Women's Space "Inside the Haveli": Incarceration Or Insurrection?

Women's Space "Inside the Haveli": Incarceration Or Insurrection? Summary

Feminist geographers have proposed how space is a complex web of relations of domination and subordination, a "power-geometry" of difference. While feminist and postcolonial theories explore notions of nomad identity, exile, hybridity and marginality, maps of postmodern social space elaborate the politics of representation in terms of the "geopolitics of location" (McDowell 29). The web of power that constructs everyday life is spatialised, and women are both actively and passively influenced by space in their constructions of identity. Segregated space has been described variously in binary terms of material/social, geographic/cultural, metaphorical/actual, real/symbolic, and real/non-real. As Gillian Rose elaborates, the difference between real and non-real spaces is constructed through terms of sexual difference (57). Thus the coincidence between material, symbolic and discursive constructions of space influence and determine the gendered construction of space versus non-space in social, spatial and metaphoric terms. While such concepts are indicative of patriarchal society in general, they are perhaps nowhere more overtly--and controversially--expressed than in cultures in the Arab and Islamic worlds and in India. This article problematises concepts of female space by way of two examples from literature--one from India (as an example from the Hindu world), and one from Algeria (as an example from the Muslim world). It analyses representations of the role of women in terms of the "traditional" place of woman behind the screen of purdah, within the confines of the harem or haveli. The harem is traditionally a space that both protects and imprisons, an extension of the veil, the enforcement of literally "forbidden" (haram) space. (2) Placing such concepts of women's literal positioning in society in the framework of East/West feminisms involves a re-examination of the apparent discrepancies or similarities of feminist theory. While second wave feminism emphasized issues of difference, of a deconstruction of the category "woman" according to sexuality, class and colour, third wave feminists must now--in the light of globalisation--foster a stance in which the personal is once again formulated to meet contemporary political agendas. As Sara Suleri argues, eurocentric economies of representing and adjudicating between disparate cultural and ethnic realities have remained patriarchal, so that "it is surely the task of radical feminism to provide an alternate perspective" (756). Feminists active in countries dominated by the political powers of religious extremists, whether Hindu or Islamic, are aided by their awareness of the work and achievements of feminists elsewhere and of the possibility of appealing to universal principles of human rights and international law. (3)

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