Sunday, March 02, 2008

Snuff in Enough

As a rhetorician and a feminist, I find that I have real trouble with a film like The Violent Oppression of Women in Islam by YouTube director IslamicReformation. As the warning in the front indicates, it contains very graphic content of women's mutilated and naked corpses, in order to argue for a general crusade against Islam on behalf of the West with feminist principles as justification. This video was featured as part of "Islamo-Fascism Month" last October and has been frequently forward via e-mail links.

In the United States, it is true that our news coverage tends to be sanitized in comparison to the rest of the world, where the consequences of war are often shown in close-up photographs of dead bodies. But I don't think I'm just speaking from American prudishness, in expressing discomfort with its status as a feminist work of digital video. I might argue that the appeals to emotion that it makes also have an unmistakably pornographic component, including one twice repeated gratuitous shot of a naked woman in chains. It also contains a number of distortions of fact, beginning with depicting female circumcision as an Islamic practice. By focusing exclusively on women's bodies rather than also include consideration of women's minds, the video also misses a number of significant -- although perhaps less visceral -- issues about the lives of women in the developing world. Education and political participation are also important areas for global feminists. In other words, this film reinscribes some of the same biases that it claims to deplore.

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Anonymous Dr Blight said...

Hi Liz, I love your blog but I have noticed that you frequently start sentences with a clause along the lines of "As a rhetorician/feminist/educator/researcher on digital media/mother/liberal/former bike donator/other" and I find that this sends a very mixed message.

Sometimes it can feel as though you are just trying to condescend the reader, as if to say "I am more qualified than you to make a call on this". At other times (more commonly) it comes over as insecure - apologist even - as though you are saying "I only think this because my identity is assigned to this particular class", a kind of self-conscious bad faith. Occasionally it even manifests itself as a requirement to do or say something that you perhaps might not otherwise do or say (e.g. playing Bioshock), because you feel a sense of responsibility to your rigid identity. It is not that these subtexts are explicitly stated, but that often it is unclear why you have bothered to stress your status as a member of a certain group before making a particular point, and this leads me to fill the gaps, probably wrongly.

No matter the nuance of ambiguity, it consistently gives me the impression that you don't have the confidence to make the point you want to without qualifying it with your status. As much as anything, it undermines whatever you have to say with this weak implication that your arguments or opinions are reliant on your membership of a certain group.

It is a style that is begging to be mocked by other academic blogs:

"As a Neo-Fascist Libero-Digital-Pacifist, I found my bottled water particularly odourless today"

or perhaps:

"As a father of three and professor within a prestigious Mathematics faculty, my favourite colour is blue".

You can just see it, can't you?

Keep up the good work on the blog, it is one of the most intelligent reads on the net.

Oh and also, did you ever play Bioshock? Post impressions if so! It is a game that is worth playing, whether you study digito-horro-rhetoro-media or not. Honest, cross my heart and hope to die.

3:51 AM  

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