Study Guide

A Border Passage Women and Femininity

By Leila Ahmed

Women and Femininity

Ahmed confesses that she feels almost nothing but negativity for her mom. As a youngster, she thinks of her mom as backward and somewhat useless: she has no profession and seems to uphold all the stupid and oppressive sexual taboos of their culture.

But she also recognizes that this negativity is not objective truth; it's seeping in from a male-dominated society that values women in a way totally at odds with her culture at home. She wants to get at the roots of this negativity and finds that she'll have to do some heavy digging into her personal life (and through her academic work) to get down to it.

And it boils down to this: labels and taboos created by men are not the only things shaping the perception of women. It's also influenced by the way women accept and internalize these labels and taboos. With this awareness, Ahmed develops a more complex and self-aware interpretation of her mother's life and the role of other women in her family.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. What is the source (or sources) of Ahmed's negativity about her mother?
  2. Why is Girton College such a comforting and positive place for Ahmed?
  3. According to Ahmed, what are some of the attributes of "women's Islam"? How does it contrast with official Islam?
  4. In what ways does Ahmed admire the women of her family? In what ways is she critical of them?

Chew on This

Ahmed's ambivalence toward her mother has less to do with personalities and more with negative cultural attitudes surrounding women and their roles in society.

Although Ahmed is an advocate for the support and safety of exclusively female communities (like Girton and Zatoun), she doesn't want to ignore the weaknesses that she finds in them.

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