Natalie Yaquenian “On the Gendered Politics of Performance”
Special thanks to Natalie Yaquenian for sending the below article to “Supporting Rula Quawas & Academic Freedom”
On the Gendered Politics of Performance
If you’re a woman who grew up in Jordan, at some point in your life you must have been subjected to provocative slurs from men sitting and ogling women as they pass by. At times it might even be impossible for a woman to walk by men or to enter a public space without receiving looks as though she has just landed from outer space. I call this the “alien landing” look, and I’m pretty sure that most Jordanian women are familiar with it. It is as though by just appearing you have committed a breach in a contract you did know existed but the terms of which had been signed and endorsed by most men in our culture.
The video prepared by Dr. Rula Quawas’s students last Fall for the Feminist Theory Class seems to be quite simple. I do not wish for this to be mistaken for devaluing the work of the women who worked on it; on the contrary, the young women who worked on this project ought to be congratulated on their performance and their willingness to be part of what is apparently a controversial issue to discuss or re-present. They probably never imagined that it would reverberate so much in our society or that it will lead to stripping Dr. Quawas of her position as Dean at Jordan University.
Two major points arise for me as I see this video and muse over the repercussions: the first is refusal of the “fathers” of this culture to leave their patriarchal cave that insists on the rhetoric of blaming the victim. Not surprisingly, this language has historically been directed at women. It is incomprehensible to me how a culture that has claims to modernity and pretends to be part of the international community that is striving to liberate people from the parochial, binary vision can pay so much (and yet so little of the actually desired attention) to this video. Again, I mean no offense to the video as much as I wish to emphasize that its contents have been extremely normalized for women that one would not even fathom why it stirred so much trouble when we hear these kinds of comments everyday as we walk, drive, shop, study, and work. The video re-produces words in a written form and is un-graphically performed and re-presented by the women students who experience this harassment on daily basis. The mere fact that Jordan University was alarmed by this video is baffling and alarming to me. The sheer elevation of this “incident” to a level that requires a response (one would wish it were a positive one) shows that as a society we are still stuck at the very back walls of our patriarchal cave and are not willing to budge from that spot.
The other point worth pondering is the inevitable performative connotations entailed in the decision of Jordan University to relieve Dr. Rula of her duties as Dean. Just as her students were condemned for performing and reproducing in writing the exact comments articulated by men, so was Dr. Quawas stripped of her power of performance as Dean. Instead of responding to the video by tackling the deeply-ingrained cultural illnesses that we have, and instead of admitting that we have a problem that has to be addressed, we blame the victims, strip them of their power to talk or perform, demonize them, and reinstate backward patriarchal egos in an attempt to teach women who speak out a lesson.
It is both flattering and enraging that this video received all the attention it is getting: flattering because if Jordan University had let it go, then the video and the problem it is highlighting would have gone unnoticed. But the reactions it is producing are enraging as these are centered on blaming the women involved in the work and depriving them of their power of performance in society except as objects of slurring and odd looks –the very element that the video is raising awareness against. The Jordan university message is that women should just be recipients of whatever the university dinosaurs dictate to them with the eventual goal of fossilizing themselves and everyone in the process at their favorite spot in their pre-historic, dark caves.
It is ironic how the people who condemn this video cannot stand seeing it and deem it as offensive because of the language it uses; the good news there is that those people can control how many times they view the video, but women in Jordan and on the Jordan University campus have been hearing this all their lives. If you cannot handle the video once, you should be grateful then that you are not a woman because clearly you would not be able to tolerate this offensive language every day.