Diana and Beyond: White Femininity, National Identity, and Contemporary Media Culture by Raka Shome (review)
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Diana and Beyond: White Femininity, National Identity, and Contemporary Media Culture. By Raka Shome. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014; pp. 256. $95.00 cloth; $30.00 paper.

Years after her death, we continue to be haunted by the ghost of Princess Diana. As women of color, a queer Chicana and a diasporic Kuwaiti-Palestinian, we continually feel the specter of Diana and white femininity in general. Raka Shome’s Diana and Beyond unravels these [End Page 186] hauntings to explore how white femininity produces national modernities in the age of neoliberalism. Thus, this book is not a study of Diana, but instead a study of the workings of white femininity as it connects to issues of “global motherhood,” transnational masculinities, fashion and the body, and cosmopolitanism and spiritual appropriation.

Shome begins by identifying ideologies of white femininity and their connection to discourses of nationhood. She examines how neoliberalism is sustained through heterosexual, upper-middle class, and able-bodied white women (3). Through carefully unpacking framings of Princess Diana (and other white women), she reveals that contradistinct positionalities (such as women of color) are able to see the visibility of whiteness while others cannot. Thus, white femininity sets the stage for the production of borders around gender, race, sexuality, globality, and what is deemed to be a nation’s sense of the modern.

In chapter 2, Shome exemplifies these intersections by demonstrating the ways masculinity fails when white mothers do not produce successful white men. Examining various images of Princess Diana and Michelle Obama, she reveals how whiteness operates through visual rhetorics. She also makes a tragic, but integral, point: black mothers tend to bond through fear and terror, whereas white mothers bond through happiness and joy. The intersections of race and class become integral in defining white motherhood.

Chapter 3, one of the strongest of the text, locates the ways white femininity is inscribed onto the white female fashionable body, which becomes a site where national belonging is managed. For example, Shome argues Diana’s changing fashion, with the rise of neoliberalism, was a means to reabsorb difference.

Further deepening her analysis of white motherhood, Shome reveals in chapter 4 an integral contrast with white femininity historically (during colonialism) and white femininity today. During colonialism, white women physically relocated to other geographical locations as missionaries, teachers, and housewives, whereas today their white femininity does not need to be fixed in other geographical locations. This difference between territorial versus nonterritorial femininity is exemplified when Diana appears on television and the whole globe is affected. Thus, Diana as a symbol of motherhood sets the tone for other iconic figures to follow. For instance, Shome discusses adoption and how white celebrities create a space to “save” [End Page 187] children from disease and crisis, when in reality these nations are undergoing a crisis due to larger geopolitical issues, neoliberal wreckage of economies and the history of colonization.

Chapter 5 examines how white femininity is defined in contrast to Muslim masculinity and how, conversely, Muslim men are mediated and regulated through the white feminine body. Through a specific study of Diana’s relationship with Dodi Al-Fayed, Shome demonstrates how white womanhood is degraded due to that relationship, whereas a Muslim woman marrying a white man is elevated in status. Arguing that Muslims are continually categorized as “good” or “bad,” Shome further demonstrates that the “good” Muslim is always absent (such as in the case of Diana’s first lover, Khan), whereas the “bad” Muslim—Al-Fayed—is always visible.

We agree with Shome that “Muslim man” and “Arab” have been collapsed into one Orientalist category and appreciate her usage of “Muslim” throughout the book to encompass different races. We question whether this can be deconstructed further, such as how “Middle Eastern” has been conflated with “Arab,” because not all Middle Easterners (such as Iran and Afghanistan) identify as Arab and not all Arabs and Middle Easterners are Muslim.

Finally, chapter 6 offers a powerful critique of white femininity turning toward the self through spiritual appropriation. As white masculine nationalist discourses are militarizing the world, white femininity turns toward the spiritual and healing. This...


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