Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Afghanistan Unveiled and Mohanty

Both articles of Mohanty apply well to the film Afghanistan Unveiled. Her first essay Under Western Eyes can be used to both praise and criticize the film. Mohanty preaches about the importance in not making broad generalizations for the various plights of third world women, but instead to arrive at conclusions about their struggles only after going through culturally and historically specific analysis. Although the film itself does not make the “women in the third world are…so therefore” kinds of statements that Mohanty so dreads, it does manage to show how even within the same country the circumstances which constitute women’s hardships differ drastically.
It would have been simple for the European film makers to spin the film so that al strife was due to the oppressive Taliban, and that because the Taliban had been removed by foreign troops everything was just peachy, or at least improving. Rather the film acknowledges the destructive force of the Taliban and also manages to exhibit its ripple effect on very different women, thus creating very different results. For example, the first women we encounter live in ancient Buddhist caves with their children and grandchildren, as all of the male and many of the female parents have been killed by the Taliban. As a result they have no viable means to earn a living and are destitute and malnourished. Another segment shows the troubles of a young mother, whose husband, as well as two of his male kin, was killed by an accidental bombing from American troupes while she was pregnant. These two contrasting stories create a more complex situation than “the Taliban is bad, the Taliban being gone is good.” For the first woman, though the Taliban was the source of much of her grief, its removal has yet to benefit her, and for the other it was just that, the Taliban’s removal, which caused her grief in the first place. In this way the film is successful under Mohanty’s eyes, for its specific conclusions relating to third world women.
The film is less successful when it is through the eyes of the narrator of the story, a young, beautiful, wealthy, educated woman. In this situation she seems to represent the viewpoint of the Western feminists who Mohanty so criticizes. It seems that her privileged standpoint blinds her to the real hardships that her fellow Afghani women suffer, while she blithely travels through the countryside in a jeep proudly gushing about how far women have come in Afghanistan that a woman could be a journalist and about how excited she is to ride horses. As is made evident by the film, her situation is not at all representative of progress for Afghan women, as many are still afraid of being unveiled in public and of constant threats of rape and kidnap. This aspect of the film can also be appreciated by Mohanty’s second work, Under Western Eyes Revisited, where Mohanty implores her audience to take the viewpoint of the worlds most subjugated and exploited women, because it is only from their eyes that the complex networks of oppression become visible. It is hard to conclude whether or not the film actually achieves this goal, for though it does show the hardships of the least well off, it is through the lends of the best off. Regardless, it is still a useful tool in showing the complexity of the infrastructure of a third world country, and the multifaceted factors and consequences that go into and come out of the adversity of Afghan women.

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