The path to my PhD has not only been shaped by excellent teachers, the joy of learning and using German and the wonderful diversity of German Studies, but also by frustration and, well, feeling annoyed about something.
The University of Nottingham has been my spiritual home (!) for eight years now, and it was during an MA seminar on feminist critical theory that my politicisation as a feminist begun, although I didn’t realise it then. As part of the post-feminist, Girl Power generation, I thought we had gender equality already? Furthermore, different feminists kept disagreeing with each other, so where did that leave us? It bothered me; I had to find out more. So I used my MA dissertation on historiographical representations of Frauenkonzentrationslager Ravensbrück and my spare time in the year I spent teaching after my MA to learn all I could about a wide range of feminist theory and activism. I eventually realised I would have to do a PhD because my day job was getting in the way of my research and development as a feminist.
As I wanted to shift my previous focus on post-1945 German politics and history to a contemporary time frame, my MA and now PhD supervisor suggested I look into debates on Muslim women and veiling legislation in Germany. Instinctively, I felt it was wrong to criminalise certain women’s sartorial and religious practices, but if covering a woman’s hair, body or even face was an effort to keep “dangerous” female sexuality under wraps in a way that was not demanded of men, how could this be reconciled with women’s autonomy? It vexed me; I had to find out more.
Currently I find myself navigating the murky depths of my third year of research on representations of Muslim women in post-1990 popular German culture. Intersectional feminisms have developed my awareness of the fluctuating and intertwined axes of oppression and privilege that function not only through gender and sexuality, but also through race, class, ethnicity, nationality, (dis)ability and age. While there are Muslim women who suffer patriarchal oppression under the auspices of religion, there are many for whom religiosity is one element of an actively negotiated identity with deep personal and spiritual significance. In the German (and indeed, European) context, to focus too much on the former group is to assert the inferiority of minority groups as particularly patriarchal or oppressive, while obscuring and exonerating the varying forms of sexism that all women – Muslim or atheist, ethnic majority or minority – face. Representations of Muslim women, therefore, become vehicles with which to articulate ideas about “us” and “them” and which, as my research shows, often create discriminatory notions of “Germanness” that exclude people on the basis of their religion or skin colour. My PhD takes a closer look at such representations – how they function, how they shift, change, bolster or contest one another and what notions of “German” identity they produce in three genres of post-1990 popular culture: young adult literature, film and (auto)biographical writing. Writing my PhD is proving to be a huge test of psychological and mental endurance, but one that I find politically inspiring and important, even when it does get on my nerves.
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