Soha Bayoumi, Sherine Hafez, and Ellen McLarney are editors of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, the official journal of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies. This interdisciplinary journal advances the fields of Middle East gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. We sat down with Soha, Sherine, and Ellen to discuss their vision for the journal’s future, as well as what brought them to editorship at JMEWS in the first place.
DUP: How would you like to shape the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies for the future?
Ellen: I think gender is one of the most defining issues when it comes to the study of the Middle East historically, intellectually, and academically. And it’s been a question that’s been kind of abused and used. All of our work centers on gender and I think that we would like to revolutionize the field in a way that causes people to rethink its importance. We’re not just talking about Orientalist tropes or oppression, repression, and liberation—we’d like to look at gender in new ways.
Sherine: I think gender is the underlying principle of social organizations all over the world, especially in the Middle East and in Muslim-majority countries. It’s been highly politicized, and it continues to be politicized in new ways all the time. So it’s important to track these changing modes of the politicization of gender and how gender is at the core of new nationalist movements and postcolonial and anticolonial trends.
Soha: We’re also really interested in highlighting theoretical contributions from the field and pushing it forward to show that feminist theory and gender studies in the Middle East don’t have to rely on prepackaged theoretical constructions produced in intellectual centers of the global North. We can actually generate novel ways of thinking about gender and feminisms from the Middle East as well. And we want to push the boundaries of the field—not just to think about it as regional studies or area studies, but also to think about, as Sherine said, postcoloniality in general as it interacts with gender and thinking about gender in the global South.
Sherine: Our regular section Third Space shows how much artists and activists shape this conversation and how it’s not just academia or institutions disseminating information or policies: it’s a feedback loop.
Ellen: And one of the advantages of area studies is its interdisciplinarity. We can approach these questions from multiple methodological angles. So we’re really hoping to bring these multiple disciplinary perspectives to the question of gender.
Sherine: We’re trying to intervene in the epistemology of gender in the Middle East and Muslim world because it’s such a salient topic and so central not just to the region but also globally, because both local and global forces intersect in gender. So we’d like to highlight those connections as well and include various interlocutors on the subject of gender from international scholarly institutions and universities from the Middle East and North America.
DUP: Why were you interested in becoming editors of the journal?
Soha: I come from a background that is interested in science and technology studies and the history of science and medicine. These are fields that are not necessarily the first fields you think about when you think about gender studies or feminist studies. As someone interested in studying gender within STS, I found it very appealing to be a part of this and to try and bring in some of the voices of people I know working in these fields. Especially when it comes to the Middle East, I have in mind scholars who may not necessarily think of themselves as or market their work directly to feminist scholars abroad, or who don’t think of their interlocutors as being feminist scholars abroad, but who definitely engage with questions of gender at a very deep level in their work. I wanted to bring some of those voices in and I thought that it would be an exciting opportunity to share that collaborative platform with two very well-established scholars of gender.
Ellen: I was here at Duke University while the prior three editors were working on the journal. I watched what they did with it and I was on the editorial board. I admired what they were doing and see myself now as helping to follow up on that legacy. I know everyone’s talking about doing new things, but I’m just hoping that we can do as good of a job. I was standing on the edges watching and so I’m excited to be a part of it now and am grateful to Soha and Sherine for bringing me on board.
Sherine: There were a couple of reasons that I was interested. First, I believe that women of color have to be theory makers. For a very long time the field of gender in the Middle East and Muslim world has been dominated by content studies, studies that basically regurgitate data. Of course, there have been seminal works and advances in theoretical trajectories, but I was hoping to further that and intensify the focus on theory. The second reason is that since the Arab uprisings have happened, I’ve been motivated to engage more with the public sphere in any way I can. I felt that even though this was a very busy time in my professional career, it was not something I could turn down. This was a moment for me to make an intervention, and I’m working with three amazing people, including our managing editor Shireen Hamza, whom I could not do without, and of course my two coeditors. This is an opportunity not just to make an intervention but also to grow professionally and learn from them and from our loyal readership.