- To Want and Want Not:Manifestations of Desire in "Barbie-Q" by Sandra Cisneros and "The Couch" by Fatima Hamad Al Mazrouei
Although "Barbie-Q" (1991) by Chicana Sandra Cisneros and "The Couch" (2010) by Emirati Fatima H. Al Mazrouei originate in very different cultural contexts, these two texts have more in common than their brevity and poetic style, and it is their similarities that make them ideal candidates for a comparative analysis. Both short stories are told by female narrators who desire the object identified in the title of each story, and the items of their desire carry significant symbolic value to each respective story. Both stories offer an implicit critique of (post)modern consumerism, and both also weave this critique into a context of female body image and the beauty myth manifested in Naomi Wolf's 1991 book of the same title. Departing from a philosophical understanding of "desire," and attempting to encourage a constructive dialogue between so-called "Western" and non-Western feminist discourse, this paper accounts for the implications of diverse representations of female desire for their contrasting cultural contexts. It aims to highlight ways in which increasingly urgent transcultural or cosmopolitan feminist discourse could function more fruitfully.
Cisneros grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and also spent time in Mexico City during her early childhood (Curiel 52). The Puerto Rican neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago, to which her family moved when she was eleven, provides the setting for her debut novel, The House on Mango Street (1984). "Barbie-Q," first published in the collection Woman Hollering Creek (1991) about a decade later, includes a few [End Page 218] distinct coordinates that identify the setting of the story as Chicago's South Side. Al Mazrouei belongs to the third category of modern writers from the United Arab Emirates, according to Olatunbosun Ishaq Tijani's categorization in "Contemporary Emirati Literature: Its Historical Development and Forms." This extensive survey, unfortunately without reference to Al Mazrouei's work, distinguishes between an early-twentieth-century generation without formal education, the mid-twentieth-century generation, witnesses to increasing industrialization as result of oil resources, and the contemporary "post-oil (post-unification) generation, who are largely university educated" (Tijani 123). In fact, not only did Al Mazrouei complete post-secondary education, she also taught in a university herself, as Cisneros did, before shifting her focus to her work in the Federal National Council and to the creation of children's books. Both authors thus belong to what Eurocentric paradigms define as "West" and "East," respectively. These two stories are set in contrasting cultural contexts, but both lend themselves to feminist readings that gain from comparative considerations.
Nima Naghibi's Rethinking Global Sisterhood: Western Feminism and Iran provides numerous illustrations of misguided transcultural feminist discourses. Naghibi's comprehensive study concludes with several warnings, the most relevant of which for this study concerns the risk of superiority thinking and patronizing condescension: "A productive and egalitarian transnational feminist network remains a challenge for feminists today, as historically and now, the language of feminism has been successfully co-opted by an antifeminist state rhetoric that promotes and supports what Minoo Moallem has called 'civilizational thinking'" (Naghibi 141). Such "civilizational thinking" typically assumes a superiority of Western over non-Western, Third World, or developing regions. Here I follow Naghibi's use of the terms "West," "East," or "Third World," "with all their inadequacies, to hang on to the critical colonial/imperial investments that the terms evoke" (Naghibi xvi). In "Rachna Mara's Cosmopolitan (Yet Partial) Feminisms," Shazia Rahman, likewise, cautions against the ignorant kind of "global sister" who "assumes not only that third-world women are worse off but also that they cannot rescue themselves from the patriarchal conditions of their lives" (Rahman 9). Highly politicized topics such as female genital mutilation or child marriage, for example, often serve to encourage these attitudes. Here, I deliberately concern myself with a universal, psychological theme to draw attention to uniting rather than dividing avenues for exchange. Given that the personal is also always political, manifestations of female desire still function closer to the former than the latter category.
Ottmar Ette and Gutrud Lehnert include a chapter...