Fabric Matters: Feminist Dialogue and Muslim Veiling
Keywords:The Breadwinner, burqa, chador, feminist solidarity, Afghanistan
“Fabric Matters” postulates a feminist intervention in global social justice issues through Deborah Ellis’s The Breadwinner (2000), a novel that attempts to build solidarity between North American and Afghan women resisting gendered oppression. The Breadwinner, written for young adult audiences, is frequently employed in North American multicultural curricula. Drawing on anthropological research, I argue that Ellis’s imperfect and sometimes contradictory representations of the burqa and the chador initiate a dialogue about religious and cultural practices that models non-paternalistic feminist intervention in global women’s oppression. Ellis’s engagement with Afghan women’s struggles avoids the two extremes—silence or paternalism—often present in western feminist reactions to global social justice issues. In analyzing representations of Muslim veiling practices, I demonstrate that Ellis productively grapples with her own western feminist presumptions in order to portray Afghan women respectfully as agential rather than implying that they need western women to save them. As such, The Breadwinner is a fruitful site for pedagogical and feminist discussions about global activism. Ultimately, I argue that feminism-in-action requires repeated attempts to come closer to global counterparts as a necessary impetus for political and social change.