Date of Award

9-16-2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Susan Comfort, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

David Downing, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Ronald Emerick, Ph.D.

Abstract

The present dissertation offers a critical study of how two contemporary U.S. women writers critique, resist, dismantle and disrupt the hegemonic discourse that represents U.S. Third World women as a monolithic and homogeneous category. The unsettling of the monolithic image of U.S. Third World women is pursued through providing an analysis of the cultural imagery of gender, in which the focus is specifically on two key images: the veil and the house. In this research, I show how the two writers Mohja Kahf, an Arab-American, and Sandra Cisneros, a Chicana, examine dominant constructions of those two key images of gender and demonstrate the ways those constructions are oppressive distortions that entrap and disempower women. At the same time, I argue that not only are the two writers unsettling these specific constructions, but are also producing new meanings, and thus, new identities through contextualizing the two dehistoricized images. This argument is developed within broad theoretical context of U.S. Third World Feminism. I explore the counter arguments made by U.S. Third World feminists in resistance to hegemonic Western feminist discourses that reinforce inequality, imperialist dominance, and injustice. Because of the heterogeneity of U.S. Third World women and the false notion of a global sisterhood, I provide a thorough discussion of commonalities and differences between them. I have chosen an Arab-American and Chicana woman writer as representatives of what are typically regarded as homogenized Third World cultures within the U.S. In the discussion of Kahf’s works I focus on the veil and look at the interconnection of factors of race, ethnicity, religion, colonialism, and imperialism that shape gender identity within a social formation. In Cisneros’ works, I examine the image of the house and issues of race, class, and hybridity. In my conclusion, I argue that through an understanding of commonalities and differences between Western and U.S. Third World feminist thinking, a dynamic form of feminism emerges that can actually assist women around the world in their endeavor to gain equality and justice because it addresses the pressing issues pertaining to each particular culture on its own, while remaining open to building unity.

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