Fernea, Elizabeth Warnock 1927-
FERNEA, Elizabeth Warnock 1927-
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Fur-nee-ah"; born October 21, 1927, in Milwaukee, WI; daughter of David Wallace (a chemist) and Elizabeth (Meshynsky) Warnock; married Robert Alan Fernea (a social anthropologist), June 8, 1956; children: Laura Ann, David Karim, Laila Catherine. Education: Reed College, B.A., 1949; graduate study, Mount Holyoke College, 1949–50, and University of Chicago. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—3003 Bowman Rd., Austin, TX 78703. Office—Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712. Agent—Watkins-Loomis Agency, 150 E. 35th St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: Reed College, Portland, OR, director of public relations, 1950–54; University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, admissions counselor and promotion assistant, 1954–56, member of public relations staff, 1958–59; U.S. Information Agency, contract reporter and writer in Baghdad, Iraq, 1956–58; University of Texas at Austin, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, research associate, beginning 1973, instructor, 1975–86, senior lecturer, beginning 1986, currently professor emeritus of Middle Eastern Studies. Lecturer on women in the Middle East at numerous conferences and symposia in the United Sates and abroad. Ethnographer for film Some Women of Marrakech, 1977; associate producer for film Saints and Spirits, 1979; producer of films A Veiled Revolution, 1982, The Price of Change, 1982, and Women under Siege, 1982.
Member, board of directors, America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, Middle East Institute, and Georgetown University Center for Arabic Studies. Chairman of film and media committee, Center for Middle Eastern Studies; coordinator, Resource Sharing Program, beginning 1979. Member, Travis County Democratic Women's Committee and Lay Citizen Advisory Committee on Textbooks, Austin Independent School District. Faculty advisor; consultant.
MEMBER: Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America (president), Texas Institute of Letters (council member, 1985–86).
AWARDS, HONORS: Outstanding Woman in Literature, Texas America Association of University Women, 1978; National Endowment for the Humanities film grants, 1978, 1980; recipient with husband, Robert Alan Fernea, of Carr P. Collins Award for best nonfiction book, Texas Institute of Letters, 1985, for The Arab World: Personal Encounters; Fulbright study grant, 1988.
Guests of the Sheik, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1965, published as Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1989.
A View of the Nile, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1970.
A Street in Marrakech, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1975.
(Editor, with Marilyn Duncan) Texas Women in Politics, Foundation for Women's Resources (Austin, TX), 1977.
(Editor and translator, with Basima Qattan Bezirgan) Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1977.
Saints and Spirits (documentary screenplay), First Run/Icarus Films, 1979.
A Veiled Revolution (documentary screenplay), First Run/Icarus Films, 1982.
The Price of Change (documentary screenplay), First Run/Icarus Films, 1982.
Women under Siege (documentary screenplay), First Run/Icarus Films, 1982.
(With husband, Robert A. Fernea) The Arab World: Personal Encounters, photographs by Thomas Hartwell, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1985.
(Editor) Women and Family in the Middle East: New Voices of Change, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1985.
(With Robert A. Fernea and Aleya Rouchdy) Nubian Ethnographies, Waveland Press (Prospect Heights, IL), 1991.
The Struggle for Peace: Israelis and Palestinians (documentary film; also see below), First Run/Icarus Films, 1991.
(Editor, with Steven Talley) The Struggle for Peace: Israelis and Palestinians (based on her film of the same title), photographs by Heather L. Taylor, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1992.
(Editor) Children in the Muslim Middle East, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1995.
(With Yaron Shemer) The Road to Peace: Israelis and Palestinians (documentary screenplay), 1995.
(With Robert A. Fernea) The Arab World: Forty Years of Change, photographs by Thomas Hartwell, Anchor Books/Doubleday (New York, NY), revised edition, 1997.
In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman's Global Journey, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
Living with the Past: Historic Cairo (documentary screenplay), First Run/Icarus Films, 2001.
(Editor) Remembering Childhood in the Middle East: Memoirs from a Century of Change, introduction by Robert A. Fernea, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 2002.
Also contributor with husband, Robert A. Fernea, to Focus on the Middle East, edited by Alice Taylor, Praeger, 1971; with R.A. Fernea, to Scholars, Saints an Sufis, edited by Nikki Keddie, University of California Press, 1972; with James Malarkey and Sara Webber, to History of the Family and Kinship: A Select International Bibliography, Kraus, 1979; Whatever Happened to Antara? and Other Stories, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2004; contributor of translation, with Basima Qattan Bezirgan, to Cultural Expressions in Arab Society, by Jacques Berque, University of Texas Press, 1978. Author of foreword, Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy, edited by Richard A. Lobban, University Press of Florida, 1998; author of introduction, Year of the Elephant: A Moroccan Woman's Journey toward Independence, and Other Stories, by Laylá Abūzayd, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1989. Contributor of reviews to periodicals. Contributing editor, Texas Books in Review.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A documentary about the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar quarter in Cairo, Egypt.
SIDELIGHTS: Elizabeth Warnock Fernea has spent much of her life living in the Middle East with her husband, social anthropologist Robert Alan Fernea. She first moved there in the 1950s, when her husband was researching his Ph.D. in southern Iraq. Making their stay in a sheik's home, she spent much of her time with the women of their host's harem, experiencing culture shock and prejudice from the other women, who often mocked the American. Eventually, through her efforts to learn Arabic and understand the culture, Fernea was accepted by the other women and made friends with them. She wrote about her experiences in her first book, Guests of the Sheik, later published as Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village. Since that time, Fernea has become a respected scholar of Middle Eastern women's studies. She taught for many years on the subject, and now is a professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin and author of numerous books about the Middle East, Islam, and Arabic women.
In one of her studies, Women and the Family in the Middle East: New Voices of Change Fernea ties together and presents the disparate voices of women facing a changing world and rigid cultures. According to Amal Rassam in the New York Times Book Review, "Faced with the exigencies of a rapidly changing environment … Moslem women have started to articulate their ideas and to formulate solutions to the problems facing them and their society…. [Fernea] has brought together poems, short stories, essays and reports by women and about women to illustrate these developments." Mervat Hatem, writing in the Women's Review of Books thought that the editor does not fully present the difficulties experienced by her subjects: "In her introduction, Fernea stresses that nationalism provides the framework that influences the way Arab women think of themselves and their families. Yet the poems, short stories and articles in this book tell a different story. The Middle Eastern families presented are not cohesive or harmonious. On the contrary, they are very tense institutions." However, Hatem approved of the author's attempt "to allow those women to speak for themselves. The result is nothing less than spectacular. The diversity of voices shatters the problematic Orientalist assumption about the monolithic conditions and views of women in that part of the world." Rassam also felt the book's diversity defies old stereotypes: "The popular image of Middle Eastern women generally take one of two forms—there is the Western fantasy of the passive yet sensual odalisque, and there is the image of a silent and exploited beast of burden. This collection should help to erase both caricatures."
The Arab World: Personal Encounters is "an excellent cultural travelogue by Elizabeth and Robert Fernea," wrote Zuhair Kashmeri in the Toronto Globe and Mail. "It is more than 300 pages of a political, non-headline material that introduces us to the common people of the Middle East and avoids the Sheikh Yamanis and their custom-built Boeing jetliners … [the Fernea's experiences are] described with incredible detail in a personal and moving account." Kashmeri continued, "The Arab World brings the region to life. People and events begin to fall into place and even the violence takes on a new meaning…. The view offered in The Arab World begs comparison with the recalcitrant western stand on the Arab-Israeli question." Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Alex Raskin believed that while the book "won't lift the shroud of mystery that seems to envelop people in the Middle East, but by humanizing the Arab world, it might mitigate prejudice."
Many Westerners regard the Arab culture as a male-dominated world in which women and children have little voice. Several of Fernea's books consequently seek to show readers what it is really like living in an Arabic nation when one is not an adult male. Children in the Muslim Middle East, for one, is a work Fernea edited that "includes works written to, for, and about children," according to Hania M. Sholkamy in Middle Eastern Studies, and it contains "songs and lullabies, beautiful photographs, poetry, fiction, and even a dirge." All of this, as Fernea explains in her introduction to the book, is meant to show "the importance of children in Middle Eastern society and culture." Although Shokamy felt that literature from countries such as Egypt, Turkey, and Iran were "slightly over represented," the critic concluded, "On the whole this work is well worth reading and has plenty of items that can be used as reading material for courses on the modern Middle East." More recently, Fernea also edited the collection Remembering Childhood in the Middle East: Memoirs from a Century of Change, in which adult writers from the Middle East recall what life was like growing up in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran.
Fernea is often regarded as an expert of women's studies in the Middle East. Her interest in women in Arabic culture began with her introduction to them back in the 1950s and culminates in her 1998 study, In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman's Global Journey. Here she explains to readers that there is a strong feminist movement in the Middle East, although feminism there means something different than it does in the West. In the West, Fernea writes, feminism is a secular issue, but in nations such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, feminism is inextricably linked to Islam. Women who see themselves as feminists in the Middle East, therefore, do not see it as an argument against men; instead, they feel men, women, and family should work closely together, living in harmony under the laws of Islam. Muslim women, in other words, feel that Western feminists try to separate and distinguish themselves from men. Westerners often see Islam as a chauvinistic religion too. However, as Grace Halsell commented in her Middle East Policy review of the book, "Many Islamic women, [Fernea] … points out, begin with the assumption that the possibility of gender equality already exists in the Qu'ran and the problem, as they see it, is malpractice, or misunderstanding, of the sacred text." But although the author shows that there is indeed a strong feminist movement in many Arab nations, Library Journal contributor Ali Houissa reported how Fernea concludes that "gender equality is still a long way off."
In addition to her many books, Fernea has been an active documentary filmmaker, writing and producing movies that have been shown on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS-TV), Channel 4 (London), at the Margaret Mead Film Festival of the American Museum of Natural History, and in classrooms all over the United States and Canada. Two have been translated back into Arabic and shown in the Middle East.
For more information, see sketch on Fernea's husband, Robert Alan Fernea.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Anthropologist, September, 1997, Arlene Elowe MacLeod, review of Children in the Muslim Middle East, p. 653.
Cineaste, summer, 1998, Abdeen Jabara, reviews of The Road to Peace: Israelis and Palestinians and The Struggle for Peace: Israelis and Palestinians, p. 16.
Commonweal, December 3, 1999, review of In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman's Global Journey, p. 28.
Contemporary Sociology, May, 1994, Gershon Shafir, review of The Struggle for Peace, p. 449.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 13, 1985, Zuhair Kashmeri, review of The Arab World: Personal Encounters.
Houston Chronicle, April 12, 1998, Celia Morris, "Feminism and Islam: Fernea Challenges Western Media Stereotypes," p. 23.
Journal of Law and Religion, winter-summer, 2000, Sally Cunneen, review of In Search of Islamic Feminism, pp. 507-510.
Journal of the American Planning Association, winter, 2005, Siddhartha Sen, review of Living with the Past: Historic Cairo, p. 100.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March, 1998, E. Baldwin, review of Children in the Muslim Middle East, p. 145.
Library Journal, March 1, 1985, Frada L. Mozenter, review of Women and the Family in the Middle East, p. 99; June 15, 1992, Sanford R. Silverburg, review of The Struggle for Peace, p. 91; September 1, 1997, Nader Entessar, review of The Arab World, p. 201; December, 1997, Ali Houissa, review of In Search of Islamic Feminism, p. 129.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 7, 1987, Alex Raskin, review of The Arab World.
Middle Eastern Studies, April, 1997, Hania M. Sholkamy, review of Children in the Muslim Middle East, p. 454.
Middle East Journal, spring, 2003, Sabah A. Salith, review of Remembering Childhood in the Middle East: Memoirs from a Century of Change, p. 343.
Middle East Policy, June, 1998, Grace Halsell, review of In Search of Islamic Feminism, p. 176.
Middle East Women's Studies Review, fall-winter, 2003, Fatima Badry, review of Remembering Childhood in the Middle East, p. 19.
Muslim World, spring, 2001, Farid Esack, review of In Search of Islamic Feminism, p. 257.
Natural History, July, 1987, review of Women and the Family in the Middle East, p. 88.
New York Times, June 25, 1983, Irvin Molotsky, "Movie Aided by U.S. Said to 'Glorify P.L.O.,'" review of Women under Siege, p. 14.
New York Times Book Review, September 29, 1985, Amal Rassam, review of Women and the Family in the Middle East: New Voices of Change; March 22, 1998, Elaine Sciolino, review of In Search of Islamic Feminism, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, March 29, 1985, review of The Arab World, p. 58; May 25, 1992, review of The Struggle for Peace, p. 50; November 3, 1997, review of In Search of Islamic Feminism, p. 70.
Times Literary Supplement, October 24, 2003, Francis Robinson, "Stories from the Cradle," review of Remembering Childhood in the Middle East, p. 26.
Whole Earth Review, summer, 1992, Anita Amirrezvani, review of Guests of the Sheik, p. 70; summer, 1995, Mira Zussman, review of Guests of the Sheik, p. 32.
Women's Review of Books, Volume 2, number 10, Mervat Hatem, review of Women and the Family in the Middle East.
World Literature Today, winter, 1991, Miriam Cooke, review of Year of the Elephant: A Moroccan Woman's Journey toward Independence, p. 173.
Al-Ahram Weekly Online, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/ (October 3, 2005), Fayza Hassan, profile of Elizabeth Warnock Fernea.
First Run/Icarus Films, http://www.frif.com/ (October 3, 2005), "The Films of Elizabeth Fernea."