanese individuals between 25 and 40 years old). In their work and output, these groups and individuals illustrate the necessity of testifying to personal war experiences, learning the lessons of history, sharing the mourning, breaking the cycle of hatred and revenge, connecting divisions and embracing a common humanity. In doing so, they run against the grain of the political class and large parts of Lebanese society, forming a cross-sectarian ‘counterculture.’

For more information:

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

About Women’s Rights in Western Asia (Middle East/Arab World)… My opinion

I have been following closely the “Uprising of Women in the Arab World” Facebook Campaign. Somehow, most testimonies reflect my concerns. As a Western Asian woman, but also as a university professor, researcher, author, artist and activist, in one of the most Patriarchal institutions i.e. the Religious circle of knowledge production, I can assure my readers that our Lebanese society, as well as most Western Asian societies are struggling not only with social, political and economic crisis, but they also suffer from diverse forms of discrimination based partly on highly selective memories serving particular interests and ideological positions. 

Still, there are spaces of dialogue and conviviality, and gender equality cases. Just as memory and identity support one another, they also sustain certain subjective positions, social boundaries, and, of course, power. Every identity implies and at the same time masks a particular relationship. When one speaks of Western Asian women for example, one automatically refers to some never changing objective entity, but in fact one is participating in the process by which certain relationships among women called Western Asian and between them and others one calls the Europeans, Eastern Asian, African and Americans are constructed and sustained. One speaks as if deprived of motherhood for example, or of their housekeeper status, or even of their ‘oppressed situation’, Western Asian women would cease to be Western Asian.

While writing my last book to be soon published, on Womanhood in Western Asia, my journey to the past, investigating ancient religions and cultures, made me realize that womanhood cannot be summarized in ‘clichés’. It is a complex undergoing construction going back to thousands of years of a multiplicity of roles, situations, status, characteristics, values, visions and practices. Even what is called ‘patriarchal system’ or ‘patriarchal conditions’ vary. Some societies, religions and communities gave women a certain importance by tracing descendants from mothers rather than fathers (matrilineal societies). Others viewed and treated women as inferior and partly ornamental. Within ancient societies in Western Asia, patriarchal frameworks were usually the norms, still, examples of gender equality existed. In several ancient societies, many women could gain some relief through religious functions, which could provide a chance to operate independent of family structures. Still, other women internalized the culture of patriarchy, holding that it was their job to obey and to serve men and accepting arguments that their aptitudes were inferior to those of men. Patriarchal laws defined some rights for women even within marriage, protecting them in theory from the worst abuses, but the application of laws depended on many factors: social, political, economic, religious, tribal, etc.

In nowadays Western Asian societies, there are women suffering from deficits in human rights. Societal norms that relegate women to subordinate status continue to impede progress. Governments remain resistant to addressing inequalities for women through progressive policy or legislation and often actively pursue policies of repression. Laws against marital rape and spousal abuse are largely absent in the region, so-called "honor" killings persist, and segregation and discrimination remain par for the course in educational and political institutions.
Local and international NGOs should continue the good work they have done to support civil society activities in the region. Still, much is needed in order to implement full gender equality or at least expand existing spaces of equality. 
To be continued ;)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Womanhood in Western Asia. A Journey to the Past

"Womanhood in Western Asia. A Journey to the Past" 

By Dr. Pamela Chrabieh 

(My upcoming book, soon to be published by Dar el Machreq, Beirut, 2012, in Arabic)

“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world” (Nicholas D. Kristof, in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide).

In times of disillusionment, people may seek a golden age in either the past or the future. Some feminists have situated such an age in the prehistoric past, a period in which they believe women were at least equal in status with men – up to the Late Neolithic, the age of the Mother Goddess, a peaceful and egalitarian era compared to later aggressive, hierarchical and patriarchal times. The idea of a golden age is attractive but did it ever exist, and if it did, what caused its demise?

Other feminists claimed that ancient religions and civilizations were oppressive; that Judaism, Christianity and Islam carry oppressive customs from their predecessors or that these monotheistic religions freed - or tried to free - women from pagan oppression; and that the Western modern civilization - Europe and North America - brought hope to the rest of the world by providing a suitable space for liberty and equality. Indeed, usual academic visions of Western Asia often describe women in this region to be oppressed, weak, needing rescue.

Generalizations, misconceptions and condescendence are easily made, but reality is more mundanely complex than romantic and-or racist/imperialist visions. 

Womanhood is usually defined as the state of being a woman or the composite of qualities thought to be appropriate to or representative of women. What is ‘being a woman’ or what are those qualities? The answer to this question depends on every geopolitical context, society, culture, religion, community, family and individual. Thus, defining womanhood in Western Asia for example is a difficult quest into diverse past and present collective and personal-subjective identities, perceptions and practices.

In that perspective, one of the main goals of this book is to deconstruct positivist or essentialist views of Western Asian women while digging the past. Thus, it is designed to give its readers an understanding of the often forgotten foundations of many contemporary cultures and religions in Western Asia concerning womanhood, especially as they apply to the status and relationships of men and women today. Investigating the past and examining the development of gender norms, identities and roles, contribute to understanding ideas, practices, customs and trends that have shaped Asian cultures. 

This book summarizes a journey in the latest findings in Sciences of Religions, Cultural Studies and Gender Studies, and suggests future perspectives for research and debate. It is written in an accessible style for all kinds of publics - academic and non-academic. Archaeology, text studies and ethnographic comparanda are all tools employed in this endeavor, and all chapters in this book utilize a skillful blending of these and other resources.

The study of womanhood in Ancient Western Asia has been the focus of steadily increasing interest in recent years. In large part this is due to the growing importance of Women's Studies as an academic discipline in general, but also must owe something to the heightened awareness of social history in Asian studies. A relief when it is known that women’s history was usually neglected, due in large part to the greater interest in the public arena, i.e. the political and economic world largely dominated by men, rather than the domestic world which was primarily the realm of women. A bias towards the public sphere meant a corresponding neglect of the domestic realm of women, and thus a lack of research into the business of the household. The remains themselves bias study, in that the public world, outside the microcosm of the home, has left more textual remains (either because more was produced or by accident of survival).

Also, archaeology in this region has been dominated by biblically based research and both the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) and the New Testament are incontrovertibly androcentric documents. Furthermore, in response to the rich textual record for all historic periods across ancient Western Asia, questions of history (conceptualized as kings and battles), religion (conceptualized as priesthoods and temples) and the lives of the elite (conceptualized as kings, palaces and luxury goods) have provided the foci for archaeological research. What this means is that domestic quarters, daily tasks, private life, personal religion and the like have found little traction among archaeologists. Indeed, even when these topics have been explored, women have rarely populated either the ancient places or the modern discussion.

Whatever the reasons, the amount of relevant published material on women in Western Asia has dramatically expanded in the past few years. Still, any historical investigation into the lives of ancient women involves individual interpretation and much speculation. One can read the ancient sources concerned with women and their place in society, but to a large degree, they are all secondary sources that were written by men about women. No ancient journals or personal diaries written by women were uncovered, so it is not known what their hopes and dreams were, or if they had any. What women felt about most political issues and the numerous wars and upheavals is also a mystery. Nor can we read about what women thought of slavery, marriage, or the fact that they had no legal rights over their children or even themselves.

The scope is truly limited, but many questions can still be asked and considered, such as: what was the role of women in their society? Were they considered citizens who had personal freedoms, or were they sequestered away and given little or no education? Was individuality and personal choice a part of women's lives, or were they overshadowed by the patriarchal society of which they were a part? The answers may be difficult to uncover, but they are important questions to ask when one realizes that so much of ancient civilizations went on to lay the foundation of many contemporary societies. Understanding the past makes the present that much clearer and hopefully provides insight into the future, thereby helping society not to make the same mistakes again.

Womanhood’s story in Ancient Western Asia is surprising and quite diverse. There are examples of strong and independent women at times when the entire area had become patriarchal. Still, there are also practices of oppression and discrimination. One way to understand these changing systems is to look at the status of women through what one sees echoed in ancient mythology and religious rituals that favored or not the position of goddesses. Curiously, it seemed that in a society where mythology centers on a male god who is dominant, status of women is lower than others. Also, when females had more involvement in the rites and decisions of the group as reflected in the actions of the goddesses, they had fewer roles under male-dominating deities. In addition to mythology, this book focuses on religious, cultural and social practices, marriage customs and legislation. From Ancient Mesopotamia, to Arabia, Egypt, Persia and Canaan, this exciting journey to the past concludes with an insight into the present and the identification of future creative theoretical/practical paths to follow.