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How Far Have We Really Come? Part 1

by on Aug.27, 2009, under Uncategorized

It’s three in the afternoon on a steamy Wednesday near the end of April, and I’m sitting in my honors seminar on Islamic theory. I’m weary from being up half the previous night studying for an exam, and I’m not looking forward to the three papers that I have due before the end of the month. Final exams loom over the horizon, not to mention the fact that I have a week to pack up a year’s worth of clothing, books, papers and bedding only to unpack them again in my summer apartment, just three blocks down. This is not my favorite class, and if it were not the case that I had already missed three—the maximum absences allowed this semester—I wouldn’t be here.

But here I am, and I haven’t done the reading. The professor, a brilliant and beautiful Sudanese American, is chattering away in her usual animated style. I know that if I’d done the reading, the hour and fifteen minutes would be somewhat more bearable, but I haven’t. I avert my eyes each time she asks a question.

She continues to speak; the topic of the day is women and Islam. Suddenly, she interrupts her usual Socratic method of teaching with a personal monologue and that’s when my ears, accustomed to a years worth of typical academic liberal rhetoric, perk up. She talks about feminism and how she, as a more liberal Islamic historian, is often categorized by those in the Middle East as a “feminist,” a title which does her a great disservice in her profession because it is a “Western” term and is frowned upon by some of the more conservative scholars, thus giving them a reason to dismiss her ideas, regardless of how intelligent or coherent they might be. Furthermore, she thinks it is a loaded term that carries with it a derogatory connotation because of its association with radical activists. We begin to deviate from the texts at hand and start discussing feminism and the questionable direction of the women’s movement. In the midst of our discussion, the professor makes a statement that incites anger from most students and shouts of approval from others:

To ensure that a child grows properly with a strong sense of morals and confidence, the mother needs to be there for him.” She quiets the class by raising a single hand and continues. “If I, as a woman, bring a life into this world, then it doesn’t matter how hard I worked to get my Ph.D., I am not simply dropping my child off at daycare so I can be ‘successful.’

to be continued…

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