Februrary 2022 Newsletter | www.orwac.org
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Ask the Oracle

What Does Feminism Mean for You? Reorienting Toward Transnational Feminism with Dr. Haneen Ghabra

Sarah C. Dweik & Kristen D. Herring 

Reflecting upon the past year drudges up memories of turmoil, grief, trauma, and even a bit of happiness in between. The Covid 19 pandemic challenged us to rethink feminism and how to implement it when isolated and through computer and phone screens. Collectively, we learned how feminism can evolve with our world, as it changes before us, and how to include folx across the globe in our struggles for equality and freedom. As Sarah and Kristen are nearing the end of their term as graduate representatives for ORWAC, they wanted to reflect upon their previous Ask the Oracle published in June 2020 (accessible here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYJmE9VVxhg). A common theme found between all the scholars invited to our roundtable discussion and stated directly by Dr. Shinshuke Eguchi was a need to move transnationally in our feminisms. 

Dr. Haneen Ghabra

In light of this call, we were honored to interview Dr. Haneen Ghabra for her perspectives on transnational feminism in 2021 and how we can incorporate these teachings into our scholarly and personal lives. Dr. Ghabra is an Assistant Professor at Kuwait University’s Department of Mass Communication and author of the award-winning book, Muslim Women and White Femininity: Reenactment and Resistance (2018). She specializes in Rhetoric and Cultural Studies with a focus on Third World Women and Intersectionality. Her areas of focus include exploring hegemonic and racist narratives via text, images and bodies (in media and popular culture). Through an Intersectional Feminist Ethic she focuses on systemic privilege and oppression through class, gender, race and sexuality. Dr. Ghabra’s methodological research is conducted through rhetorical criticism, ethnography and auto ethnography. She is very much invested in postcolonial critique and in methods of disrupting systems of White and Masculine ideologies. She recently was the recipient for the Ralph Cooley and Top Faculty Award for her paper, “Don’t say his name: The terror attacks in New Zealand and the Ethics of White allyship at the National Communication Association’s (NCA) International and Intercultural Division in 2020. Dr. Ghabra also received the Book of the Year Award, at NCA’s International and Intercultural Division in 2019. She was also the recipient for the Outstanding Article of the Year Award, NCA’s Feminist Division in 2018 and has won top paper awards numerous times at various academic conferences. Her work has been published in Communication Inquiry, Text and Performance Quarterly and Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. Dr. Ghabra also has eight years of work experience both in the government and private sector in Kuwait in Public relations and campaign planning. 

In the following interview, Dr. Ghabra shares her perspectives on intersectional dualism, de/postcolonial methodologies for studying communication, tactics for countering “the Palestinian exception,” and much more. Dr. Ghabra insights invite feminist communication scholars on a long journey toward a more complex understanding of intersectionality. She asks us to consider scholarship on positionality, citizenship, and occupation and to read and share the words of Transnational/Muslim/Middle Eastern feminists and the scholars who forefront their voices. We thank Dr. Ghabra for her care and labor in sharing these compelling sentiments and encourage ORWAC’s membership to pick up the torch she has so generously handed our way! For more resources on transnational feminisms, Dr. Ghabra has provided a list of citations referenced throughout this interview and available at the bottom of the article. 

What does it mean to be a Transnational feminist in 2021? 

When we speak of transnational feminism, we need to understand that transnational feminism is constantly in flux and differs from region to region and from country to country. Transnational feminism has been sidelined for a number of reasons. First, it isn’t an American problem, so we enter the dilemma of having White people speak “for” us and it distorts our images and the issues that we are trying to work on locally and regionally. Second, if our issues are spoken about in U.S. and western classrooms, journal articles, conferences etc. the readings and/or speakers are usually not from our region. Third, our issues are often not spoken about at all which logically makes sense because if women of color in the U.S. and other marginalized groups are struggling to have their voices heard, why would we expect our issues to be spoken about? However, at the same time, it is vital when discussing Third World bodies of color, to not re-center it to U.S. bodies of color. This risks, constantly erasing transnational bodies of color. Instead, we need to look at US scholars of color who are trying to form these bridges with transnational bodies of color and capitalize on this.

One of the most important struggles that Transnational Middle Eastern feminists struggle through is what I have termed, Intersectional Dualism where we face double the work of critiquing our own patriarchal struggles and Whiteness simultaneously. Many other scholars have voiced this very same struggle because it is one of the most difficult tasks as it creates a demarcation between us (women of color) and both White and male communities. Of course, these lines become even more difficult to see when we enter the whole dilemma and consequences of people of color embodying Whiteness through the abjection of the self. This in turn, reinforces performances of White feminism through Other bodies that are not necessarily White which of course hurts both intersectional and transnational feminism.

In other words, the biggest struggle for Transnational/Muslim/Middle Eastern feminists is between defending our own women against Western feminism, which directly aids imperialism, and tackling oppression in these very same local-centric communities.

I say this as someone that lives in Kuwait, the struggles we face here are completely different than the struggles happening in another country in the region or in the U.S. For example, in Kuwait, a stateless woman (without nationality) is going to have a whole different set of struggles than an ex-pat woman living in Kuwait or even a domestic worker who will face Other discriminations. Also within Kuwaiti women, there will be different struggles based on your country of origin. So a Kuwait woman who is originally Palestinian such as myself will be marked as not “pure” Kuwaiti. This will differ from a struggle of a tribal woman who might have a different set of needs. However, in general, there are laws that are extremely oppressive of women in Kuwait. For example, article 182 states that in the case that a woman is raped and her father agrees that she marries the rapist, she will have to marry him. Also, if a woman is married and is in the delivery room giving birth, her husband has to be there to sign on her behalf for any medical procedures. Basically, as women, our fathers or partners are our guardians. Now I could go on there are so many more complex issues we are trying to fight against here in Kuwait, but What I’m trying to say here is that we are busy focusing on complex issues and then the US comes in and speaks for us in a very distorted manner and then we have to defend our culture against Whiteness. It is exhausting because we want to have the freedom to speak about our issues without the US picking it up in order to benefit politically, militarily, and economically.

From your perspective, are there any key communication tactics that are core to transnational feminism? 

At large Transnational media, terrains are integral sites in which one can deconstruct and critique contradictions between gendered constructions and globalization.

I always remember Alcoff’s piece on “speaking for the other”. I think it’s a key communication tactic because she reminds us that we need to consider the speakers ‘location’ as in positionality. Is this speaker speaking “for” or “with”. I believe that this is key in knowing how to account for communication within transnational feminism.

Also, we need to change the way rhetoric has been presented in our discipline:

A lot of the old rhetorical theory that we use from narrative criticism to Burke and so forth is very white-centric and so we need to inject de/postcolonial methodologies into the field of rhetoric which many scholars of color like Calafell, Griffin, Eguchi, Holling, Ono and Hasian, for example, are doing. I think bringing in focal readings from people of color doing the work is key to rhetoric and communication because it reminds us that text is fluid and that text isn’t just speech but is also images and bodies and so forth. We also need to extend this and bring in the Middle Eastern transnational people doing the work within Communication studies (Chrifi-Alaoui; Khamis; Kraidy; Masri; Aswad; Yousuf; Shukri). We need to even look at queer Middle Eastern work (Abdi; Atay). This will not only strengthen Communication studies but create depth and inclusivity.

Changing the voices around scholarship and rhetoric will help in dismantling the stereotypes that have been created about us by both Western feminism, media and rhetoric.

What are some key tactics that we as graduate students, scholars, and teachers can do to counter the “Palestine exception” mentality, as dubbed by Palestine Legal, within our work, teaching, and advocacy? 

Palestine is a tragic issue that is resurfacing in an interesting way. The problem with occupied Palestine is that it had been occupied for more than seven decades.

First, when we address Palestinian women’s struggles, we need to do the work on knowing what the struggles are. So much of what we see in the media is around ‘honor killings’ but we need to read people like Kevorkian in order to understand that these so-called ‘murders’ (because calling them ‘honor killings’ is a whitewashed term), are linked directly to the occupation and to the economic situation and cannot be separated. We need to understand that Palestinian women who have acquired an Israeli nationality will have a whole set of different struggles than women in Gaza and women in the West Bank who do not have a nationality. There needs to be more work into understanding the intersectional struggles that women go through depending on location, citizenship and so forth because they are still under an occupation. Also, the way that we discuss mental health has a colonial framework which doesn’t help Palestinians in getting the help that they need.

Third, as feminists and I speak to all feminists and social justice activists, we need to understand that the occupation of Palestine is a genocide that has been taken place over decades and is nothing less than that. Palestine is an exception to freedom of speech and it has consequences as people are losing their jobs, or not getting new positions, are sidelined for speaking out, and arrested. Inside Occupied Palestine that’s a whole different story, you are put in jail or killed. Therefore, the only way to combat this is for more people to speak out.

We need more advocacy, more readings on Palestine, more education. Within the communication discipline there are few of us doing the work (Afifi; Ghabra; Hasian). Understanding the history of Palestine is key and there of course plenty of readings on this. Also, people in the US needs to understand that transnational feminism and rights at large is directly linked to the occupation of Palestine. For example, the Biden administration has taken a "we are with all marginalized identities" approach within the United States but when it comes to Palestine, international bodies and Palestinian blood are of no value. This privilege of American citizenship and their position with the Zionist entity is key in putting pressure on Israel

What happened in Sheikh jarrah wasn’t just about murders, forced evictions and settlements, it goes much deeper than apartheid. We have entered an era in which a dictatorship is disguised as a democracy. The systematic killing of the population is the only way to survive. There is a profound change in the existential security of the Arab region and the world at large and even in the media with normalization. Within the GCC region, countries like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have normalized and this has created tension in the region and has changed the media landscape as some channels are starting to normalize ‘normalization’.

We need transnational scholarship to even begin to understand this.

For more resources on Transnational/ Muslim/ Middle Eastern/ and Palestinian Feminisms please see the citations provided by Dr. Ghabra below and ORWAC’s position of solidarity with Palestine, including resources for learning and assisting Palestinians living in 1948 Palestine.


Abdi, S. (2014). Staying I(ra)n: Narrating Queer Identity from Within the Persian Closet. Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, 10(1), 1–20.

Afifi, W., & Afifi, T. (2020). The relative impacts of disclosure and secrecy: The role of (perceived) target response. Current Opinion in Psychology, 31, 94–98.

Alcoff, L. (1991). The Problem of Speaking for Others. Cultural Critique, 20, 5–32.

Aswad, N. (2019). Exploring Charismatic Leadership: A Comparative Analysis of the Rhetoric of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 49(1), 56–74.

Atay, A. (2017). Theorizing Diasporic Queer Digital Homes: Identity, Home and New Media.  11, 96-110. 2017. Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies Journal, 11, 96–110.

Calafell, B. (2013). (I)dentities: Considering Accountability, Reflexivity, and Intersectionality in the I and the We. Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, 9(2), 6–13.

Chrifi Alaoui, fatima. (2018). Arabizing Vernacular Discourse: A Rhetorical Analysis of Tunisian Revolutionary Graffiti. In Rhetorics Elsewhere and Otherwise: Contested Modernities, Decolonial Visions (pp. 112–140). National Council of Teachers of English.

Eguchi, S. (2014). Disidentifications From the West(ern): An Autoethnography of Becoming an Other. Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, 14(3), 279–285.

Ghabra, H. (2018). Muslim Women and White Femininity: Reenactment and Resistance. Peter Lang.

Griffin, R. (2012). I AM an Angry Black Woman: Black Feminist Autoethnography, Voice, and Resistance. Women’s Studies in Communication, 35, 138–157.

Gutierrez-Perez, R. (2015). Disruptive Ambiguities: The Potentiality of Jotería Critique in Communication Studie. Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research, 14(10), 89–100.

Hasian, M. (2001). Rhetorical Studies and the Future of Postcolonial Theories and Practices. Rhetoric Review, 20(1–2), 22–28.

Holling, M. A., & Calafell, B. (2011). Latina/o Discourse in Vernacular Spaces Somos De Una Voz? Lanham. Lexington.

Khamis, S. (2011). The Arab “Feminist” Spring? Feminist Studies, 37(3), 692–695.

Kraidy, M. (2002). Hybridity in Cultural Globalization. Communication Theory, 12(3), 316–339.

Masri, H. (2021). “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go”: Rhetorical bordering as transnational settler colonial project. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 18(1), 85–93.

Ono, K., & Sloop, J. (1995). The Critique of Vernacular Discourse. The Communication Monographs, 62, 19–46.

Willink, K., Gutierrez-Perez, R., Shukri, S., & Stein, L. (2014). Navigating with the stars: Critical qualitative methodological constellations for critical intercultural communication research. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 77(2014), 289–316.

Yousuf, S., & Calafell, B. (2018). The imperative for examining anti-Muslim racism in rhetorical studies. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 15(4), 312–318.

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